Friday, February 17, 2023

Reggae Legends Make Rolling Stone's List of the 200 Greatest Singers of All Time

Rolling Stone recently released their list of the 200 greatest singers of all time. Not surprisingly, several reggae legends were included. Obviously, the list is subjective and those included are a matter of personal opinion. However, it speaks volumes about the talent found within the cauldron that is reggae music!

We'll start from the bottom and work our way up. Entering in at Number 143 is Luciano. Most definitely a worthy inclusion. Here's what Easy Star Record's Michael Goldwasser had to say about the Messenjah:

"I’ve never heard a bad Luciano performance live, even when he’s doing a backflip off a speaker. And in the studio, the Jamaican star is just as dynamic. The first time I produced Luci, I noticed his ability to instantly come up with a melody that seemed classic. When Luciano came on the scene in the Nineties, his tunes like “Sweep Over My Soul” and “It’s Me Again Jah” immediately entered the reggae canon. Luciano once sang that he had “the voice of a trumpet.” If anything, that’s an undersell; he’s got a range that extends from a rich baritone up to a strong falsetto. And he’s a master of the lost art of harmonizing — Luciano would be a top vocal arranger in N.Y. or L.A., if he weren’t so committed to the roots."  

Coming in at Number 125 is the inimitable Joe Strummer. Now you'd be correct in saying that the former Clash front man isn't necessarily a reggae legend. However, if you're a fan of the Clash, you know they were massive fans based on the reggae songs they covered and/or their originals. In fact, note 2 of the songs Rob Sheffield mentions in his words about Strummer:

"Joe Strummer always wore his heart on his sleeve. With the Clash, he could knock you flat with his mighty roar, but he could do a lot more than that — his deceptively gruff yowl was an astonishingly flexible instrument, which is how he could hit such a wide emotional range. Strummer could do rage, sure, but he had a unique gift for jolly let’s-go warmth, in the comic flights of “Bank Robber” or “Safe European Home.” He could do elegiac tenderness, as in “Spanish Bombs” or “Straight to Hell.” Or he could just could turn into the voice of doom, as in “Armagideon Time.” If you ever doubt his smarts as a singer, just listen to “London Calling,” in his intricate emotional swerves from anger (“Now get this!”) to mirth to terror. It’s a three-minute vocal master class." A deep dive into their catalog reveals a long list of reggae tunes including, among others, Police and Thieves, Pressure Drop, Rudie Can't Fail, The Guns of Brixton, Lover's Rock, Junco Partner, One More Time, Kingston Advice, Version Pardner, (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais, Ghetto Defendant and Cool Confusion, not to mention the wicked Rock the Casbah and Red Angel Dragnet mixes with the legendary Ranking Roger!  

Next on the list is Barrington Levy at Number 119. No argument here. Mr. Levy has one of the most distinct and notable voices that reggae has ever produced. 

At Number 98 is the Legend himself- Robert Nesta Marley. Rolling Stone reporter Jon Dolan summed it up nicely: "Influenced by James Brown’s funk declamations, the earthy equanimity of folk and blues, and the yearning hunger in rock’s search for mass connection, Bob Marley invented a down-to-earth yet heraldic idiom that reflected the struggles and aspirations of tens of millions of people throughout the world. His voice was lovably ragged even on smooth tracks like “Could You Be Loved,” but his command of the dramatic octave leap that signifies our shared search for a better tomorrow had few peers. And it says something about the communal gravity of his voice that one of his most deeply beloved recorded moments — the “No Woman No Cry” captured at London’s Lyceum Theatre in July 1975 — was created live out of thin air, bountiful warts and all."

Four spots ahead at Number 94 is Toots Hibbert. Honestly, just the first 3 lines of '54-46' could put him on this list: "Stick it up, mister! Hear what I say sir, yeah. Get your hands in the air, sir!" Rolling Stone and Toots himself had this to say: "Reggae pioneer Toots Hibbert possessed a rough-edged, fierce voice that gave fire to the incarceration chronicle “54-46 That’s My Number” and added a slyly endearing wink to the wedding-jitters chronicle “Sweet and Dandy.” The Toots and the Maytals leader came to music through religion: “My voice was developed going to church with my family,” he told Uncut in 2020. “I love singing; singing was what I thought I should do because it was born in me and I grew into it, straight from the church.” Over the years, it evolved further, with Hibbert taking cues from gospel and soul, helping him fulfill the promise he laid out in the title track to his classic 1973 album Funky Kingston: “I want you to believe every word I say/ I want you to believe every thing I do.”" 

The highest on the list at Number 67 is Dennis Brown. No real surprise here.  Rolling Stone encapsulated the Crown Prince of reggae beautifully: "Dennis Brown was a child star — his first hit, 1969’s “No Man Is an Island,” came at age nine — who matured into homegrown superstar. With a voice as tough-yet-velvety as suede, he was one of Jamaica’s smoothest love men ever, not to mention a dispense of homespun wisdom on the immortal 1981 hit “Sitting and Watching.” Sadly, Brown died at 42. Yet, throughout his career, his soulfulness was unimpeachable — no less an authority than Bob Marley once declared Brown his favorite reggae singer."

Overall one can't really take issue with those that are included. However, an argument could certainly be made for many others to have been included.