Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Curley Locks" by Junior Byles (1974)

I don't know that much about reggae. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert just in order to make this list as 'international' or 'eclectic' as possible. I like a lot of the reggae I've heard, but again I'm not an expert. This means, of course, that in including reggae on this list I run the risk of either choosing some incredibly wack song that happened to 'cross over' or genuflecting to reggae tastemakers to the point of convincing myself that some song with suitable cred is good - that is to say one of the 'best songs ever'.

So I include this without knowing much about it for the simple fact that I love it extremely. In fact, I've been quite obsessed with it lately, to the point of listening to dozens of versions of it to see which one I like best. I've settled on this one. The different versions, by different performers, range a lot in style but they all seem to have a certain beguiling sweetness to them.

So I guess that our protagonist has become a Rastafarian. His childhood sweetheart has been told by her father (presumably a Christian) to stay away. He is singing his heart out to her in an attempt to win her back. The balance between the never-mind sweetness ("The sun is shining...") and the trouble's-brewing warning ("Two roads before you...") is very delicately struck, and yet the overall feeling coming from the boy (who just might possibly be in prison or some place like that if I'm to understand anything from the "Thank you for the letter" part) seems to be a delicate, loving sensitivity. The end result is really very powerful - where so many political songs (and a song about religious conversion and family pressures is political) are strident, this one just seems to envelop its message in a kind of sweetness that proves its righteousness by not being consciously righteous.

It's difficult to imagine the Curley Locks in question not being swayed by this paean into ignoring her father and running away with the protagonist.

Wikipedia tells me that Junior Byles recorded this song with Lee "Scratch" Perry, who also has a version of it released in his own name which seems to bear more of the "Scratch" Perry sonic trademarks that I'm familiar with. I mean, "Scratch" Perry songs don't all sound the same, but I always associate him with dub, and this recording (which I believe is in the genre called 'lovers' rock') doesn't bear much of a dub feel to it. Instead, its gentle skank plays like a lullaby, lulling its message into the Curley Locks' heart...
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