B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More

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*Image of Mick Jagger (L) and Peter Tosh (R) taken from the internet, likely copyrighted. 

When I was growing up, despite being a lost-cause miscreant, my parents dutifully woke me up every Sunday morning to go to church. It wasn’t until I was 17 and driving that I convinced my parents to let me drive to church by myself on Saturday nights instead of with the family Sunday morning. Naturally I drove to the church, picked up a program and promptly went to McDonald’s and ate some fries, killed an hour and then went home. French fries and eternal damnation sounded better than killing an hour listening to a Priest drone on. Blasphemy? I’m not sure. It all just seemed like whistling past the graveyard to me. Don’t get me wrong, I think religion is like sex: practice whatever brings you joy, just keep it to yourself. Don’t try and convert me. Only my Sainted Grandmother could get me back inside a church and sadly, she passed 20 years ago.

But prior to my taking the “Highway to Hell,” before I could drive, my parents, my brother and I would load up in my father’s Oldsmobile ’88 and drive slowly and quietly to Mass. My father is a drivers-ed text book in motion…hands at 10 and 2, people. I doubt he’s ever hit a pothole. Well, not when I was younger. As he’s gotten older he’s become more menacing behind the wheel but haven’t we all? My parents realized early on I was a hellion. To their credit, they never held me down and shaved my head to search for the three 6’s. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had. Instead, on those unpleasant Sunday mornings (made unpleasant by my bitching about going to church), they attempted to placate me by turning the radio to the FM side of the dial and putting on Casey Kasem’s American Top-40 Countdown radio show. It would delight my brother and at least divert my attention.

I know what you’re thinking, Faithful B&V Readers – wait a minute, you’re a rock and roll guy, what were you doing listening to the Top 40 Countdown? I know, I know, it sounds bad. But beggars can’t be choosers and I was a captive in the backseat of an Oldsmobile. “Keep your feet on the ground but keep reaching for the stars,” my ass. You have to understand, music was better than the talk radio my father was so found of. In later years upon discovering girls, the back seat of that Oldsmobile became a den of inequity, but I’m getting off topic. You have to remember this was the late 70s and while there was a lot of disco and schmaltz, there were still rock and roll artists on the Top 40. You could hear Paul McCartney or Rod Stewart on the countdown. I would just have to hope the three or four songs I got to hear on the quiet ride to church would be good ones and not say, Donna Summer. Because whatever I was going to hear on the way to church was going to be the song or songs that stuck in my head for the next hour. It was going to be bad enough without “Saturday Night Fever” bouncing off my cranium for an hour.

It was on one of those dreaded Sunday morning rides that I first heard the Steely Dan song, “FM.” It was from a movie soundtrack of the same name. I was in my early stages of digging Steely Dan, but at that point in the game, we were all afraid of declaring that we liked something that wasn’t rock and roll… the fear of being uncool was intense and they are kind of “jazzy.” Anyway, I hear this Steely Dan song, and they sing the line, “Give her some funked up music, she treats you nice.” Well that caught my attention. Besides rock and roll, as an early teenager, my other obsession was these strange, foreign, indecipherable creatures named “girls.” What did they want? What did they like? These seemed important questions. And the word “funked” sounded like “fucked up music,” and I was always drawn to subversive vulgarity. Anyway, they go on to sing the next line: “Feed her some hungry reggae, she’ll love you twice.”

Now, I grew up in the American midwest, as I’m fond of flogging. We didn’t go on exotic vacations to the Caribbean. If we were going to go on vacation we went to southern Missouri to Silver Dollar City. I was more liable to hear “Dueling Banjos” down there than Bob Marley. I had NO idea what reggae was. I thought it was a booze or a drug, like say, this rumored Spanish Fly. According to Steely Dan, this “reggae” had an almost aphrodisiacal effect on women… “she’ll love you twice?” I couldn’t get anybody to even kiss me… let alone love me, well, once. Things got more complicated when I heard Stevie Wonder sing “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” What? “I like to reggae, but you dance too fast for me, I’d like to make love to you so you can make me scream…” Wait a minute? What is this mysterious reggae? How do I get some? Er, reggae that is, how do I get some reggae.

