by Stuart Ridgway, Original Music for Film and Television
These tunes may have slipped by you as you’ve listened to your favorite albums over the years, but pop artists do a sweet job incorporating reggae into their music, if only just a taste. These may not be Bob Marley, it’s a long way from his I Shot the Sheriff to Clapton’s, but many pop artist do do reggae justice.
Here’s a list of 10 pop songs that you might have in your library, but don’t realize how truly reggae they are. When put together they make a nice playlist. And don’t miss the tasty tidbits that I call out here. So go put them on. Now.
1. Where There’s Gold
Seal deftly captures the sadness that often wraps the joy and hope found in reggae. You know your day’s about to get better when:…you find a message written on your phone, “clear your day.” When there’s nothing left to buy, it’s only love that gets you high. He finishes the track with some classic deejay toasting that few could pull off as well.
Smashmouth peppers their repertoire with many styles of music and what I like about Home is the intricacy of their tight reggae arrangement. Right from the intro drum fill you’ve got this slick repeating call-n-response among the rhythm section: bass lick, wah guitar, turntable scratch, organ swell, guitar line – bass lick, wah guitar, turntable scratch, organ swell, guitar line, timbale fill. Then they descend into a quick reggae groove with the organ pumping away. Don’t miss the Theremin lick at the end of each chorus. Just remember, if you come looking for me, oil stains are all you’re gonna find in my garage.
3. Watching the Detectives
Seriously? How can anyone miss this one. From the first smash of the trashy distorted drums Elvis Costello takes you on a 4 minute ride with a sneer and a beer. I chose this video because Elvis and the Police play both Watching the Detectives and Walking on the Moon, my #5 pick. Does anyone know what these lyrics means? I have no idea – but I still smile when he sings, I don’t know how much more of this I can take. She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake.
4. Fools in Love
Joe Jackson also plays with a lot of different genres. He relies heavily on Graham Maby’s bass line to give Fools in Love some real authenticity. This is also the first song where I realized (cough) 30 years ago that Joe really knows how to play piano. Shame on me.
5. Walking on the Moon
The Police have dozens of reggae-influenced songs but I pick Walking on the Moon because it is so elegant in its simplicity. When pop radio was heading towards over-the-top production for bands like Yes and Starship, lean styles of music like punk and new wave were largely ignored. Then comes this three-man band that could eat up your stereo. Stewart Copeland does a masterful job accentuating and playing with the triplet echo on his drum kit – a classic reggae mix trick. Check out his extraordinary hi hat work at 3:15 on the original recording. I took a lesson from his playing on my own Desert Warm Front.
6. Blue Light
When 0(+> reclaimed his name, this little ditty probably snuck by while you were still knocked on the floor by “My Name is Prince” and “Sexy MF.” Just listen. What more can I add?
7. Underneath it All
No Doubt has been knocking out reggae and ska tunes for decades and it shows. Underneath it All simmers with such confidence and ease that you might miss the sophisticated details they layer on – like the ragged sampled horn line and the constant pumping sound of the offbeat. You can best hear these effects at 4:44. No Doubt features expert toasting too, this time by Lady Saw. What I found ridiculous is that when they released this song, the Mix radio stations that advertise “No rap – Ever” only played the version without the toasting. A pity. But you got the rare opportunity to hear No Doubt’s intricate arrangement without vocals. You’ve used up all your coupons and all you got left is me. Wwuow
8. This World Over
XTC were huge fans of dub-style mixing particularly in the 80s and This World Over gave them a chance to work it into their repertoire. Unfortunately for them after Terry Chambers left the band they stayed drummer-less for the rest of their career. So, Andy, Colin, and Dave programmed all of the drums on a Linn drum machine for this tune – not bad for a trio of white boys from an English coal town. Big Express, the album from which it came, was pretty raucous except this song. And what I love about it, beyond vocals that could make a new dad cry, is that it’s an appetizing predecessor to the deep and complex music they were to soon write.
311 can crush a tune like any other 90s band from Nebraska, but don’t let their edge fool you – by the time Amber was released they had matured well past their alternative roots. Just go back and listen to the harmonized vocals or the subtle guitar work. You’ll be glad.
10. Road Man
I love this tune. It’s got a great reggae vibe. Even the fake Jamaican accent is charming. The show must go on.
Gripe: Taking the elevator up or down one flight.
Punishment: If you catch me taking the elevator up or down one flight instead of walking, you may stand uncomfortably close to me and grind your teeth.
Just so we’re clear: Walk up that one flight or down those two flights. It won’t kill you and it won’t slow everyone else down.
Stuart Ridgway composes original music for film and television. Get award-winning, original music for your film or video at Pyramid Digital Productions, Inc.