Bro Jackson’s resident reggae expert John Meller stops by on occasion to enlighten the lasses in the ways of the rastafari.
Riddim Vol. I, with 11 subscribers, is by far my most popular Spotify playlist of ALL TIME. So here’s my second crack at it, another playlist of classic reggae, ideal for barbeques, car cruising, headphone listening, or family gatherings. 1
As before, MAKE SURE YOU CAN HEAR THAT BASS! 2
Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before
A few of these tracks might sound familiar, but keep listening. The playlist features a few dub songs, essentially described as mostly-instrumental reggae remixes. Call it the remix’s granddaddy. Sometimes, there would be dozens of dubs of a single reggae song, and it is not uncommon to hear similar riddims from several different artists. Reggae music wasn’t afraid to share, and it created a wealth of interesting varieties on similar concepts. You might notice that the two Joe Gibbs songs borrow their riddims from Vol. I tracks—bonus points if anyone can point out which ones. “Right Road to Dubland” by the Jahlights is a dub of their track “Right Road to Zion,” while “Dyon Anaswa” by Lee “Scratch” Perry & The Upsetters is a nearly unrecognizable dub of reggae singer Roy Richards’ “Freedom Blues.”
I-Roy, U-Roy, We All Roy
The playlist also features music by Jamaican deejays, 3 whose style of “toasting” over instrumental riddims may have influenced the development of MCing in the US . . . and definitely directly influenced modern acts such as Shaggy of “Wasn’t Me” fame. I-Roy and U-Roy are two of the best known deejays. Like dub, you might recognize some of their riddims from elsewhere in my two reggae playlists. Other deejays on the playlist include Shorty the President on “Natty Pass Him G.C.E.” and Scotty on “Draw Your Breaks.”
Feel the groove
Besides dub and deejay music, there aren’t any particular themes to this playlist other than “damn good reggae music.” A few favorite artists return from Vol. I, including the Heptones, Mighty Diamonds, and The Congos. Also featured are the two producers who were the focus of the first playlist, Lee Perry and Joe Gibbs, with their bands the Upsetters and The Professionals, respectively. “Right Road to Dubland” and “This Life Makes Me Wonder” are another two songs I first heard on Jonny Greenwood’s reggae compilation.
Three tracks come from the fantastic soundtrack for classic Jamaican movie “The Harder They Come,” which just celebrated its 40th birthday. “54-46 Was My Number” is Toots & The Maytals’ ode to freedom after a jail sentence chronicled by the song’s prequel, “54-46 (That’s My Number).” 4 “Draw Your Brakes” is Scotty’s attempt to hail a train, and “Johnny Too Bad” is a song about a man looking to start trouble.
I saved one of my favorites for last, “Neckodeemus” by The Congos. I’ve liked reggae since my childhood, when my mom would play me her Bob Marley and UB40 (“Red Red Wine”) CDs, then I delved deeper in high school. But I distinctly remember a time in college listening to The Congos when reggae really clicked with me. “Neckodeemus” is a song that really emphasizes producer Lee Perry’s genius. The back half is a dub of the front half—listen to the way the vocals, very faintly in the background at times, weave in and out of the rhythm section, then cut out without warning. Meanwhile, the rhythm section throws down an undeniable groove—but is at times similarly unpredictable. It’s hypnotizing, and everything I love about reggae—an eight-minute song that keeps the same groove the entire time without becoming monotonous. You can’t help but feel irie.
Stay tuned for Vol. III, in which John explores dancehall and goes contemporary.
- Grandpa Meller loved Riddim vol. I when I played it during the Meller Family Tennessee Lake Cruise 2012. ↩
- Hit me up if you want some good recs for cheap bass-friendly headphones. ↩
- Not to be confused with disc jockeys. ↩
- The band may also have invented the word “Reggae” with their 1968 track “Do the Reggay.” ↩