Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Having already highlighted some of Jamaica's ska legends, let's move to another island to explore the Ska revival of the late 70's. Coventry England's Post-Punk rebirth of Ska, better known as the 2 Tone Era, exposed the relatively unknown genre to an entirely new and different audience, utilizing a mix of old and new to punctuate it's rediscovery.

The symbiotic relationship between Punk and Reggae that had blossomed in the late 70's gave rise to the resurgence which followed closely on its heels. This new wave of Ska was perpetuated by several standout bands, and among its stongest proponent was Jerry Dammers. Dammers, a member of The Specials and the founder of
2 Tone Records
was a instrumental, literally and figuratively, in the expansion of the movement.

The original Specials consisted of Dammers, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter. Later joined by Terry Hall and Roddy Byers, they released two LPs prior to changing their lineup and name. The resulting Special AKA was not as successful as the Specials, but did manage the big club hit, Free Nelson Mandela.

The Specials incorporated everything the 2 Tone movement stood for: the resurgence of the mods; racially unified, disenfranchised middle-class youth, fighting the power while having a good time. Not as caustic as the Clash, yet still far more significant than the New Wavers, their music was as much a celebration as it was a revolt, and it packed every ounce of energy they lads to offer.

In April 2008, the band announced it had reformed (minus Dammers) to celebrate it's 30th anniversary. Late that same year, they began playing at festivals around England.

With a little luck and some proper booking, they will skank it over to these shores this year.

I'm just sayin'.

Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)

Guns Of Navarone
Maggie's Farm
Rude Boy Outta Jail

The Specials- Guns of Navarone (1979 Rock Goes To College)

The Specials- Man at C&A (24th November 1980 )

The Specials- A Message To You Rudy (The Old Grey Whistle Test, Oct 1979)

The Specials- Ghost Town (1980)

The Specials- Rat Race (1980)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

One Track Mind

Trading in tropical breezes for arctic blasts, we here at Actual Monkey stand undaunted, determined to keep this party going and the music playing.

All week long we've highlighted a varying array of just some of the treasures of Caribbean music. While the styles and artists may differ, most have the same thing in common, Studio One.

Often referred to as the Motown of Jamaica, Studio One was the source of countless historic sessions, resulting in some of the most legendary Reggae recordings ever laid down.

Founded by the late Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd, Studio One was both a studio and label, host to the most renown names in Reggae, whether it be Ska, Rocksteady, Roots, Dub, or Dancehall. Included among the ranks are a who's who of Reggae pioneers including: Lee "Scratch" Perry, Burning Spear, Jackie Mittoo, Toots & the Maytals, The Skatalites, John Holt, Alton Ellis and a little band called Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Dodd began his career as a disk jockey before starting Studio One. After a stay in the States as a sugar cane cutter, he returned to Jamaica with an appreciation for American R&B, a turntable, an amp and a stack of records. He formed the Downbeat Sound System and began to play around Jamaica. Soon after the popularity for American R&B waned, and Dodd along with legends Lee 'Scratch' Perry and Prince Buster began to record original Jamaican artists to fill the demand for new music.

In 1963, Dodd opened the meager one track studio at
13 Brentford Road in Kingston, Jamaica. The timing could not have been better. The Independence of Jamaica from British rule in 1962 coalesced with the rise of original sounds from the islands emerging musicians.

Since it would be impossible in this little blog to experience the full breath of what Studio One accomplished over the last 40 years, here is a small sample of the classic 'Studio One Sound'.

Guns of Navarone-Skatalites
Christine Keller-Skatalites
Ska Jerk-The Wailers
One Love-The Wailers
Jamaica- Alton Ellis

Toots and The Maytals-Treat Me bad/ She Will Never Let You Down (Live At Club Sombrero, 1962)

Classic Dancehall Ska, Skatalites- Guns of Navarone (circa 1965)

Jackie Mittoo- Drum Song (circa 1965)

Burning Spear- Slavery Days (Reggae Sunsplash, Jamaica, 1979)

Alton Ellis-Black Man's Pride (Reggae Sunsplash, 1983)

Bob Marley & The Wailers- Slave Driver/Get Up Stand Up (Live at Sundown Edmonton, UK 27 May 1973)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Time flies when you're having rum

As we down our last conch fritter and Cruzan, the time has come at last, to pack up and head back to reality. In a mere 24 hours, I will be going from the amazing surf of St. Thomas' best kept secret back to the grind of NYC. Not looking forward to it one bit. Paradise lost.