Thankfully, somehow I got myself straightened out that reggae was a music style from Jamaica. Eric Clapton’s “I Shot The Sheriff,” a cover of a Bob Marley tune did a lot to help educate me on what it was. And let’s face it the Stones helped a lot as they have with so much for me. I saw the Stones with the Rock Chick in Chicago once and the Pretenders were the opening act. I remember Chrissie Hynde saying, “the Stones have brought us so much music, but they should be applauded for bring the world reggae music.” She’s right. Even before Clapton brought reggae to the mainstream the Stones were playing it.

People tend to forget how big reggae got in the 70s. Bob Marley and the Wailers blew up, especially in Britain back then. People don’t realize today what a huge influence that reggae was on the punk movement later in mid/late 70s. Bob Marley and the Wailers were singing about actual revolution and rebellion, guns in the street kind of fighting. Punks were rebelling against the established order, piercing things and shaving Mohawks into their hair, but the Wailers were involved in actual gun play. Reggae’s popularity has shrank and you’re likely to only hear it on vacations and cruises in the Caribbean. As Keith Richards said in an interview I saw, “Bob Marley was so big, when he died reggae kind of went with him.”

I think everybody has some reggae in their collection. Likely if you look, you’ll find Marley’s Legend greatest hits package on everybody’s CD shelf (Humor: Bob Marley’s “Legend” and the Confessions of the Evil Stepdad). I went to a New Year’s Eve party once and the host had all of his studio albums from Catch A Fire to Uprising. Not to be outdone, immediately I started amassing Marley’s catalog and it’s pretty fucking amazing. When Peter Tosh, guitarist and vocalist of the Wailers quit, the Stones eventually signed them to their label and Mick famously duetted with him on Saturday Night Live… it was like being hit with lightning when I watched live as Tosh sang and suddenly Jagger was standing next to him. Totally surprised me. But I dug the song,”(You’ve Got To Walk And) Don’t Look Back” an old Temptations song, redone. I was starting to get into the mysterious reggae.

While people sit listening to Legend, many don’t realize that they own more reggae than they realize. There have been a ton of rock and roll acts who have done a reggae song. Well, either a reggae song – be it a cover of a Marley song – or a heavily reggae-influenced track. I realized I really liked a lot of those songs… who doesn’t like “hungry reggae?” So, as usual, I put together a list of my favorites. Some of these are on the list only because they’re actual Marley covers. Some are faintly, slightly reggae-tinged. There is something about each song on this list that make me think, reggae. It’s more of a vibe thing. As always you can find this on Spotify under the title “BourbonAndVinyl.net Playlist Rockers  Doing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Anymore.” The list slightly varies from what you’ll see below because as usual I couldn’t find everything. I think this, musically, holds together better than most my playlists and is perfect for a summer afternoon… or a cold winter afternoon when you’re dreaming of summer… As always, if you have additions, please mention them in the Comments section and I’ll add them to the Spotify list.

And yes, there’s a lot of Stones here. This thing could have been all Stones, the Clash (who have a ton of reggae songs), and the Police…

