1985, Mister Tipsy
Round The Clock Rock
See Me Yah
My Ghetto Queen
Give Me Your Love
Hold You In My Arms
Talk Them A Talk
Before you get any funny ideas I must make clear that this record has no connection to the Herbie Hancock tune of the same name, and with out of the way I want to talk a bit about a funny phenomenon that swept some of the dancehall world in 1985. The ultra-serious music nerds amongst you may have heard of a thing called harmony, wherein more than one musical instrument or voice move in relation to one another as the tune progresses. It sounds wonderful and adds a lot to a tune, and was one of the fundamental musical techniques that built ska and rocksteady music in the first place, which subsequently became reggae. The biggest rocksteady acts where harmony trios such as The Gaylads, The Maytals, The Heptones, The Paragons et al, and the whole selling point of those groups is that they're good at harmony. A particularly naive producer may believe they can take a shortcut to harmony by taking the vocal track, duplicating it, and pitch-shifting one copy by a few semitones. It's a shockingly bad idea that any musician in their right mind will discourage you from executing, but nevertheless there are a handful of records out in '85 that feature this in most or all of their tunes. This record is one such example, and another that I can think of off the top of my head is "Nuff Niceness" by Pad Anthony.
The funny thing about this fake-harmony technique is that while it, as you may be able to glean, will inevitably cause a large amount of notes to be sounded out of key, does have its own unique sound that has some kind of - character? I hesitate to say 'merit' because that would imply that it was the result of some kind of sober and sensible musical decision which I am very confident that it is not. But perhaps I'm being too mean and cynical and it's actually a brief stroke of genius that came and went, only to become lost to time and relegated to a few obscure rubadub albums that few people care about anymore. I was quite enticed by the album cover of this one, but the record threw my gut when I heard the fake harmony, and I was disappointed but not quite enough to just turn it off and choose something else to. Now I've heard it quite a few times and I kind of like it. There's a neverending argument amongst music makers between "you have to stick to at least some of the rules of the musical craft at least some of the time" and the anarchic "if it sounds good, it IS good", and "Watermelon Man" is one of the records that falls right through the middle. Maybe I could say that it isn't good, but it sounds good. There are so many ways to peel a melon and I am just going to talk myself into a hole if I keep trying to express my feelings about this record in words from this perspective so I am just going to stop.
Horace Martin is not an artist I'm familiar with. This is his debut solo record and I've yet to hear any others of his, but the way that it has torn the fibers of my being apart with its baffling tonal choices has captivated me to write about it before venturing further into his discography. Right off the bat Round The Clock Rock throws you with the false harmony and the tone of the tune is just so confused. These days, false harmony is reified to mean something haunting, demonic, and distorted, and especially with the way this tune is written that's the feeling that it feels like this song is expressing, which is juxtaposed with a kind of dramatic or triumphant horn riff. Woo weeeee, wo weeee, Horace favors a vampire while Sly and Robbie and the rest of the band are grooving away. It's fucking bizarre and I kind of hate it. See Me Yah is a much more exciting affair, flinging a singjay kind of style that matches Early B's tune Identity. Both being 85 tunes it's near impossible to say which came first unless someone in particular knows for sure and tells me, but I don't really care anyway. The tune is nice and definitely a highlight of "Watermelon Man", even being one of the tunes with fake harmony.
Said fake harmony continues to plague the potential of these tunes with My Ghetto Queen, and sadly, Give Me Your Love, which is on one very ready riddim that I don't know the name of. Jamaican Dance breaks the trend with a normally-recorded solo tune and, this being halfway through the album, it's just so refreshing to hear ONE voice singing ONE tune and it reminds you that rub-a-dub can actually sound excellent that way, as if Jamaicans didn't already learn that in the five years prior. The tune works around a wonderful little lyric: "You no have fe ask when a music on yah, you no have fe ask when a music on yah, just look how the people them a jump a prance, look how the people the people jump and prance, doing Jamaican dance, singing Jamaican song..." and being treated to Horace Martin's actual unfiltered voice shows that he is a very talented dude with a melodic phrasing style that favors Gregory Isaacs. The Isaacs connection is even better showcased in Hold You In My Arms, and I invite you to close your eyes as you listen to this one and imagine that it's the Cool Ruler himself, singing the exact same melody over the exact same riddim, and you may find that it sounds totally natural and just like something he could have written and performed himself.
Talk Them A Talk and Watermelon Man are the only other tunes besides Jamaican Dance where the fake harmony technique is not present. The former is done in deejay style and it sounds great, a comfortable Real Rock tune - nothing to blow your mind, but I love to hear any singer or singjay having a crack at more conventional deejaying. And then the title tune sounds like Nitty Gritty on Stalag but without that thing he likes to do that sounds like he's swallowing his own voice. I like it. Wouldn't it be nice if the whole record was stuff like these tunes?? Perhaps it may sound to you the reader as though I am being really nasty and picky about just one criticism that I have for this record. And I can unashamedly sit here in these words on this webpage in front of you and say that yes, I do only have one real criticism for this record - perhaps I would have more if I wasn't distracted by this fucking fake harmony thing but I am so that's all I can really think about when I listen to this music. But like I said before, I've come back to this record, not just once but several times. So it's compelling. Maybe it will be for you too, but don't get your hopes up. After all this blogpost was written by a dude who used to be into Merzbow and his ideas about musicality are not the most conventional by reggae-fan standards.
My picks: See Me Yah, Jamaican Dance, Talk Them A Talk
Bim count: 0