|Here are 25 reasons
why I think you'll love this book
The Ultimate Guide To Great Reggae is written to be indispensable to anyone with an interest in reggae music and/or
Bob Marley, and an engaging read for any music fan. It takes a
song-based approach to flesh out the history of reggae music as
never before. This approach also serves to make this book a
unique buyers’ guide that is especially well suited to the
iTunes/YouTube/streaming era of music delivery.
Those interested in Caribbean culture
and Jamaican history will enjoy this book as well.
The Ultimate Guide To Great Reggae
approaches the subject with a breadth and depth of content not
found in any other book or on any web site. It covers the full
spectrum of reggae. Six decades are spanned, as are a dozen
sub-styles and numerous artists. In addition to a broad swim,
The Ultimate Guide To Great Reggae is a deep dive. It tells the
story of reggae by focusing in-depth on its greatest songs.
Though many more are discussed, over 750 songs are described in
Nine chapters devoted to Bob Marley & The
Wailers discuss each and every one of his songs. It goes into detail
for the 200 best, describing and celebrating what makes each one
great. The recent biographical Marley book are fine, but what
makes Bob Marley popular is the body of music he produced. Bob
Marley fans around the world will embrace a book that examines
his entire catalog as never before, exploring what makes his
music so enjoyable.
As this body of work is examined, Bob
Marley is put into perspective with his influences, his
contemporaries, and those he influenced.
Unique content on mento music is included.
This early form of reggae is of great historical importance and
tremendous interest to reggae fans, but is grossly overlooked by
other books. Mento is currently enjoying new attention
reminiscent of last decade’s Buena Vista Social Club phenomena,
with tours and a film about to be released. And mento records
routinely sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Yet there is
little of substance in print on this topic. I bring unique
expertise to my book as the author of
definitive web site devoted to this subject. It has had twenty
million hits since its inception in 2003.
Chapters on reggae artists that have very
strong followings in Jamaica, the US, the UK, Europe, Japan and
beyond, but are underrepresented in any other book. For example,
such artists as Nora Dean, Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, Prince
Buster, Desmond Dekker, Toots & The Maytals, The Ethiopians,
Jimmy Cliff, Dennis Brown, Junior Murvin, The Congos, Studio
One, Gregory Isaacs, The Skatalites, The Abyssinians, Barrington
Levy, Treasure Isle, Johnny Osbourne, Burning Spear, Big Youth,
Black Ark, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer receive their own
chapters. Lee Perry receives several.
A richer, more engaging exploration of the
subject than found elsewhere. The reggae encyclopedias, as well
as popular web sites like AllMusic or Wikipedia are reference
works that focus on brief descriptions of CDs rather than
exploring songs in any detail. A labor of love, the reader will
welcome the deeper song-based focus, rather than a list of
facts. Few of the beloved songs my book describes have received
their due in print form. Yet there are interesting stories to be
told about these songs and artists.
An approach that is uniquely suited for the
digital music acquisition age, with its culture of discovering individual songs
that merit purchase. Reference books that focus on CDs not only
miss the true story of reggae (as singles, not albums, drove the
music), but the opportunity to meet the needs of today’s
To maximize its readability and appeal,
academic language was eschewed and the only technical music
terms used are those that would be familiar to the layman.
(Having said that, I’m sure musicians and academics will enjoy
this book as well.)
My mantra while writing this book was no
cut corners. It’s well researched, carefully considered, very
organized and smartly written to assure an informative and
enjoyable reading experience.
An introductory chapter that explains the
intent of this book. It includes three sections: “Why This
Book”, “The Three Most Common Misconceptions About Reggae” and
A complete concise history of Jamaican recorded
music and why it resulted in so many great records.
An examination of reggae that puts it into
perspective with other popular music through comparisons with
The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Talking Heads, Frank
Zappa, Motown and other artists from rock, punk, folk, soul,
jazz, calypso, blues, country, gospel, pop vocals, etc.
For more than 750 songs, an in-depth
description of what makes the song special. This typically
includes discussion of:
biographical information on the artist, producer and backing
vocals, lyrics and backing music
style/subgenre of reggae, and overall sound
influenced the song and how it influenced what followed
where the song can be acquired
Clarification of the frequently mystifying
and often misunderstood lyrics of reggae songs. The accent,
patios, Jamaica slang, Rastafarian symbolism, Bible references
and Jamaican folk sayings that make frequent appearances in
reggae lyrics are fully decoded as never before.
Descriptions of what the music sounds like
in addition to lyrical analysis. Because writers like words,
music writers often concentrate too heavily on the lyrics at the
expense of the harder task of describing the sound. I am careful
to avoid this imbalance.
Discussions of which version of a song is
best. In reggae, it’s common for singers to re-record a hit song
several times throughout their careers. Cutting through this
potentially confusing situation is another way that this book
serves as an unparalleled buyer’s guide.
Hit songs and familiar tracks along with
overlooked or forgotten songs. Songs that are commonly available
and rare records that are difficult to find (along with guidance
for obtaining them).
Surprising song sources. Many reggae
songs thought to be new are actually based on songs from around
|Here's a sample song
description (one of more than 750). It comes from the chapter
called "Great Rock Steady From Other Studios":
Morgan - Tougher Than Tough (a.k.a. Rudie's In Court)
Derrick Morgan was born 1940 in
Clarendon Parish. In the 1950s, he won on the Vere
Johns' Opportunity Knocks Talent Show with his imitation
of Little Richard singing Long Tall Sally. An important
Jamaican musical institution,
Opportunity Knocks was broadcast on Jamaican
radio and then eventually on TV. It provided a
steppingstone that helped launch more than a few reggae
singers, including Morgan's long and interesting career.
