Various Artists: The Best of Studio One Collection

New four-disc box set of Clement "Coxsone" Dodd's Studio One recordings is a cross-section of seminal ska and rocksteady, and a foundation for contemporary reggae.

Various Artists

The Best of Studio One Collection

Label: Heartbeat
US Release Date: 2006-07-25
UK Release Date: 2006-08-07

What remains so astonishing about the ska and rocksteady music made at Clement Seymour "Sir Coxsone" Dodd's Studio One in the '60s and '70s isn't its innovation, but rather its effortlessness. These days, it's impossible to identify mid-tempo Jamaican archetypes as radical or fresh, because they are just that: archetypes permanently embedded in the consciousness of popular music and culture. Perhaps, more significantly, this music was never marked with "newness" -- its natural, patient sound is something that had always existed, a manifestation of human movement extracted at last, not an unknown thing that had to be learned over time.

Though Dodd helped create the template for reggae out of his love for American R&B -- which he imported to Jamaica while working as a DJ and sound system operator -- he drained his product of all urgency and agitation, instead favoring post-fever moodswings and groove-laden comedowns. A track like Soul Agent and the Soul Defenders' "Popcorn Reggae", for instance, is the exact opposite of James Brown's "Mother Popcorn"; their executions of the same titular image couldn't have employed more noticeable discrepancies of pace and stress, even if the former learned of rhythm hounding from the latter. This music, built on a strapping skeleton of adamant bass lines, puckered guitar upstrokes, and to-the-point rimshots, continues to sound like it should have been produced in a community of hammocks or under heavy hypnosis.

Studio One has been called the "Motown of Jamaica", but Dodd was more like Sun Records' Sam Phillips than Motown's Berry Gordy. Like the hallowed connection between rock 'n' roll and Phillips, contemporary Jamaican music stems from Dodd's detail-oriented cultivation of not only a genre, but an entire culture. Many of reggae's major figures (Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Dennis Brown) were discovered and/or produced by Dodd, while others (producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, for one) were shown the ropes while under his watch.

The legacy of Studio One and Dodd has been canonized over the years by Rounder Records' Heartbeat imprint, including three "best of" volumes -- The Best of Studio One, Full Up: More Hits from Studio One, and Downbeat the Ruler: Killer Instrumentals from Studio One -- that serve as introductions to well-known and obscure sides alike. Heartbeat's new four-disc The Best of Studio One Collection box set collects those three compilations, newly remastered and appended with previously unreleased tracks, and adds a fourth disc, Rebel Discomixes, an admittedly slight and inessential volume of six extended remixes. That latter disc aside, The Best of Studio One Collection boasts some of the best music in reggae's developmental period. The Best of Studio One is a cross-section of exemplary cuts, ranging from the obvious descendents of vocal-group R&B (the Cables' "Baby Why" and Alton Ellis's "Can I Change My Mind", which arguably tops Tyrone Davis's classic version) to songs that would become resilient backing riddims for future hits (John Holt's "A Love I Can Feel", the Lyrics' "Music Like Dirt"). Full Up deepens the soul music debt with male-female duet tracks like Bob Andy & Marcia Griffiths's "Always Together", not to mention the production allusions to Phillips and Sun with slapback echo effects utilized on Winston Francis's "Mister Fixit" vocal.

Downbeat the Ruler (named after Dodd's nickname in the Jamaican sound system world) emphasizes the instrumental contribution of Studio One house bands like Sound Dimension, whose "Real Rock", "Heavy Rock", and "Rockfort Rock" are definitive examples of gritty Jamaican rhythm in the rocksteady era of the late '60s. As with any workmanlike house band of the studio systems of old -- Booker T. & the MGs, the Funk Brothers -- the players that Studio One featured were both solid accompanists and unwitting architects. Such truths are evident in the humble and utilitarian performances that all the musicians deliver throughout the disc, forgoing any harebrained excursions into importance to make room for tightly-packed groove mining. Downbeat the Ruler also capitalizes on a bounty of rarities by groups like Soul Vendors that had been previously unavailable on CD: their "Darker Shade of Black" shares the headspace of the era by cribbing the melody from the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood", while "Swing Easy" infects its impeccable groove with shadowy, trenchcoated drama. It's all great stuff, from these rare instrumental sides to big tracks like Willie Williams's "Armagideon Time", all of it riding crests of distinguishable rhythm and all of it effortless. The superfluous Rebel Discomixes notwithstanding, The Best of Studio One Collection is an excellent place to begin a Studio One education -- indeed, for those hesitant and curious listeners, it may be all they'll need.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

Related Articles Around the Web

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.