But I digress, Today, while I was hunting for hermit crabs with the kids, I realized that I had left something out. I missed the rain forest for the palm trees. It took the tiniest little sea creature to make me realize that I had almost forgotten one of the biggest stars in all of Caribbean music. And this artist happens to be the performer of one of my all-time top 10 songs. That artist is Desmond Dekker. The song is Israelites.

Years before Marley was singing Natty Dread, Dekker was the most prominent Jamaician musician on or off the islands. He had achieved substantial succes with hits like Mount Zion and 007 (Shanty Town), but 1968's Israelites put him atop the charts. The song reached both the top 10 of the Bilboard Hot 100 and No.1 on the UK Singles Chart.

Drawing a parallel between ancient biblical legends and modern day strife, the song helped catapult him to international stardom. Dekker is considered by many to be the King of Ska, a title he held until his death in 2006.

So as we await the shuttle van to bring us back to Cyril E.King airport, I can't help but think of how the travails of the protagonist in the song mirror my current situation. Poor me, Israelites!

But it was one hell of a vacation.
I'm just sayin'.


Desmond Dekker & The Aces- Israelites (Wembley Stadium, 1970)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Booty Call

Well after all the talk of sunshine, it rained on our parade for a while today. But all was not lost, we day tripped it over to Blackbeard's Castle in the tourist heavy area of Charlotte-Amalie.

When you think pirates, you think Blackbeard. Sure there's Capt. Hook, Black Bart, even William Kidd, but Blackbeard is king. For some reason, he is the most notorious and memorable of all the scoundrels to ever sail the Seven Seas. ARGH!

It's very much the same for Reggae. Bob Marley is king and everyone else is second fiddle. Well today AM is all about playing second fiddle.

Eric Donaldson first appeared on the Reggae scene after his song Cherry Oh Baby won the Jamaican Festival Song Competition in 1971. He would go on to capture that title four more times, but never achieve success off of the islands.

A group that did enjoy some limited success abroad with their dance floor friendly mix of Disco and Reggae was Third World. Their 1978 cover of the Gamble & Huff hit Now that We Found Love, was followed up by the original tune Try Jah Love.

Peter Tosh started out a Wailer, but broke out as a solo artist in the mid 70's. A controversial figure, his music was more politicized than Marley's. A devout Rastafarian, he was a big proponent of cannabis use. From his 1976 debut album of the same name, Legalize It.

Next up is arguably Reggae's biggest crossover next to Marley, the incomparable Jimmy Cliff. A legend in the Reggae world, he never quite gained the international recognition of Marley. He did however help bring Reggae to the mainstream with the 1972 film, The Harder They Come. The crime drama starred Cliff and featured a soundtrack which included some of his biggest hits including The title track as well as one of my all-time favorite songs, Many Rivers To Cross.

Just like pirates of yore, with a little direction, a sense of adventure, and some digging, the hidden treasures of Reggae are waiting to be discovered.

I'm just sayin'.

Cherry Oh Baby
Now That We Found Love
Legalize It
The Harder They Come
Many Rivers To Cross

Jimmy Cliff- The Harder They Come (1972)

Jimmy Cliff- Many Rivers To Cross (1 June 1984 Philipshalle Düsseldorf, Germany)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Here comes the sun

While I was putting together yesterday's post, I came across a few amazing links that coincide with both our fabulous vaca, and our appreciation of great music.

Over the past few days we've established the music of the Islands to be a) truly unique and b) widely covered, but it goes both ways. What could be better than combining the extraordinary sound of the steel drum with that of the most popular band in pop music history? Irie! Irie!

Ebony Steelband:
Here Comes The Sun
Eleanor Rigby
Penny Lane

For Reggae fans:
Carry The Weight-Dobbie Dobson
Don't Let Me Down-Marcia Griffiths
Blackbird-R Sweat & The Paragons

Good day sunshine, Indeed!
I'm just sayin'

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Duty free exports

After a day on Coki Beach, listening to at least a half dozen steel drum performers all covering the late, great Bob Marley, I got to thinking about the legacy of Reggae. Although Marley was a world wide phenomenon, Reggae itself, one of the last truly original genres of music has itself enjoyed far reaching appeal. Maybe its the laid back nature synonymous with the islands and the people. Maybe its the rebellious spirit of the songs. Maybe its the smooth, infectious grooves that force you to move. Maybe it's the fact that the first time you heard it you were baked. Most likely its a combination of all of these things. And this combination has proven successful for authentic Reggae musicians as well as scores of others. Some successful, some not so much. What follows are several original Reggae classics and their respective covers.

