Monday, September 1, 2014

Battle of the Bands: "Concrete Jungle"

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:

Your Vote

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:

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!


  1. As always, I learn so much in your BOTB posts. I am not a big reggae fan and didn't know that bit about the beat being on the two and four. BUT it is distinctive when you know to listen for it. I can see why Perkins had difficulty finding the one. :)

    Just so you know, I don't have a strong preference here of one song over the other. They are both quite nice for completely different reasons. That makes it more difficult for me to choose one. It is ever so much easier when one version makes me grit my teeth and pull my hair. Not the case here. I will vote for Marley simply because it made me tap my toe. (That is pitiful, isn't it????)

    1. Hi Robin! Thanks!

      And no reason for personal musical preference is ever pitiful -- it's all subjective, regardless of how much justification any critic puts on their rationale. It all really boils down to "I like it for some reason."

      -- Marley 1, Ceu 0

  2. Interesting background info. I don't specifically remember the Perkins name though I'm well aware of the Muscle Shoals sound. My son-in-law and I were discussing this recently as we were driving through Alabama and he looked it up and read off the names of the back up members who typically were associated with the sound--I can't remember a single one of them.

    I like the Marley version for all the reasons you state here. Oddly enough I don't recall ever hearing this song though I had to have since I own much of Marley's output and this is undoubtedly included on one of those recordings. Truth is that I don't listen to Marley very often--I've got to be in the right mood to listen to reggae.

    Nothing wrong with the Marley version--I love it--but I guess I prefer a smoother sound like Ceu delivers.

    My vote goes to Ceu.

    Tossing It Out

    1. This is from "Catch a Fire" -- Marley's first album with Island Records. It's my favorite, in part probably because of all the production Chris Blackwell added to it.

      And you've managed to surprise me, Lee!

      -- Marley 1, Ceu 1

  3. CHRIS ~
    Fantabulous BOTB installment, Brotherman! See? THIS is why I wanted you to become a regular contributor to the BOTB landscape!

    First thing I gotta say is... when I saw the words 'CONCRETE JUNGLE' in the title I was expecting to find Guns & Roses here. (Isn't that the title of one of their big songs? Or am I close without actually smoking the cigar? I admit, I am no fan of Heavy Metal nor Guns & Roses, Axl Weed and his band mates. I just think I've run across that song title - 'Concrete Jungle' - and read somewhere that it was a Guns & Roses song about Los Angeles.)

    Anyway... onto the show!

    I like Reggae but only in small doses. The style, in my opinion, is too limiting, so many of the songs begin to sound alike. (I like what David Lindley did on 'El Rayo-X', just mixing in that Reggae beat on a few songs, so I didn't quickly grow tired of it.)

    Back in the day, I owned a Bob Marley album but I played it so seldom that I can't even remember the title. (I think it had the song titled 'No Woman, No Cry'.) The only Reggae album I CLEARLY recall owning was the soundtrack to 'The Harder They Come', but even then I'll bet I never played it more than a dozen times.

    >>... 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

    Ha! I know that feeling. Sometimes my expectations about particular BOTB blog bits get slaughtered once the voting starts!

    The first thing I noticed about the Bob Marley original was the organ in the intro. Man, put an electric organ on ANYTHING and you get my attention IMMEDIATELY! (My very favorite musical instrument.) I didn't care for the way the vocals were recorded (the lead vocal seemed to clash with the background vocals).

    But you are absolutely RIGHT! That guitar lead is absolutely the best, most head-turning part of the song. [The name Wayne Perkins did not ring a bell for me, but OF COURSE I am well aware of the Muscle Shoals influence in popular music. If I weren't, it would be like someone saying they love 1960s R&B and Soul but have never heard of Booker T. & The MGs.]

    Listening to Perkins and reading your story about how you discovered him reminded me of when I was a teenager and Rock was the only music I cared about. To me, the faster a guitar solo was the better it was. Then one day I discovered the guitar playing of Paul Kossoff and it opened my mind to a whole different way of hearing the guitar. Speed? Yeah, fine. But how about those long lines of guttural sustain like Kossoff used? And Perkins immediately made me think of Kossoff.

    Nowadays, I don't like 3/4ths of what I loved as a teenager, and I am a Jazz-A-Holic. As a Jazz-A-Holic, one of my favorite forms of Jazz is Bossa Nova.

    So now you're thinking that surely I will vote for the Brazilian singer Ceu, iz u? Nope. Her version was nice... like cotton candy is nice. It's all fluff and no substance! I didn't believe that SHE BELIEVED one single word she was singing. It was all pretty candy-coating on the outside and nuttin' but air on the inside.

    Although I'm not crazy about Marley's song 'Concrete Jungle' (except for the lead guitar, which you understandably focused on), it gets my vote easily in this BOTB installment.

    Very informative stuffs here, Chris. (I really liked the Wayne Perkins interview, too! Great addition to the blog bit.)

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

    1. Thanks, STM! The song you're thinking of is "Welcome to the Jungle." Totally different song. ;)

      I like Reggae, but it's not something I listen to a lot. "Catch a Fire" was probably the first reggae record I really got into, and It sounds unlike almost every other 'straight' reggae record I've heard. I think a big reason why I like it is Blackwell's production.

      And Lee's already proved my expectations wrong, lol!

