Life Elsewhere Music Vol 316 – La Femmes De Reggae Special

For this volume, we take a slight diversion from brand-new releases to celebrate the wonderful women of Reggae. Cover versions have always played an important part in the output from the Reggae hubs of Jamaica and London. Often a Reggae cover version is equal to if not considerably better than the original. There are far too many examples to illustrate that notion, but you are advised to check out a Reggae cover anytime you come across one. We begin with what could arguably be classified as a superior cover of Anita Ward’s 1979 hit, Ring My Bell. Almost immediately after its release, Anita’s record became an instant hit. If you were in New York at the time, (I was) you’d hear Ring My Bell everywhere – on the radio, in the clubs, in bars, in taxis, everywhere. The song is noted for its innovative use of the Synare electronic drum, playing a decaying high-pitched tom tone on the first beat of every bar. It also uses chimes. It was these electronic embellishments that made the song so captivating and perhaps even better to sing along to as Anita urges, You can ring my bell(Ding, dong, ding, ah-ah, ring it), You can ring my bell, anytime, anywhere, (Ring it, ring it, ring it, ring it, ow)”. Written by Frederick Knight, the song was originally intended for then-eleven-year-old Stacy Lattisaw. Contractual obligations prevented the young singer from recording the song, although it’s quite possible that someone noted that the title was a reference to pleasuring a woman with oral sex. Anita Ward was asked to sing it instead, and it became her only major hit. It reached number one on the Billboard 100 chart and also reached number one on the UK Singles Chart. By chance a few weeks after the single came out and riding high in the charts and booming from ghetto-blasters non-stop everywhere I went in NYC, I happened to pop on over to Kingston, Jamaica. Ring My Bell was dominating the radio waves and dancehalls there too. Then I discovered there was another version just as popular as the original, this version was by Blood Sisters, complete with a substantial dub on the 12” mix. In true Jamaican form, getting details on (The) Blood Sisters and their version of Ring My Bell proved nigh on impossible – and remains the same today. It’s a well-observed fact, details on Jamaican releases are often shrouded in mystery, non-de-plumes, and sometimes blatant misinformation. | Dawn Pickering recorded under the name, Dawn Penn released You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No) in 1967 on Coxone Dodd’s Studio One label. Despite her initial success, Penn decided to take a break from singing, which lasted 17 years, In the late 1980s, she returned to Jamaica in the hopes of reviving her career. In the early 1990s, she re-recorded a version of You Don’t Love Me with the noted Jamaican production team, Steely & Clevie. Throughout the years the song came to be known as No, No, No and ranked not only high in many charts, the song also achieved widespread critical acclaim. | Written almost 40 years ago by Sister Audrey, English Girl was one of the first songs recorded at the then “new Ariwa Studios” owned and operated by Neil Fraser AKA Mad Professor and was released on Jah Shaka’s label after the overwhelming response at dances. This was one of several Shaka / Ariwa partnerships from the ’80s. Sister Audrey a.k.a. Audrey Litchmore was born and raised in South East London, her musical journey was rooted in her family’s love of varied genres of music and reggae Sound Systems. English Girl was Sister Audrey’s rebellious response to both political issues affecting the identity of the Caribbean community in the UK and to some divisive prejudices within the community affecting the identity of their first generation born in the UK. | Joy White’s Tribulation was originally the B side to Black Uhuru’s take of Bob Marley’s Sun Is Shinning. Adding a slight confusion, Joy’s version was an answer to Dennis Brown’s Tribulation. Released on Sly & Robbie’s Taxi imprint, the cut of course features the Taxi Gang in full force, including a masterful Dub. I spotted a copy in “good condition” going for $148 on Discogs. | While we pay respect to biblical references, Sharon Little gives us, Don’t Mash Up Creation complete with a magnificent Dub version. From 1981, my version is a 12” on the UK One Love label. The Nyabingi-style drums on the Dub are worth special attention. | While she was still a student in high school, Lloyd Parks heard Marcia Aitken and invited her to join his band. She was soon recording for Joe Gibbs, concentrating on Lovers Rock, releasing a popular version of Alton Ellis’ I’m Still In Love With You as (I’m Still In Love With You Boy). The song went to number one in Jamaica, after a brief success in the music business, Marcia got out of reggae and moved to Brooklyn, returning briefly in 2014. Her 1977 version features a toast by Trinity, and Joe Gibbs Professionals are the backing band. | Born Ann Swinton, Ranking Ann came to prominence on her brother’s Black Rock sound system playing in and around London in the late 70s. She began her recording career with an uncompromising debut, Liberated Woman. This resulted in her being categorized as the music’s feminist DJ. When labeled as such, she announced, ‘No Rasta me an individualist’ – establishing the fact that her agenda was not to ‘put down’ men, but to ‘uplift’ women”. The Mad Professor produced Shotgun Wedding gives a respectful nod to the 1966 original from Roy C. Listen carefully to the lyrics. | According to some sources Allison Anne Cadogan was renamed Susan by producer, Lee Perry, and if you believe the info on Discogs, Ms. Cadogan has used a myriad of variations on her name(s) over the years. Still actively performing today, Cadogan first shot to fame with her exceptional take on Hurt So Good. The obligatory contractual mishaps and disputes resulted in a number of versions of the song being released over the years. The Lee Perry-produced cover of Fever has Cadogan performing with the Upsetters in fine form. Here I bring you a superb remix by a good friend and Reggae archivist, Curryman. | One could argue with conviction that Nora Dean’s Angie La La (Ay Ay Ay) is hardly reggae, yet it does have Nyabinghi-like percussion and the weirdest Dub and sound effects. Produced by Duke Reid in either 1969 or 1970 this record has to be one of the most unusual, if not psychedelic releases to come out of Jamaica. Nora Dean was another of Reggae’s mysteries, including her birth year, which some sources claim was 1952. She may have started recording as early as 15 and at least one scandalous song, which Nora insisted she did not record. She was upset that her name was affixed to a song she found so repugnant. Although her groans of pure ecstasy in Angie LA La tell a different story. | The Cool Ruler, Gregory Isaacs is said to have discovered Christine, she sings the second part of Issac’s hit, Rock On / Saturday Night. This was her only recording, produced by Niney The Observer in 1977, she immediately left the music business after adopting a strictly Christian lifestyle. Christine’s contribution to this astonishing recording is in my opinion one of the finest all-time Reggae recordings. (Her real name is Christine Oliver and on a recent investigation, I discovered she recorded, Gonna Get Along Without You Now – but I have yet to find a copy). | To close this mix another Duke Reid production circa 1974, Claudette Miller’s cover of Betty Wright’s  Tonight Is The Night. Pay special attention to the Dub version. 

All the records selected in this volume are from my Reggae Archives, all vinyl 12” or 7” platters, mostly original releases which explains why you will hear varying degrees of surface noise on each track. Because some of these recordings are no longer available in their original form we recommend you go to any of the reputable reggae sites to search for availability. 

Listen to the Podcast here

Artwork by Denise Ashton “My flower problem” 2012 46″ x 30″ detail. Digital print on glass. Courtesy of Norman B’s collection