First up: Junior Murvin's Police and Thieves. This hit from 1976 was produced by legendary Reggae pioneer Lee 'Scratch' Perry in 1976. It was adopted by the Clash (keen fans of the emerging dub scene) just a year later and featured on their eponymous debut.

Our next selection Pass the Dutchie by England's tween sensations Musical Youth, was a homogenized version of The Mighty Diamonds hit Pass the Kouchie. The Diamonds, driven by a strong Rastafarian influence, were definitely 420 friendly. The 'Kouchie' in the song refers to a pot pipe. Worried about the ramifications of a bunch of kids signing about ganja, the record company brass tweaked the lyrics. The 'Kouchie' was changed to 'Dutchie' and subsequently the entire reference of the song was changed from pot smoking to cooking. A 'Dutchie' is slang for a dutch oven, or small cooking pot used by poor Jamaicans to serve meals. That rather small but very significant change enabled the Musical Youth to achieve a No.1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart in September of 1982, as if prophesying this fact in the song itself: "This generation, rules the nation, with version".

Finally, we have what is probably the most recognized Reggae cover. Bob Marley originally released I Shot The Sheriff in 1973 on the epic Wailers LP Burnin'. A year later Eric Clapton appropriated it for his album 461 Ocean Boulevard.

Now who's to say that just because a cover may have outsold the original, that it is in any way better. I myself believe that the original artist who wrote and created a song holds dominion over the work, because no matter how good the cover song turns out, it's only on loan.

Then again, the Clash kick some serious ass.

I'm just sayin'.

Police & Thieves (original)
Police & Thieves (cover)

Pass The Kouchie (original)
Pass The Dutchie (cover)

I Shot The Sheriff (original)
I Shot The Sheriff (cover)

Junior Murvin- Police & Thieves (TOTP, 1976)

The Clash- Police &Thieves (1977)

Mighty Diamonds- Pass The Kouchie (1982)

Musical Youth- Pass The Dutchie (1982)

Bob Marley & The Wailers- I Shot The Sheriff (Date unknown)

Eric Clapton- I Shot The Sheriff (Old Grey Whistle Test, 1974)

Monday, February 16, 2009


So here we are at the beginning of our respite at the Bolongo Bay Resort, slathering our pale white skin in tanning butter in a desperate attempt to forget about winter and soak up some rays. In an effort to share the sunshine, AM brings you the grand daddy of all things Calypso, the luminous Harry Belafonte. From his breakout 1956 album aptly titled Calypso, a few classics.

Decades before he was an activist, Harry was a singer, just a singer, and a pretty good one at that.

I'm just sayin'.

The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)
Jump In The Line

And who could ever forget Winona Ryder, all light on her toes (before she got light with her fingers) lip-synching the Belafonte classic in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice. It's also worth noting the svelte Alex Baldwin before he ate Kim Bassinger.

Harry Belafonte - Jump In The Line (From the motion picture Beetlejuice, 1988)

Harry Belafonte- The Banana Boat Song (Day-O) (The Muppet Show, 1978)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Jump Up!

Our request for a little R&R has been approved. To celebrate Actual Monkey's jaunt to the US Virgin island of St. Thomas, a little Jump Up to get things going. The song from the 1962 soundtrack to the motion picture Dr. No. was performed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. Lee, a pioneer and mainstay of the Caribbean music scene enjoyed a career spanning over 50 years.

So as we depart to a land where all the beverages have tiny umbrellas, we say Bouyon!

Jump Up- Lee & the Dragonaires

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Blood, sweat and tears

On this day in 1975, Bob Dylan released the ultimate breakup record, Blood On the Tracks (Columbia). My favorite Dylan album, it is his penultimate expression as a singer/songwriter. It's achingly personal and simultaneously accessible. Taste the pain.

Although Dylan has denied the album is autobiographical, it is widely accepted the album is pure confessional, a reflection of a tumultuous period in his life, underscored by the separation from his wife Sara.

