Records Go Round is an occasional column about albums I couldn’t do without.
Reggae tunes are often built around sex scenarios and political broadsides, but in the late 1970s, as the British punks were using ska and skank to drive some of their songs, a recording studio hermit infused Jamaican music with another essential element: mood. The lyric-less ditties of Augustus Pablo’s East of the River Nile (Shanachie) are both sweet and ominous. Thats an odd mix, and the fully engrossing music is made even more singular by its lead voice: the melodica. A handheld piano keyboard that creates sound when blown into, its long been deemed a childs toy rather than a professional instrument. But with Bob Marley’s bassist and drummer providing slinky propulsion, Pablo’s stark little tracks have a great seriousness to them. Swathed in a light blanket of echo, they provided a novel tangent for the then burgeoning sound of dub reggae. The 25th Anniversary version of the disc (with extra tracks) reminds how catchy and crazed Pablo’s ideas were, and with ears used to electronica-skewed soundscapes (The Orb’s Alex Paterson gives props on the CD booklet), its easy to hear River Nile as a primary source for chill-out room soundtracks. Gentle, steady, soothing, eerie – its indelible personality is still seductive after three decades. Essential summer music.
I spoke with the terrific photographer Kate Simon a few years ago. She has made lots of gorgeous Bob Marley images. We’re mourning the 30 year anniversary of Marley’s passing. Here’s a snip of the chat. Jump for the whole interview.
VH1: Tell me what you think you personally brought out of Bob and the band.
KS: Well, Bob taught me that it takes two to make a great photograph. He made himself available 100% of the time. Whenever I wanted to take a shot, I knew he’d be cool about it. It’s the idea that you can’t take someone’s photograph, they have to give it to you. With Bob, he walked it like he talked it. I can’t really say what I got versus what someone else got. I was just trying to do the best I could. Maybe there’s something unique that surfaced because I’m one of the only women who photographed him. Maybe he gave me something he didn’t give men.
More Kate Simon
Bob Marley is trending on Twitter today. 30 years after his death, the impact of his songs remains palpable. Sometimes it seems the only Bob tunes you hear are those that made it to Legend. Here are five somewhat overlooked Marley tracks I’d like to bump into more often.
Lots of people flock to reggae because the beats are so supple, so elastic. Here’s a great example of the Wailers’ rhythm section bending the action every which way. Of course Marley’s lyric of liberation drives the freedom fighting vibe, too.
Before the sage philosophy came the jumping grooves, and this early ska track reminds us that Saint Bob enjoyed a good party now and then. And it’s got a legacy, too. The Specials and the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones both covered it. Irresistible.
Trench Town Rock
Marley’s lyrics always cut to the chase, and this song’s opening line is one of his most famous: “One good thing about music — when it hits, you feel no pain.” The 1971 track bristles with ghetto authority, urging listeners to revel in the healing power of song. No surprise it was the best-selling single in Jamaica that year, setting the stage for his global stardom.
Who The Cap Fit
Treachery was in the air when he penned this gem from Rastaman Vibration. But even this kind of indictment is delivered with a gentle lilt.
The final track on Burnin’ is a hymn that floats in the air forever, with a pulsing groove that has a little Booker T & the MGs in it.
Here’s an old “Great Marley Tracks” list a colleague and I made at VH1 years ago.
Here are some nifty shots of Marley in action.
A pal sent over a long-buried piece I edited for VH1’s Web site a few years ago. It was to spotlight Miles’ artistic breadth and celebrate Black History Month, which is once again coming to a close in the next few days, donchaknow. I’m not sure that I’d choose the same 10 titles if I had to do it all over again. But it’s a nice snapshot. Here, too, is K. Leander Williams’ spin on 10 Key Nina Simone tunes, and a team effort on 20 Great Bob Marley Songs, pieces also included in that 2007 presentation. C. Bottomley shared the writing duties on the latter. Into Marley? Check this chat with photographer Kate Simon as well.