After winning, he was snatched up by the island's top
comedic act, Bim & Bam, to add his Little Richard
imitation to their stage show. His recording career
began at the very end of the 1950s with a string of R&B
sides. The first was Lover Boy for producer Duke Reid.
But, as was then the producer's prerogative, Reid
decided against releasing it, keeping it instead as an
exclusive for his sound system. This angered Morgan who
quit Reid to work with other producers. But the dispute
was temporary, as the song would eventually be released
and Morgan would return to work further with Reid.
Morgan recorded steadily from
1959 through to 1977, and sporadically in the 1980s,
releasing well over three hundred singles and ten albums
over this span. But it was the 1960s that was his
decade, hit filled and storied. Massively popular, at
one point in an unmatched feat, he simultaneously held
the top seven spots on the Jamaican record chart.
Meanwhile, he had a hand in launching the careers of
some of the biggest singers in reggae. Working for
producer Leslie Kong, he arranged Jimmy Cliff’s first
records. As a talent scout, he not only brought Desmond
Dekker to Kong, but also helped him develop his first
record. The first ever live Wailers performance was part
of a big show that was honoring Morgan’s pending move to
England. He would give Bob Marley feedback on his stage
work, advising him to dance less and concentrate on his
singing. He was a participant in perhaps the most famous
of reggae's many musical battles. Morgan’s onetime
producer, Prince Buster felt betrayed that Morgan left
him for Kong, and released a single accusing him of
lacking racial loyalty, called Blackhead Chinaman.
Morgan gave a seven inch response called Blazing Fire,
that, adding insult to injury, repurposed the melody of
Buster’s hit, Madness. Naturally, Buster fired back. In
the end, the feud resulted in five records, big hits for
both combatants and no hard feelings.
Though a solo artist, Morgan
also recorded a fair number of duets either with
established male ska stars or the female supporting
vocalists of the era. In addition to the aforementioned
Reid, Kong and Buster, Morgan worked with Coxsone Dodd
and others producers. He would also produce some of his own
recordings and those of other artists. He even brought
his brother-in-law into the production field; the
prolific Bunny “Striker” Lee. In spite of failing
eyesight, Derrick Morgan still performs occasionally
Produced by Leslie Kong in 1967,
Tougher Than Tough is a true example of grace under
pressure. This classic and frequently imitated track was
commissioned from Derrick Morgan under threat by a
dangerous rude boy named Busby who wanted to be
celebrated in song. And, as per Busby's requirements,
the song had to be written, recorded and pressed for a
dance that was just days away.
The resulting Tougher Than Tough
is a good reminder that Duke Reid did not own a monopoly
on crystal clean rock steady. With Gladstone Anderson's
bright piano out front over Bryan Atkinson's bouncing
melodic bass, rhythm guitar chirps from Lyn Taitt and
drums from Joe Isaacs, Morgan is provided a rock steady
backing as fresh as any. He rides the breeze right into
a courtroom. A drama unfolds that has Morgan playing the
judge, in a speak-sung role. Desmond Dekker, with his
half-brother George in tow to provide harmony, play
defiant rude boys on trial. And in rude boy fashion,
they steal the show, harmonizing plaintively and getting
much more mic time than headliner Morgan. The judge
calls the court to order and reads a list of serious
charges: “You're brought here for gun shooting, ratchet
using, and bomb t'rowing”. The rude boys begin their
defense, singing: “Your honor, rudies don't fear.
Rougher than rough, tougher than tough, strong like
lion, we are iron”. Their closing argument consists of,
“Rudies are free, yeah, boy, rudies are free”. No doubt
won over by a well sung legal argument featuring the
irresistible power of Jamaican harmony, the judge
agrees, declaring, “Court adjourned”.
Tougher Than Tough was great
music and great fun. A big hit, it delighted rock steady
fans. It also had a lasting impact resulting in
reverberations of similar songs that spanned decades.
Though not reggae's first courtroom drama (see Big Sid
by golden-age mento band Chin's Calypso Sextet,
previously described in the chapter on this group), it
provided a particular template that others quickly
followed. In particular, Prince Buster responded with a
number of court records (Barrister Pardon, Judge Dread,
Judge Dread Dance) where instead of being freed, the
rudies received comically severe jail sentences. Morgan
got the last word in this musical feud with his Judge
Dread In Court, where the judge declares Buster a fraud
and gives him jail time! Peter Tosh's Here Comes the
Judge (a song described later in this book) finds
historical figures of colonialism on trial. Even the
1970s UK ska revivalists The Specials got into the act,
and quite nicely, as Stupid Marriage found the singer in
divorce court. Peoples Court Parts 1 and 2 by dub poet
Mutabaruka in 1991 and 1994 continued the form, now
sporting a roots reggae sensibility.
But there was no bigger fan of
the song than Busby himself. Ironically, the lifestyle
that spurred the song would severely truncate his
enjoyment of it. Celebrating wildly upon hearing it
played at the dance, he spilled wine on a rival gang's
girlfriends. Morgan well remembers the next night at the
dance, when a youth of about twelve, hands shaking, shot
Busby in the head in retribution, as Morgan stood
dangerously close by.
Tougher Than Tough is readily
available today on several Derrick Morgan CD
collections. It was also featured on – and gave its name
to – Island Records' biggest reggae compilation, the
1993 4-CD box set called Tougher Than Tough: The Story
Of Jamaican Music.