Happy September! It's time again for the "Battle of the Bands (BOTB)," the blogging event originally started by Stephen T. McCarthy and FarAwayEyes back in August of 2013. It occurs twice every month -- on the 1st and the 15th -- and is a fun way to share and discuss music. Each of the bloggers taking part offers their readers a choice of two (or occasionally more) versions of the same song, performed by different recording artists. And the readers get to vote for their favorite rendition.
In my last BOTB post, I offered two versions of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." I thought it might actually be a close battle since I really like both versions. But I was wrong. Very wrong. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers were severely trounced.
Well, in this post, I'm going completely in the other direction -- I'm featuring a battle where I fully expect it to be a one-sided victory. I'm doing this for two reasons:
- One -- Since I was so off-base about my expectations in the last battle, I'm curious to see if what I think is one-sided ends up being more evenly matched than I predict; and
- Two -- I want to highlight a really great song that I've always loved, and in the process, expose you to a sadly unknown and under-appreciated guitarist that you're probably unaware of.
Let the Battle Begin!
In 1972, most of the world had never heard of Bob Marley. In the early part of that year he and the Wailers found themselves broke, dumped by CBS Records, and stranded in England following a failed tour. There they were introduced to record producer Chris Blackwell, who gave them plane fare home as an advance for doing a record for Blackwell's Island Records The subsequent album, "Catch a Fire," was recorded in Jamaica and the UK, and released in 1973.
The record had mixed commercial success but caught the attention of world critics, even though some traditional reggae fans considered it "overproduced" and not representative of true reggae. However, many now view it one of the greatest reggae album ever made -- it ranked #123 in Rolling Stones's top 500 albums of all time from 2003.
Track one on the album was the song "Concrete Jungle" -- it's been one of my most favorite songs ever since I first heard it. Here's the video of that original version from 1973:
Awesome song, isn't it? Moving and evocative. I absolutely love it.
So did you make it all the way through the song and hear all that fabulous guitar, like the cool overdubs in the intro, and especially that blazing solo that dissolves into that haunting echo-laden feedback? If not, go back and listen again -- I'll wait...
When I first heard this song, I was blown away. I mean, I love the whole album, and the songs and the infectious reggae are great, but the guitar on this song and "Stir it Up" REALLY got my attention. The album credits list Peter Tosh as the guitarist. So I made it a point to buy several other Peter Tosh albums and yeah, they were decent reggae records, but there was something missing. On his solo albums or later Bob Marley and the Wailers albums, he never again played guitar with the same amazing lines like he had on "Concrete Jungle."
And I always wondered why.
Here's a clue: A 1973 video Bob Marley and the Wailers made where they play along with "Concrete Jungle" -- there's plenty of live parts mixed in, but the original recording is also still heavily in the mix. Check out Peter Tosh (in the cool hat). For some reason, his fingers don't quite seem to match the guitar lines you hear in the background, and even more surprising, that killer guitar solo is totally gone, now replaced by one done on keyboard.
It wasn't until years later that I discovered the truth: Peter Tosh did NOT play all that awesome guitar.
When Chris Blackwell was doing post-production work on "Catch a Fire" in London, he decided to add a lot of overdubs to the record. There are many uncredited musicians who played on this album. In Island Studios at the time happened to be a session guitarist from Muscle Shoals, Alabama named Wayne Perkins. It turns out that Wayne is actually the guy who did all the wonderful guitar playing on "Stir it Up" and "Concrete Jungle."
Wayne Perkins? Who??? I'd never heard of him -- have you?
It's too bad -- he's done a lot of great work. HERE's a list of his recording and composing credits. And below is a video of him talking about recording on "Stir it Up" and "Catch a Fire" with Chris Blackwell:
I smile when he talks about how he couldn't "find the 'one' to save his ass." Reggae is all about the backbeat -- the emphasis is on the 'two' and the 'four' of the four-beat measure. And damn -- that solo still gives me goosebumps, too. :)
Wayne even almost ended up in the Rolling Stones. After Mick Taylor left, they auditioned several guitarists as part of the recording of their album "Black and Blue," before choosing Ronnie Wood. Wayne's playing can be heard on "Hand of Fate" and "Fool to Cry." He's also added guitar to many other artists, including some really tasty guitar on Joni Mitchell's "Car on a Hill" from "Court and Spark."
Wayne's done some solo stuff too -- some sadly under-heard solo stuff. HERE is a video of the title tune, "Mendo Hotel," from his 1995 album, and HERE is "Many Rivers to Cross" from his 2006 album "Ramblin' Heart."
So there you go -- now you know the secret guitarist on the Bob Marley classic, "Concrete Jungle."
Oh, yeah -- "Concrete Jungle!" This is supposed to be a Battle of the Bands post, right???
Well, try as I might, I could not find many decent covers of this song, and it's one I absolutely wanted you to know about. There are several other songs with the same name, including a Black Label Society one that Alex might like, ;) But these other songs are not the Bob Marley tune.
However, after some searching, I finally found one that I think might be worth sharing as part of a BOTB post. It's by the Brazilian singer, Ceu. She's evidently been performing this song since her debut album in 2005. Below is one of the better-recorded videos I've found of that song, although it was made in 2007, when her English pronunciation was not quite as smooth as later phone-made videos I found. But this video has the best production and a really smooth Latin jazz feel. There's no Wayne Perkins guitar here, but I still like it quite a bit. See what you think:
So which appeals to you more? Bob Marley's awesome original version with the uncredited Wayne Perkins playing guitar, or the smooth, sensual, jazzy interpretation by Ceu?
I invite you to listen to each version and give them a chance. And try not to focus on the video images too much (close your eyes if you must) -- the battle is about the music, not the video production.
After listening, please vote in the comments as to which version you think is best, or which speaks to you the deepest. Feel free to also share as much as you would like about how any of the above recordings strike you, even if it's less than positive.
Then -- be sure to check out the other BOTB bloggers to vote on their battles:
- Far Away Series (FarAwayEyes)
- Stephen T. McCarthy's Battle of the Bands Blog
- Tossing it Out (Arlee Bird)
- Your Daily Dose (Robin)
- DiscConnected (DiscConnected)
- A Writer's Life in Progress (Donna Hole)
- Mike's Ramblings (Mike Pain)
- Curious as a Cathy (Cathy Kennedy)
Thank you very much for listening and for voting -- come back and visit again the end of next week to find out how the voting has gone. I'll make a post then with my own vote and also announce the winner.
And in the meantime -- be sure to do what you can to help tame the concrete jungles around you!