      Glad you liked the background info, and hopefully you got some time to check out some of Perkins' other stuff. I'll make sure to look up Paul Kossoff -- the name isn't familiar to me.

      -- Marley 2, Ceu 1

    2. Right! 'Welcome To The Jungle' - NOW I remember. ;-)

      Do you remember the minor FM hit 'STONE COLD SOBER'? It was by Crawler, formerly known as Back Street Crawler, which was the band Kossoff formed after the band Free came to an end (and partially became Bad Company).

      Anyway, 'Stone Cold Sober' featured the guitarist who replaced Kossoff after his unfortunate drug-related death. I still think it's one of the all-time great minor FM hits that should have made it big:

      ~ D-FensDogg
      'Loyal American Underground'

    3. OK! Paul Kossoff was the guitarist in Free! Alright Now! (see what I did there? ;) Did some research and checked out some tunes -- talented guy. Found a live version of "Moonshine" with some terrific blues playing. Awesome slow, long, heavy vibrato. I'll definitely have to check out more of his work.

      Also listened to the Crawler song. I don't know if I'd ever heard it before. Really liked it though. Wikipedia says the guitarist was a guy named Geoff Whitehorn. Some really nice playing on that song.

      Thanks for the tips, StevieMacDaddy!

    4. Yeah, Whitehorn was definitely doing "his best Paul Kossoff" and it was definitely damned good!

      I recommend you take a listen to Kossoff's playing on the Back Street Crawler tune "It's A Long Way Down To The Top". Man, that's some diggin' deep into the Blues-y feelin'! That was one of the first Kossoff songs that FORCED me to pay attention to him.

      ~ D-FensDogg
      'Loyal American Underground'

  4. Never heard of Wayne Perkins, but lately I've become obsessed with anything from the Muscle Shoals musicians. Those guys were great, and still are great. Bob Marley for the win!

    1. Glad I gave you someone new to check out!

      -- Marley 3, Ceu 1

  5. Can you imagine plane fare as an advance? That's springing up from rock bottom.

    Thanks so much for including the info and link for Wayne Perkins. I'm gonna go with Marley on this one, in part because I really do prefer it, but in part for Perkins. Very nice.

    1. Yeah. But in this case, I think it worked out pretty well for all parties. :)

      You're welcome, and vote noted!

      -- Marley 4, Ceu 1

  6. I'm not much of a reggae (or Bob Marley) fan. I AM a huge Brazilian music fan. Ceu all the way for me.

    I'm joining the BOTB team, and Arlee says I should let everyone know. I put my initial offering out on my blog, and invite you to come on by.

    John Holton
    The Sound Of One Hand Typing

    1. Hi John! Welcome aboard! I'll be sure and visit your blog -- I'm running behind on my BOTB visits, but hope to get caught up today.

      And I'll put you down for a Ceu vote:

      -- Marley 4, Ceu 2

  7. Marley wins it for me but I enjoy his music quite a bit. I did enjoy the Ceu version and give her credit from moving the song to jazz. Which I think Marley would appreciate since he moved music from the likes of Curtis Mayfield to reggae.

    1. I think you're right, Mike. I do like Ceu's version, and think Marley might as well.

      -- Marley 5, Ceu 2

  8. Yep, the vote is seriously stacked in Bob's favor here. But that's ok, I enjoyed the post and the songs.

    1. Thanks, Donna. But uh... Was that a vote for Marley? It might be a little too ambiguous to count...

      -- Marley 5, Ceu 2 (unchanged pending confirmation)

  9. Not a reggae or Marley fan. The second one had smoother vocals and gets my vote.

    1. Wow, Alex -- you surprised me again! Even with all the tasty guitar, you're leaning against Bob Marley??? Well -- I do see your point about the vocals....

      -- Marley 5, Ceu 3

  10. when I first read your BOTB post (before I listened to either of the pieces) I was thinking that this would be a really tough decision for me. After living three years in the Caribbean I've become quite used to reggae and really enjoy some good Bob. BUT, I also like that Brazilian sound and the way they tend you tweak the rhythms. After listening I felt that Ceu just didn't quite have 'it' and I'm an island girl at heart, so, give my vote to Bob.

    Interesting facts about the studio musicians. It's amazing how much talent gets overlooked simply because they don't get the proper credit. I figure a lot less of that happens today, but still.

    1. Hi FAE! Sorry it didn't turn out to be as tough of a decision as you expected, but I'd said that I predicted it to be an easy, one-sided contest. Even though some voters surprised me. ;)

      And you're right -- there are a lot of tracks out there with some great, uncredited playing.I'm glad it does happen less these days.

      -- Marley 6, Ceu 3

  11. My problem with Marley is, reggae is so distinctive that after a couple of songs I can't listen to any more.

    That said, he takes this easily.

    The Ceu version is nice enough, but the upside to reggae is that, before I've heard enough of it, there's a lot of flavor to it.

    Of course, now I am wishing I was not so quick to toss that bong--er, I mean, water pipe, after high school....

    1. I get you, Larry -- I fully understand the sentiment. Well, except for that last part -- I have no idea what that means.

      That's my story and I'm sticking to it...

      -- Marley 7, Ceu 3


Don't be shy -- feel free to comment. I really appreciate your thoughts.