Not unlike the
cathartic nature of the record replete with drastic mood swings, Dylan had a change of heart just before the LP's scheduled release and pulled the record in order to re-cut several tracks, subsequently discarding his simple, concise versions for richer, more polished renditions. IMHO, I think the tangible intimacy of the original tracks is lost amid the lavish productions on the official Columbia release. Ironically, the record hit store shelves just prior to Valentine's Day,

An absolute cornerstone in any collection, Blood On The Tracks stands as the best lonely hearts album of all time.

Over the last 15 years or so, Dylan's 21st century doppelganger, Beck Hansen has set himself apart from other contemporary singer/songwriters with an eclectic discography, displaying his deft musicianship and a maturity beyond his years.

Like Dylan, Beck released his own breakup record, the 2002 opus Sea Change (Geffen), which he acknowledged was inspired by his split with long time squeeze,
Leigh Limon. A sucker for sad songs, Sea Change is another of my all-time favorite albums.

Both artists possess a chameleon-like ability to exploit whatever style of music that happens to tickle their fancy. The key to their success is the underlying mastery of their songwriting capabilities.

So get yourself a box of hankies, it's gonna be a long, sad night.

I'm just sayin'.

New York Test Pressing

Update: It has come to my attention that the correct release date of Blood On The Tracks was January 17, 1975. Since I was all of 7 years old, I was not on line at Record World to get my copy in vinyl, and carelessly cited the Internet as my source. Pure Idiot Wind. I'll trust an astute visitor to correct me in necessary.

Forever evolving as an artist while never leaving well enough alone, check Zimmy as he tweaks some of his lyrics and arrangements on the following tracks:

Bob Dylan- Tangled Up In Blue (Rolling Thunder Revue, 1975)

Bob Dylan- Simple Twist Of Fate (from "the world of John Hammond" 10 Sept 1975)

Bob Dylan- Shelter From The Storm (Fort Collins, Colorado, 23 May 1976)

The times they are a-changin' but it's uncanny how Beck emulates Dylan some 40+ years later:

Beck- The Golden Age (10 October 2000)

Beck w/ The Flaming Lips- All In Your Mind (11 November 2002)

Beck w/ The Flaming Lips- Already Dead (11 November 2002)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Beatlemania-day one

45 years ago today, the Fab Four arrived at Kennedy Airport. You know the rest.

Ed Sullivan Show February 9, 1964
All My Loving
Till There Was You
She Loves You
I Saw Her Standing There
I Want To Hold Your Hand

New York Meets The Beatles (New In Brief Newsreel, 1964)

Beatles Conquer America (Newsreel, 1964)

The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (February 9, 1964)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hurry boy, its waiting there for you

On this day in 1983, Toto held the No. 1 position on Billboard's Hot 100 chart with the power-ballad, Africa. The song was one of three to make the charts, all from their Grammy winning, multi-platinum LP, Toto IV (Columbia). No small feat for a little furry dog.

Africa would become the band's only No.1, and surprisingly, it almost didn't get released. The following is lifted from Wiki:

It was almost cut from the Toto IV record prior to its release. Having spent an incredible amount of time producing the tune, the band became so tired of the song that they didn’t want it on the album. The song itself was very different from anything the band had done before, and some members felt that it didn’t sound like Toto.

Recorded prior to the rise in popularity of World Music, the song doesn't even pretend to sound anything like or attempt to incorporate any aspects of authentic African music. Instead, with it's power chords, swirling synthesizer and cow bell it guaranteed itself a spot on the charts. Joseph Conrad be damned.

It should also be noted that the song contains one of the worst lyrics ever included in a pop song (as voted in a BBC poll).

"The wild dogs cry out in the night, As they grow restless longing for some solitary company, I know that I must do what's right, Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti."

I would tend to agree, it's as pretentious and cerebral as you can get in a four-minute pop song.

The band itself was an assemblage of gifted session players whose sound was akin to that of Steely Dan, utilizing an amalgam of styles including Pop, Rock, Jazz, Soft-Rock and Progressive in crafting their music. Suffice to say they were an anonymous bunch with no defining personality or sound. The song (and album) represented the high water mark for the group, and although they never repeated the chart successes of Toto IV, they remained active, recording and touring, in different iteration until 2007.

Recently, the song has experienced a resurgence in popularity thanks to its inclusion by the a capella group Straight No Chaser's comic interpretation of the 12 Days of Christmas. In addition, the group included a bona fide cover on their 2008 release Holiday Spirits (Atlantic). Proving that a bad joke is a bad joke, no matter who's telling it.

