It’s cold and dark out and I’m starting to cold turkey from not buying records* and so I needed a shot of joy today. I picked the perfect one too, Toots & The Maytals Funky Kingston, 41 years old just like me but wearing its age much better.
Now as I’ve written about previously I had a head start and all the advantages when it came to Jamaican music as my parents were so into it, I can remember my parents using Toots & The Maytals as good time party music when I was growing up and by jingo, it is! I picked up a greatest hits for myself aeons ago and bought Funky Kingston on the back of that a decade ago (to the day, coincidentally) because Mrs 1537 and myself just got completely obsessed with the title track.
Marvel ye mortals at its bouncy, funky irresistibility and perfect vocals. I genuinely can’t stay still when this song is playing and have my own elaborate dance routine for it, despite my own, umm, rhythmic individuality. I love Toots’ hoarse, impassioned singing on this track, he really breaks away from his usual moorings and just lets rip. ‘Funky Kingston’ really does meet my personal definition of musical perfection – I can’t think of anything you could add to, or take away from this track to make it any better at all. Try it, please, you won’t regret it. Have a skank on me**.
But this isn’t a one song LP. I’ve always liked the way that Jamaican and African-American music has bounced ideas back and forth across the decades, you only need to look at Jamaican pop and rocksteady in the 1960s to see that fruitful cross-pollination, don’t forget that Bob Marley lived and worked in Wilmington, Delaware in 1966 before he ever was an international recording artist. Funky Kingston takes the whole process up a notch and in some ways can be seen as a paean to American soul and funk, including covers of tracks by Ike & Tina (I Can’t Believe), Shep & The Limelites (Daddy’s Home) and a very laid-back cover of that hoary old classic ‘Louie Louie’; all hot-rodded with Jamaican rhythms. As Toots sings on the title track, ‘I love black America’.
The Toots penned originals here such as ‘Sit Right Down’ and the fabulous, stately skank of ‘Pomp and Pride’ are all shot through with that same soul sensibility. My second favourite track here is ‘Redemption Song’, not to be confused with Bob Marley’s 1980 tune, it’s a slower, more contemplative piece than the rest of the LP and something of a sweet hymn. A lot of Toots Hibbert’s lyrics do reflect his Christian faith and it is interesting^ that what would turn me off instantly in a rock, or country track I find totally acceptable in a reggae format. Double standards? or do I just react better to the happiness and lack of hectoring here?
Whatever, Funky Kingston was the perfect pick for me today. School holidays finish today so dad’s funny dancing was a much-needed distraction, well maybe not the fifth time running, but a man has to have his vices.
I want you to believe every word I say
I want you to believe every thing I do
I said music is what I’ve got to give
and I’ve got to find some way to make it
Music is what I’ve got baby
I want you to come on and shake it
shake it shake it baby
What can I do but obey? especially when he’s cheered me up.
P.S – Nerd Note: the US (1975) version of Funky Kingston is a radically different beast, including the mighty ‘Pressure Drop’ and the, even better, ‘Time Tough’, it’s more of a collected hits than this version – a damn good introduction though.
*I genuinely almost weakened and bought White Denim Corsicana Lemonade this morning. My name is 1537 and I’m an ex-record binger.
**in the sense of the Jamaican dance, not as in the more American term – ‘Let’s skank’, not ‘Geez, you’re such a skank!’. I am fully aware of diplomatic responsibilities here as a representative of the UK and do not wish to start rumours about my private life.
^to me anyway but there again I am endlessly fascinated by me.