  1. Joe Strummer, “Get Down Moses” – I failed to mention strongly enough above how huge the Clash were in terms of playing reggae and bringing it to the world…Naturally Strummer carried that into his solo work.
  2. Little Steven, “I Am A Patriot” – My favorite political track… captures the rebellious spirit of reggae.
  3. Eddie Money, “Running Back” – I’m so bummed we lost the Money-man this year.
  4. Sublime, “Pawn Shop” – 90s rockers and one of the Rock Chick’s favs!
  5. John Lennon, “Borrowed Time” – This is one of those reggae-influenced type tracks. I don’t know if its reggae, but it feels like it to me.
  6. Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, “Redemption Song” – The Man In Black and Joe Strummer singing a Bob Marley song… you don’t get more righteous. Rick Rubin asked Cash if he wanted to change the lyrics as they’re very Jamaican… Cash said, “you don’t mess with the words of a Prophet like Bob Marley.” Well said, Johnny, well said.
  7. Robert Plant, “Lively Up Yourself (Live)” – The fact that Plant was covering Marley in  concert in the 80s makes me love Plant that much more.
  8. Blondie, “The Tide Is High” – Again, not sure it’s actual reggae, but it gets me in that vibe.
  9. April Wine, “Say Hello” – Great track by an almost forgotten Canadian band.
  10. The Police, “One World (Not Three)” – Great, political reggae from Sting and the gang…”regatta de blanc” indeed.
  11. The Rolling Stones, “Hey Negrita” – From the Stones’ Black And Blue. 
  12. Mick Jagger with Peter Tosh, “(You’ve Got To Walk And) Don’t Look Back” – Mick, “I’m walkin’ barefoot…”
  13. Robert Palmer, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” – Palmer reinventing a Dylan track as reggae. Brilliant. The guy doesn’t get enough credit.
  14. Keith Richards, “Love Overdue” – From his great, last solo record.
  15. Eric Clapton, “Revolution” – Great reggae tune from one of Clapton’s endless string of bad albums from the new millennium.
  16. Keith Richards, “The Harder They Fall” – A great Jimmy Cliff cover.
  17. No Doubt, “Underneath It All” – While I despise Gwen Stefani’s solo work, I love No Doubt. They’re more Ska than reggae, but they nail it on this ballad.
  18. Bob Dylan, “Jokerman” – From the great and mildly overlooked, Infidels. 
  19. The Rolling Stones, “Cherry, Oh Cherry, Baby” – Again from Black And Blue, there’s gonna be a lot of Stones here, I can’t help myself.
  20. The Rolling Stones, “Hot Stuff” – See #19…
  21. Sting, “All Four Season” – A rare Sting track on B&V… and the perfect song to describe the Rock Chick’s many moods.
  22. Dirty Heads, “Love Letters” – I could have put most of Cabin By The Sea on here.
  23. 311, “Who’s Got The Herb” – Also found on the 420 playlist, B&V Playlist: Happy 4:20 To All!.
  24. Black Crowes, “Time Will Tell” – Great Bob Marley cover.
  25. Eric Clapton, “I Shot The Sheriff” – This might be the biggest rock crossover reggae hit ever?
  26. The Rolling Stones, “Send It To Me” – The Stones never stopped playing reggae. “Start Me Up” started as a reggae song.
  27. The Police, “Shadows In the Rain” – I actually also like Sting’s solo version of this song, but that’s rock. This is reggae.
  28. Rod Stewart, “Love And Be Loved” – Rod on a lovely track from his recent Another Country. 
  29. Paul McCartney, “C Moon” – Reggae-ish?
  30. No Doubt, “Start The Fire” – Gwen, come back to No Doubt… all is forgiven.
  31. The Rolling Stones, “Luxury” – Another great reggae song from these guys.
  32. David Bowie, “Tonight” – A reimagined track he wrote with Iggy Pop whose version is much, much different. Tina Turner can be heard duetting on this track.
  33. Elton John, “Jamaican Jerk-off” – This sounds like it was recorded on a Casio… but it has its charms.
  34. Ronnie Wood, “I Can Feel the Fire” – It’s amazing how many solo Stones tracks are also on here, birds of a feather… you can hear Mick on the harmony vocal.
  35. Keith Richards, “Wicked As It Seems” – Speaking of solo Stones’ tracks…
  36. The Clash, “Police & Thieves” – My favorite of their many, many reggae tracks.
  37. Bob Dylan, “License To Kill” – Again from Infidels. 
  38. Lenny Kravitz, “Eleutheria” – A song about an island, not a girl. Great Kravitz track.
  39. The Clash, “Rudie Can’t Fail” – An ode to Rude Boys?
  40. Little Steven, “Solidarity” – Little Steven doing a Jamaican style reggae tune about a Polish Labor Union.
  41. The Rolling Stones, “Too Rude” – A Stones cover with Keith on lead vocals… I couldn’t resist.
  42. 311, “Amber” – The Rock Chick said, summarily, “That’s not reggae.” I like it too much not to include it. Its like reggae… and “amber is the color of your energy.”

