I’ve got to thank Rethabile Masilo for pointing me to Reuters’ report
announcing a list of Jamaica’s top 100 songs over the 50 years between 1957 and 2007.
A panel of seven made the selections, assisted by members of the public attending a symposium at the University of the West Indies, Mona, on April 16th. The audience helped to shape the criteria for the selection, as well as vote on the compositions to be included in the top 100. Former Finance and Planning Minister Omar Davies headed the panel, which included businessman Wayne Chen, musicologist Vaughn "Bunny" Goodison, founder of the Soul Shack Disco and creator and host of the popular radio show, "Rhythms," Frankie Campbell of the Fab Five band, broadcaster Francois St. Juste, journalist Basil Walters, and musician Sly Dunbar of Sly and Robbie fame.
Bob Marley's "One Love" topped the list with "Simmer Down" coming in at No. 9. "No Woman No Cry" was picked No. 12 and "Redemption Song" No. 14. "One Love" garnered 726 points. The second placed song, "O Carolina," originally recorded by the Folkes Brothers, scored 540 points.
Reuters reported the list as follows:
The Top 10 songs and the singers were:
1. "One Love" - Bob Marley & the Wailers
2. "Oh Carolina" - The Folkes Brothers
3. "54-45" - The Maytals
4. "Got to Go Back Home" - Bob Andy
5. "My Boy Lollipop" - Millie Small
6. "Many Rivers To Cross" - Jimmy Cliff
7. "Israelites" - Desmond Dekker and the Aces
8. "Cherry Oh Baby" - Eric Donaldson
9. "Simmer Down" - Bob Marley & the Wailers
10. "Carry Go Bring Come" - Justin Hinds & the Dominos
I’m not a fan of top 10s, top 100s, Grammys, Oscars, etc., for reasons that I think are good ones, and that I won’t go into in this post. However, it’s nothing but good when people come together to weigh, discuss and celebrate their culture – in this case, their music. Give thanks and praises for that.
Three things struck me.
First, Horace Helps, the Reuters reporter, and Bob Tourtellotte, the editor, have managed to distort the title of the song in the No. 3 spot. "54-46 – That's My Number" is a song by Fred "Toots" Hibbert about the 18 months he spent in jail on a ganja charge. (Toots claimed he was arrested while helping to bail someone.) It’s not “54-45,” though there are sites on the Internet misnaming it that way.
Folks know I get upset by inaccuracies, sloppy dealing with facts, figures, events, history, the truth. This is a simple story, and the reporter and editor have easy access to media where the correct information is available. Further, it’s as if some people are perversely dedicated to getting it wrong. For example, anyone listening to the recording at
a site where the song is incorrectly advertised as “54-45 WAS MY NUMBER," will hear the musicians singing the right thing.
There was no place for comment or feedback on the Reuters site, so no chance to set the record straight.
Secondly, the fifth place song is of interest for a couple of reasons. It's the only one where the recording artiste is a woman. Also, whatever the criteria used for “Jamaican” were, “My Boy Lollipop”, unlike the other nine songs, was not written by Jamaicans. Singer Robert Spencer of The Cadillacs, a doo wop group from Harlem, and the group's manager, Johnny Roberts, are usually ascribed the writing credits. The song's first recording was by teenager Barbie Gaye in 1956. Millie Small's 1964 cover, rearranged by Ernie Ranglin and distinctive for its ska/bluebeat-style, became a huge hit in Britain, reaching the No. 2 spot. It went to No. 1 in Ireland and No. 2 in the USA, topped the charts in Australia and was the first record to help Chris Blackwell's Jamaican label, Island Records, make millions. With over seven million copies sold, it still is one of the best-selling reggae/ska hits. So it’s an important song in the history of the development and export of Jamaican music, but it’s not as completely Jamaican as the others in the top ten are.
Finally, the fact that the Department of Government at UWI are the ones who organized the symposium is either a very good or a very bad thing... One hopes it's a good thing. One worries though, when, in a release from the aforesaid department, one reads sentences like: "Its [the music's] impact on the aesthetic and ontological development and expression of global popular music is phenomenal". I have argued in a long document elsewhere that the social sciences aren't really sciences at all. Forgive the bellicose metaphors, but is this fodder for my cannon, or ammunition for my gun?
As ever, all comments, corrections, and new information are welcome.