Reggae Rock

Did some do-gooding NGO pay Black Uhuru to write a PSA to teach at-risk youth about the dangers of crack? Because don’t let the innocuous name of the song fool you, this is a song about the dangers of crack. Coming out in 1990, it was very politically relevant, if  you’ll recall the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s, and those eye-catching D.A.R.E. (to keep kids off drugs!) shirts that washed up in every thrift store in the 90’s. It was an epidemic, apparently, because for complicated socio-economic reasons crack cocaine was somehow considered different from the regular kind. Basically, cocaine was a popular party treat amongst the wealthy and glamorous for decades, but when low-income type people started getting their hands on it, it was suddenly air quote an epidemic air quote. It was aslo a real problem, though, seriously. Because unlike the wealthy and glamorous, low income type people can’t just trot off to rehab or purchase a cleansing blood transfusion or send their children away to boarding school for safekeeping or just not work or do anything productive for months on end while they’re on a binge. But they still want to enjoy the mind-numbing pleasures of blow, or heroin, or whatever intoxicant is trending. It’s the exact same thing that’s happening now with the opiod epidemic. The crack epidemic waned away as the economy went into an upswing in the 1990’s. Right now the opposite is happening and a lot of people see no better future for themselves than quietly dying of an overdose. We all know that the “Drugs are bad, mmmkay?” approach is no deterrent at all. We all know that fucking t-shirts don’t help, and singing songs about it doesn’t help much either, no offense to everyone who wrote songs about it. Thumbs up for all the good intentions, though.

Peace & Love

“Peace and love in the north, peace and love in the south, peace and love in the east, peace and love in the universe”

Please? Even if you’re suffering from idealism exhaustion, even if you’ve dismissed the concept of peace (world or local) as a childish pipe dream, you might still feel a little lifted up. Black Uhuru does that. It’s music for positive mobilization. Remember that peace is not an abstract concept; it’s built on simple things like freedom, justice and equality. So motivate yourself to fight for those things, piece by piece.

Pain in My Heart

The Rolling Stones vs. Otis Redding. Which one do you like better? On one hand The Stones’ version has that raw garage band oomph that made their earliest recordings the precursors of punk. On the other hand, they were really wet behind the ears and had no grasp of nuance, whereas Redding was a master vocalist working with Motown’s finest professionals. Redding’s emotional gravitas is clearly head and shoulders above anything Mick Jagger could muster. Redding could give the simplest song real pain and soul. What the Stones offered was their glamour, not so much artful music but an invitation to a whole new way of being. But why choose? A great song can serve many purposes depending on who plays it and how. A Rolling Stones record and an Otis Redding record exist to fill different needs, and the same song can become, essentially, two different songs.

 

Oh Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin’)

Well this is cute – a song about happy fidelity. Not a common theme in rock music. Because, obviously, as some dead guy once wrote, happy families are fucking boring. Or something. Point is, you don’t need to write songs about how happy and well satisfied you are; you just live it and hope your friends don’t resent you too much. Certainly the Rolling Stones aren’t known for having a happy-go-lucky attitude towards love. Being dysfunctional human beings is part of their decadent appeal. Being a hedonist is all about leaving a trail of broken hearts and dead bodies. The lyrics about staying right at home make a bit more sense when you know they were written by Barbara Lynn, though; coming from a woman,the difference between staying home and staying out has higher stakes. 

 

Off the Hook

The phrase ‘off the hook’ can mean a few different things, and one of them is something you do with your phone. Telephones, you see, used to be stationary household appliances that had to be ‘hooked up’ to an outlet. If you unhooked your phone, you were essentially incommunicado with the outside world. Which, in hindsight, was really kind of nice. You could bask in quiet ignorance without having all of the knowledge of the world constantly at your fingertips. Funny how little references like that can date a song far more than retrograde attitudes or actual musical style. A reminder of another time. The Rolling Stones were practically children when they wrote this song; they occupied a completely different world. Not that you should find it disturbing to think that now telephones are tiny handheld computers, television variety shows are in color and the surviving Rolling Stones are older than your grandfather. It’s just, you know, progress in action.