Enjoy this one folks and stay warm out there! Cheers!

 

 

Humor: Bob Marley’s “Legend” and the Confessions of the Evil Stepdad

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Through a series of bad decisions and misadventures, that I wouldn’t trade for anything, I ended up being single into my thirties. It got to the point where my parents were beginning to drop hints at the holidays about their support of any alternative lifestyles I might be considering or concealing. Meanwhile my buddy Tom and I were setting new record lows in depravity amongst the female population of our hometown. My parents were so concerned that they’d started to come downtown to my neighborhood to eat lunch with me on the weekends because they thought I might be “at risk.” What exactly I was at risk for was never articulated…

My philosophy toward children in those days was fairly straight forward. To paraphrase the classic movie “Barfly,” when it came to children, “I just sort of feel better when they’re not around.” I had never had a yearning to be a parent like my best friend Doug who I was convinced could carry a baby to term even though he lacks a uterus. I seemed content careening from one bad relationship to another. I ping ponged between pursuing unattainable women with no interest in me to dating women who dug me that I had absolutely no interest in. I never wanted to join a club who would have me as a member, as the saying goes. It was an unhealthy pattern, but hey, it was my pattern and I was comfortable with it. I lived contentedly alone save for my rather large collection of vinyl records.

And so, as it tends to do, the Universe sent me a test in the form of the woman of my dreams. She was smart, funny, articulate, a well propertied woman, the most beautiful woman I’d ever known and most importantly she liked music. She really liked music. So much so that early on I dubbed her, “The Rock Chick.” How was this a test? Stop the press: The Rock Chick had a daughter. This was a real Rubik’s Cube situation for me, the man-child, to suddenly be regularly in the presence of an actual child. I quickly realized I was going to have to moderate my use of the word “fuck,” which was too bad as it was my favorite word. Until meeting my step-daughter, I thought the world revolved around me. My step-daughter at the time was under the misguided idea that the world revolved around her. The immovable object had met the unstoppable force. I couldn’t help but think, this is going to be difficult. And let me tell you, it was.

The first time my stepdaughter came into my apartment for a Christmas party I was having… she wandered up next to me at the stereo, where I was DJ’ing… and picked up the sleeve to one of my LPs and said, “What is this?” I couldn’t help but think, in a very judge-y way, “You don’t know what an album is, my God girl, your mother has failed you.” I merely told her it was a record album, with music on it. “Like a CD?” she asked innocently. I nodded sadly, “Not really, the sound is better…oh, never mind,” and sighed. When inevitably the Rock Chick and I moved in together I was forced to institute the First Rule of the House – Don’t Touch The Albums. Whenever my stepdaughter wanted to have friends over for a sleepover or what-not, I’d always ask, “What’s the first rule?” She would recite the mantra, “Don’t touch the albums…” I couldn’t help but smile, Obi-Ken has taught you well.