I'm just sayin'.

Africa (original)
Africa (cover)

Toto- Africa (1982)

Straight No Chaser- Africa (2007)

Straight No Chaser-12 Days of Christmas (2007)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Not Fade Away

The story: tragic and familiar. Over the years it has transcended fact and and become woven into the tapestry of American legend. It was fifty years ago today, Buddy Holly, J.P. 'The Big Bopper' Richardson and Richie Valens were killed when the single engine Beechcraft Bonanza they were traveling in crashed in a snow covered corn field shortly after takeoff from Mason City Municipal Airport near Clear Lake Iowa. The event would become known as 'the day the music died'. And as a matter of fact, the Don McLean songs sucks. Always has, always will. Now let's move on.

Having been born nine years after his death, I grew up a HUGE Buddy Holly fan quite accidentially, after stumbling across his music in my parents record collection and through repeated viewings of the wholly entertaining biopic, The Buddy Holly Story starring gonzo Hollywood legend Gary Busey.

The film was one of the first I can remember on the fledgling pay television service WHT (Wometco Home Theater). Back in the late 70's there was only one premium 'cable' channel, and on it the film was run ad nauseum. The movie, while not factually correct, did focus on Holly's unlikely rise to fame and more importantly, his amazing songwriting abilities. It should be noted that Busey and fellow actors Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith did a stellar job performing all the songs for the film.

IMHO, Holly was light years ahead of contemporaries like Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and even Elvis. What he lacked in style he made up for with substance. One of Rock's first true singer/songwriters, his songbook runs rich and deep. Holly's catalog is still, over fifty years later, one of the most covered in Rock. He might not have invented three-chord rock, but he definitely perfected it. He and the Crickets were the first garage band, successfully combining simple chord progressions with catchy, accessible lyrics. Buddy Holly was the creator of the three minute pop formula that became the standard and has stood the test of time. As far as an influence, his legacy speaks for itself. If it weren't for the likes of Holly, it can be disputed there would have been no Beatles. Need I say more.

Not to discount the others who perished on that fateful night, I do, however, think they were novelty acts, as forgetful as the one-hit wonders the were peddling. Holly, on the other hand had already matured beyond the greasy kid stuff. His later work, albeit less edgy, displayed a brevity beyond his mere 23 years and showcased his prowess as a deft producer, allowing him to dress his sound in lush orchestrations. All from an artist that could not read or write music.

Who's to say Holly wouldn't have wound up a soft-rock pariah, but I think he was just hitting his stride when his life ended. Unfortunately, we'll never know. One thing is certain, Buddy Holly crammed a lifetime of amazing music into a very short lifespan.

Rave On
Rockin' Around With Ollie Vee
Well Alright
Not Fade Away
True Love Ways

Buddy Holly & The Crickets- Peggy Sue (Arthur Murray Dance Party, December 1957)

Buddy Holly & The Crickets- Oh, Boy! (Ed Sullivan Show, January 1958)

The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

Buddy Holly & The Crickets-Rock Around With Ollie Vee (1956)

Sir Paul, paying homage:
Paul McCartney- Words of Love (The Real Buddy Holly Story, 1985)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Born to run- but not run over

Not a huge Bruce fan here, but I think he did an admirable job during tonight's halftime show. Playing it safe and sticking to the classics and the schedule, the Boss and the band belted out a four song medley in just under 12 minutes. It should be noted that three of those songs were at least 25 years old, about how long it's been since Bruce put out a really good record. He did, however tease with a few verses of the gospel groove Working on a Dream, from the forthcoming album of the same name. Even with a full choir backing him up, it paled in comparison to the oldies.

Several years removed from 'Nipplegate', Springsteen was an easy bet to cover the spread, a crowd pleaser sans the drama. The only whiff of controversy was his inking of an exclusive distribution deal for his new LP with Walmart. A move he has since gone on record to regret, allowing him to cling to his working class hero persona while hopefully raking in the bucks. It is well known that the retail giant is a union-busting outfit with a track record of 'unfair' employment practices. Maybe it'll provide him fodder for another lackluster release somewhere down the road. Perhaps Darkness on the Edge of Aisle Nine ?

I have to admit, although I enjoyed the performance, I did not relinquish control of my chicken fingers.

I'm just sayin'.

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Born To Run
Spirit In The Night

Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (Hammersmith Odeon, 1975)