Review #344: Funky Kingston, Toots & the Maytals
#344: Funky Kingston, Toots & the Maytals
If you recall, we’ve already come across Toots and his Maytals before. (Maytal: Jamaican word for “pure and good,” or “dew drop.”) “Pressure Drop” is on the soundtrack for The Harder They Come, and it was my favorite song. It’s my favorite on this album, too — the ecstasy of the way Toots says Pressure is belied by the vengeful lyrics.
Toots, otherwise known as Frederick Hibbert, was the second-most influential reggae artist ever. (One guess for the first.) Mr. Marley gets more credit, but Toots was actually the one that named the genre reggae in the first place, with his song “Do the Reggay.” And I was thrilled to learn that Toots wrote “54–46 (That’s My Number),” the best reggae song that Sublime ever covered.
This record was, as RS asserts, their introduction to the world. In fact, it was actually two separate albums, one released in 1973 for Jamaica and the UK, and the other in 1975 for the US. RS uses the US version. I take no issue with this, mainly because the US version features passionate covers of “Louie, Louie” and John Denver’s “Country Roads.” They’re not what you expect — in fact, Toots sounds so comfortable on both songs, I second-guessed that they were covers at all.
Chris Blackwell, who also had a hand in introducing Bob Marley to the world, produced this record with an international audience in mind. It still sounds straight out of Jamaica, but Blackwell borrowed from other cultures as well. For example, the horns on the record (See “Funky Kingston,” “Got To Be There”) weren’t performed by the Maytals, instead credited to Sons of the Jungle, a Ghanaian group.
In some ways, Toots is even more experimental and multi-layered than Bob Marley. I was surprised by the string-fueled ballad “Love Is Gonna Let Me Down,” and the slurry, sentimental “Sailin’ Away.” But even their songs with darker lyrics (“Time Tough” & “In The Dark”) are full of secret joy. The music is joyful and sweet, but the heart of it all is in Toots’ voice, which is low, natural, and full of flavor.
Toots died in 2020 of COVID. Blackwell has said that Toots was “one of the purest human beings I’ve met in my life, pure almost to a fault.” I’ve reviewed so much great music that comes from terrible people. It’s nice to know that some great music comes from someone good.
Something Else I Noticed: Why does no one talk about how The Little Mermaid’s “Under the Sea” is completely lifted from “Pomps & Pride”?
Fun Fact That Really Has Nothing To Do With This Album But I Have To Get Off My Chest: Okay, during my research, I learned the incredible fact that the Futurama theme song is based on a cover of “Louie, Louie” called “Psyche Rock,” and now I can’t unhear it.
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