Needless to say I was ill-equipped to be a stepfather. My stepdaughter, who had been living alone with her mom for over five years when I showed up, found it difficult to suddenly have a stepfather-interloper. For a long time she referred to me as “the guy who lives upstairs with my mom.” I’m not sure she committed my name to memory until I married her mother. I feared she was secretly sharpening her cereal spoon into a sharp point to shank me in the kitchen like in a prison movie. I couldn’t do anything right. Of course, in retrospect I must admit, I wasn’t really trying too hard. We played hide and go seek and my stepdaughter would dutifully hide and I wouldn’t go look for her. Typically, I’d dose off. That only worked once or twice until she caught on. I had become… the Evil Stepfather. About the only thing we could agree on was fast-food… I had the sophisticated palette of a 13 year old and she was a kid. We could both agree on chili cheese dogs with tater tots at Sonic…ah, the simple pleasures. Hell I’d eat that right now…

Other than fast food though, things were pretty tense at the house in the early days. My wife’s role quickly became that of a “shuttle diplomat” negotiating the peace between the two warring tribes. This soon got real old for the Rock Chick. “Figure it out…” she would bark at us. My step daughter was just a child and well, unfortunately so was I.

And then, one magical Saturday afternoon, a time when I’m usually napping, the Rock Chick had both my stepdaughter and I mustered in the living room to announce we would be doing some house-cleaning that day. Neither one of us liked the sound of that. I demanded that music be played during this forced march and to my surprise the Rock Chick said, “Ok but pick something everybody likes.” Damn… how was I going to do that?

My stepdaughter’s musical taste, and I must admit like her mother she was a big music lover, was more pop-centric. Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera would be more likely her choice than say, Janis Joplin. She had some hip hop, but I wasn’t going there, even I blanched at some of the language. This was a true quandary. I felt it was very important that I teach this child about rock and roll. I assumed that was the reason I was brought into her life in the first place. The pressure was on. I went to my albums and began to flip through them. I came across The Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper” and probably because of all the bright, primary colors thought, “this will work.” Almost as soon as the needle dropped into the groove I could hear the loud groan coming from the women in the house. I had always thought the Beatles were universally lovable but perhaps since no one at the house was on LSD that day, “Sgt Pepper’s” wasn’t going to work.

I tried something else, I can’t remember what and my stepdaughter shot it down too. I was starting to get nervous. First and foremost I had to clean the house which sucked. Now I was getting heckled at the stereo by a ten year old. It was then that I came across the fantastic greatest hits compilation, “Legend.” It was going to be risky to put Bob Marley on, this could be my third strike… I decided to pin my ears back and go for it…

While it is impossible to incapsulate an artist as tremendous and huge as Bob Marley on one disc, I have to admit “Legend” is one of the best “Greatest Hits” compilations out there. It covers songs from his earliest Island Records days from “Catch A Fire” and “Burning” all the way to his last recordings. It was an odd choice to listen to while cleaning the house but I knew it’d be OK with the Rock Chick. I had hoped her support would carry the day.

It was a mere 10 seconds into the first track “Is This Love” when my stepdaughter’s head started bobbing… during the break between that song and “No Woman No Cry (Live)” my stepdaughter came to the stereo where I was dusting and said quickly and furtively, “Who is this?” I glanced down and her eyes were open widely. She was feeling this music. “His name was Bob Marley, and he’s awesome.” She whispered, almost inaudibly “I really like this…” There is no greater satisfaction than turning someone onto an artist or a song. Let me restate that – the only thing greater than turning someone on to a song or an artist or an album – is turning someone you love onto great music. I felt a welling sense of pride as I had expanded this young, 10 year old girl’s universe that day.

It was a beautiful couple of hours that day, although I’m not going to lie to you, cleaning the house sucked. But the music was great. And in some ways, that afternoon and that musical connection that I made  with my daughter was the crack in the door – the initial opening that allowed us to bridge our mutual contempt and distrust. Suddenly we had something in common. I began to realize and perhaps really really believe for the first time – Music IS Love!

I had the joy, two summers ago, of taking my daughter to see the Stones in concert. She absolutely loved it. I couldn’t help but think back to that Saturday afternoon, she and her mother and I grooving around the house to the best reggae ever, Bob Marley. I’m not a model parent. I was truly the Evil Stepdad. But if you invest and you share your life and experience, sometimes… it all turns out good.

“Oh, Yeah, all right, we’re jammin’…” I may have to drink some rum tonight…..

Cheers!