PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Various Artists: Version Dread

In these 18 tracks you will hear some of the most seminal basslines in music history.


Various Artists

Version Dread

Subtitle: 18 Dub Hits from Studio One
Label: Heartbeat
US Release Date: 2006-06-27
UK Release Date: 2006-07-10
Amazon
iTunes

The sight of the latest Diddy album sitting atop the US charts is only the latest reminder of the huge impact digital sampling has had on hip-hop and rap music. Diddy/P-Diddy/Puff Daddy kickstarted his career by taking the sampled rhythms and melodies of well-known tracks (such as the Police's "Every Breath You Take") and adding new vocals and sounds to them. He was by no means the first. Ever since Afrika Bambaataa co-opted a Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express" for his own "Planet Rock" in 1982, the practice has become commonplace.

In the mid-to-late 1960s, digital sampling technology didn't exist. But the practice of "recycling" rhythms was born in Jamaica. Producers and owners of small independent labels found that altering the mix of a track -- say, dropping the vocals in and out of the mix, adding horns, and/or eliminating the vocals altogether -- was a lot less expensive than recording a brand new track. Thus was born the "version". Soon, versions were commonplace on the flipsides of Jamaican singles.

In his liner notes for Version Dread, veteran Heartbeat archivist Chris Wilson goes to some length to explain the difference between versions and dub. He has a point, but it's really a matter of semantics. Dub, which came into its own in the early '70s, added the trademark echo and panning effects, but this was more a natural progression than a demarcation point. And Version Dread gives listeners a chance to hear a bit of this progression taking place. Most of the 18 tracks collected here span 1966-70, but a handful postdate the dub explosion of the early '70s. Crucially, they all have one element in common: Although issued on various labels, they were produced by Clement Dodd and recorded at his famous Jamaican Recording and Publishing Studio, aka Studio One.

While Dodd is the figurehead, the common perception is that he had very little to do with the actual recordings at Studio One, at least until the mid-'70s. The arranging and mixing was usually the work of house engineer Sylvan Morris and keyboardist Jackie Mittoo. Version Dread effectively serves as a showcase for the legendary Studio One house band, known as the Soul Vendors and the Sound Dimension (another of Dodd's innovations was calling the same group by different names, a marketing trick employed by many producers to this day). The deep, almost subterranean rhythms became rocksteady's and later reggae's signature sound, and Version Dread includes some classics. The woozy horns of "Why Oh Why Version" combine with the relentless bass to make the song sound drunk. On "Please Be True Version" and "Hold Me Baby", those same horns add bright pop hooks.

At their roots, though, these tracks are all about the basslines, some of the most earth-shaking, lyrical, and infectious in the history of Jamaican music. The slinky "Born to Dub", the ominous "Declaration Version", and the coy "Pick Up Version" are perfect examples of the dexterity at hand. A few versions are already recycled from older, classic rhythms: The mind-blowing title track is built on "Throw Me Corn" (the basis for Peter Tosh's "African" among many others), and "Zion Lion" uses the equally famous "Melody Life", while the version side of Willie Williams's 1982 smash "Armagideon Time", famously covered by the Clash, is based on "Real Rock". All three rhythms are from the Soul Vendors/Sound Dimension. Ex-Heptone Leroy Sibbles is usually credited as the Studio One bassist, although Brian Atkinson played on some of the seminal rhythms as well. (In an interesting side note, a re-formed version of the Soul Vendors, with Mittoo and Atkinson, has been touring with the stated aim of "putting the record straight". Hmmm.)

The mixing effects on these tracks are fairly minimal, especially on the '60s material. Technological limitations left Morris and company with fewer ways to manipulate sound; therefore, on many songs, the music drops out when the vocal drops in, and vice versa, creating a now-familiar stop-start effect. Otherwise, some reverb is evident, but if you're looking for King Tubby-style pyrotechnics, you won't find it here. After Morris left Studio One in the mid-'70s, Dodd is thought to have taken over mixing duties, and several of his dubs are included on Version Dread. The dubs themselves are rudimentary, with synthesizers and echo units making more frequent appearances, but the Studio Rhythms are still unimpeachable. Throughout, the vocal performances are excellent, with Burning Spear, the Abyssinians, Ken Booth, and Horace Andy all making appearances.

It's tough to sum up a decade-spanning and naturally flexible sound in a single disc. But Version Dread does it pretty well. Dub heads may find it slight, and purists may lament the in-and-out vocals. Anyone with an ear for reggae history, though, will like what they hear.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.