1977, Music

Herat of the Congos (1977)

On account of my podcast, I am finding myself immersed in 1977 reggae right now more than I could ever have imagined. And so I’m learning more about reggae than I have wanted to for some time. (I imagined myself becoming a reggae/dub fan in my early ’20s – what white male young adult doesn’t? – only to figure out that I didn’t like it enough, the little I heard.) One of the things I’m learning is that it is mostly not for me, like I semi-consciously suspected a decade and a half ago.

Why is it not for me? I’m so glad you asked.

  • With the very notable exception of Peter Tosh, I have yet to find a reggae songwriter I like. Mostly, when I listen to records like this one, I find the melodies moderately catchy (quite catchy in the case of Bob Marley) and the lyrics completely forgettable or incomprehensible without reference to some other source, due the patois/patwa. So, no songs.
  • When I don’t find strong songs on a record, I usually still like it if it has a kind of energy I like. But what I am learning from the Congos and Lee Perry and Culture is that the vibe is almost always the opposite of the kind of vibe that would save me with rock music, for example.

That’s not to say that there isn’t something of value here – far from it. It’s only to say that I have trouble seeing it. I have trouble seeing it particularly when it comes to Lee Perry’s involvement vs. The Congos and their backing band (or the band Perry assembled for them, not sure which). Perry, who is perhaps the second or third most famous person to come out of this era of reggae, gets most of the credit for this record and the Culture record I’m listening to. He doesn’t play an instrument and doesn’t get credited for writing a single song. But, if you read the reviews, all that matters – and what makes this record great – is Perry’s production.

Because the vibe is one I don’t love, I don’t see this. However, it’s worth noting that I also don’t see it because I don’t know reggae well. I don’t know how this fits into the history of the genre; basically I don’t know what is specifically about this that distinguishes it from other Congos records, or other “roots” records of the era. (Based on my limited knowledge, this is definitely less song-focused, more murky, more jammy in a rhythmic way, rather than a virtuoso way.)

So here I am listening to one of the supposedly great Lee Perry records and one of the supposedly great reggae records and what I hear is a bunch of not super catchy vamps with reasonably distinct arrangements (certainly compared to Marley or Tosh) but that’s all.
I don’t know what to do with it.

7/10 I guess

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