Various Artists: Blessed Love: Jamaican Producers 1960-1969

John Bergstrom

Various Artists

Blessed Love: Jamaican Producers 1960-1969

Label: Sanctuary
US Release Date: 2004-04-20
UK Release Date: Available as import

The influence of Jamaican sound systems, DJs, and dub mixing on American rap music has been pretty well documented in recent years. Yet there's another crucial way in which the Jamaican music scene provided a blueprint for hip-hop: the rise of the producer. In the 1950s and '60s, a few producers ruled the new Jamaican recording industry. Each had their own house band, stable of artists, label and studio, plus an image to match. As compressed and intertwined as the scene was, rivalries inevitably broke out. Producers engaged in "sound wars" -- their artists would issue put-downs, boasts, and challenges on their respective records. These producers were not studio aces who were charged with making hit records for a record company; they were one-man mini-empires. Sound familiar?

The significance of early Jamaican producers is well known to reggae buffs and historians. With his pioneering mixing style, drug-casualty persona and popularity among the modern hip hop and electronica elite, one of these producers, Lee "Scratch" Perry, has even turned himself into a bit of a cultural legend. Many collections devoted to Perry and other individual producers have been released, but few have attempted to gather all of the major producers from a period and place their work in a historical context. Blessed Love: Jamaican Producers 1960-1969 does just that. It's a monumental task, but proves to be well worth the effort.

In the early-to-mid '60s, Jamaican music was making the transition from uptempo, mostly instrumental, horn-driven ska to the slower, cooler, beat-driven sounds of rocksteady. Blessed Love catches this transition in full swing, and features some of the era's best singles as well. Not surprisingly, Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodd were the most prominent producers of the new rocksteady. Both had been huge during the ska era; the gunslinging Reid was the original "bad boy" while Dodd was the more mild-mannered yet fierce challenger with the Studio One label to his credit.

Both men had one overwhelming advantage over other producers -- the Skatalites. Featuring future legends like guitarist Earnest Ranglin, pianist Jackie Mittoo and saxophonist Tommy McCook, the Skatalites were the most talented and prolific ska band around. They recorded and served as backing band for both Reid and Dodd; Blessed Love features one classic track for each producer. "Eastern Standard Time", cut for Reid, and "Phoenix City", cut for Dodd and credited to Roland Alphonso and the Soul Brothers, are thrilling two-minute blasts of horns and rhythm, taking Caribbean island music, American R&B, and blues, and adding that unique, distinct emphasis on the downbeat. The vocal tracks are no less seminal: the Techniques's "Queen Majesty", a Curtis Mayfield/Impressions cover, is considered to be one of the first rocksteady tracks, while Delroy Wilson's "(I'm In A) Dancing Mood" introduces the sweet-voiced teenage star, a trend that would help give rise to Bob Marley's Wailers among others.

With the rocksteady scene going strong, a wave of younger, start-up producers got in on the action. In yet another precursor of modern trends, most of them had previously been involved with Reid, Coxsone, and others before striking out on their own. Sonia Pottinger was the first, and, so far, only female Jamaican producer to make a name for herself. Although she's not as well known as her male counterparts, cuts like Eric "Monty" Morris's "Put On Your Best Dress" were favorites among reggae's first DJs (the equivalent of modern MCs). Joe Gibbs and Bunny Lee's work is represented by two tracks each, but the most prominent and successful of the "new" producers was Leslie Kong. With the likes of Desmond Decker (whose minor but still snapping "Intensified '68" is included here) and Jimmy Cliff, Kong helped make Jamaican music a major force in the UK. On Blessed Love, Kong is also represented by Toots and the Maytals' immortal smash "Pressure Drop", which helped introduce "conscious" reggae, and the Pioneers' much-covered "Long Shot Kick the Bucket".

Unlike their hip hop counterparts, Jamaican producers generally didn't have much involvement in the actual creation of the music, instead providing funding and facilities while their house musicians did the arranging and manned the boards. All that changed with Lee Perry. He used the most limited of technologies to produce strange, echoing effects from drums, guitars, and feedback, making him one of the godfathers of dub production. His early productions weren't quite so far out, but they're still striking amid the smooth, fluid work of his contemporaries. Included here are three of his most noteworthy '60s tracks. The dive-bombing sax riff that cuts through the Upsetters' "Return of Django", along with its jovial, bouncy bassline, made it a UK Top 10 smash. The Inspirations' more traditional "Tighten Up" was the namesake of Trojan's landmark compilation series. Many critics agree that Bob Marley and the Wailers did their best work for Perry, and their very first track with Perry, "My Cup", is stark and yearning.

In addition to the strong tracklisting, Blessed Love boasts excellent sound quality and informative liner notes. During the '60s, Jamaican music was dominated by crooners, love songs, and novelties in the American R&B tradition. Here is a great chance to experience that period before rude boys, Ras Tafari and ganja became the words of the day.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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

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