Wednesday, February 29, 2012
A Fistful of 45's
Little did Kurosawa suspect that his ironic and Western-nized versions of samurai warrior adventures (Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Rashomon, The Hidden Fortress, and others, but Seven Samurai in particular) would open the door for other Japanese directors, and then martial arts films in general (the Bruce Lee movies, for example), and then sky’s-the-limit, all-effects Oriental action flicks, including Hong Kong’s urban shoot-‘em-ups by John Woo and others.
Meanwhile, back at il rancho, Italians of the Sixties evinced a craving for spaghetti… spaghetti Westerns, that is... especially those cooked up by tongue-in-cheek director Sergio Leone, who made his own triple play: he “borrowed” cheerfully and openly
For my tale, however, the crucial element was composer Morricone, who may have scored a thousand films by now, but who will forever be known as the man who invented the sound of spaghetti Westerns, then rented out his skills to a hundred directors post-Leone—and whose musical stylings have been parodied or ripped off ever since.
The Leone/Morricone influence is immediately discernible in the titles of many Reggae tunes (mostly instrumentals): “Clint Eastwood,” “Lee Van Cleef,” “Return of Django,” “The Man with No Name,” “The Big Gundown,” “High Plains Drifter,” “For a Few Dollars More,” “Django Shoots First,” and a dozen or two more, most all of
But these superficial title links just hint at the significant connections made during the fervor and turmoil of that time (1968-70) via Perry’s oddball and ubiquitous tunes, to the studio engineers and producers soon to create the wonders of Dub music: King Tubby, Clancy Eccles, Errol (“E.T.”) Thompson, Clive Chin, Bunny (“Striker”) Lee, and a burgeoning posse of
Where Morricone’s amazing soundtracks employed expert whistling, Jew’s harp, guitar effects, disembodied female voices, rhythms that might speed up or slow down, harmonica accents, twang bars, gunshots, and other controlled surprises, the creators of Dub started slowly (i.e., backing tracks played without the recorded vocals, a simplification invented to fill the B-sides of 45 r.p.m. singles), but relentlessly and inexorably came to use all of Morricone’s arsenal and then some--singly or at least selectively--repeating cowbells, crying babies, traffic noise, cattle lowing, jet engines, random squeaks and squawks, slapsticks, lugubrious
It’s beyond the scope of this brief look at some oceans-apart, shrinking-world cultures intersecting, but I believe a case can also be made that samurai and martial arts films--with their preening peacock warriors, petty fiefdom quarrels, and deadly blood-feuds--ubiquitous in video rental stores everywhere for several decades now, are likely to
But staying with the music, here are a few recommendations for serious Dub albums that may well link back to Morricone (and make for killer listening regardless):
For Scratch, 2CD set The Upsetter Selection: A Lee Perry Jukebox (Trojan 06076-80566-2) and Sound System Scratch: Lee Perry’s Dub Plate Mixes 1973 to 1979 (Pressure Sounds PSCD68). Trying to
For King Tubby there have been scores of releases attempting to collect his Dub extravaganzas; the man pretty much commanded the B-side scene for two decades, until he was stupidly murdered. Bunny Lee provided maybe two-thirds of all the basic mixed recordings Tubby remixed into bite-size musical miracles, and Striker issued two of the all-time crucial Tubby sets (all Dubbious, nothin’ dubious!), currently offered as King Tubby Presents the Roots of Dub and King Tubby: Dub from the Roots (Jamaican Recordings JRCD
More obscure, but loads of fun anyway, is Forward the Bass: Dub from Randy’s 1972-1975 (Blood and Fire BAFCD 022), which provides splendid samples of the Dubs deconstructed by Errol Thompson at Clive Chin’s recording studio (confusingly known as Randy’s). Among the 15 gems here are several featuring harmonica riffs and solos (played by the mysterious “Chicago Steve”), some of which might remind you of Charles Bronson’s harp work in Once Upon a Time in the West.
Which brings us to this: Once Upon a Time at King Tubby’s (Pressure Sounds PSCD62), a recent compilation of insult singles, hurled at one another circa 1971 (“Straight to Jazzbo’s Head,” for example, or “Gal Boy I Roy”) by several “toaster”