Best Albums of 2022 (First Half)

As long-time readers of this site are no doubt aware, I’ve been posting year-end “Best Albums” reports here or in various print outlets for 30 consecutive years. The most recent report is here, with a roster of my “Albums of the Year” going back to 1992. I typically post my annual lists in early December, since I figure that I need to spend at least 30ish days with a record before deeming it the best of anything; I then do a mop-up addendum each January if something impressive tumbles in at the wire.

I also normally do an interim report half-way through each listening year, which falls in early June on my calendar. Which is now, so it’s time to identify my current contenders for the year-end title. I’m not going to review any of them in full at this point, but I do provide links below if you’d like to investigate and explore them further. My macro sense is that early 2022 has been a rich listening season, compared and contrasted to early 2021, when COVID impacts definitely seem to have impaired bands’ and artists’ abilities to perform and record new material, beyond a lot of navel-gazing “woodshed” projects that were, of necessity, a big part of the Anno Virum listening landscape.

With that as preamble, here are the albums that have moved me the most thus far this year, arranged in alphabetical order by artist name. Do you have some personal favorites that I need to explore in the months ahead? If so, do share in the comment section, please and thanks!

As a bonus tease, here are five of my very favorite songs culled from these albums, to give you a sense of what’s rocking my world right now. I suppose you can take this as the latest installment of my “Five Songs You Need to Hear” series. As above, these are presented in alphabetical order by artist name. Happy listening!

Words in the Distance

1. My civic duty as a juror continues. Two weeks down, hopefully one more week to go. I can’t say much more than that here, now, but will advise and report further once the whole thing’s run its course.

2. I’ve written at length over the years here about my love for King Crimson. Related to that: the general consensus is that the recently-concluded Crimson tour is the end of the road for the group as a live entity. Also, general consensus is that their song “Starless” is one of their best and most emblematic songs ever. Marcia and I have seen the current (final?) version of Crimson three times, and “Starless” is one of only a few songs that they played at every show. The official King Crimson website posted an update this week titled “The Last Starless,” a pro-shot video from the last show of the last tour in Japan. It’s outstanding, it seems to affirm that this is the end of the road, and I most heartily recommend it to you:

3. I’m saddened, horrified, annoyed, and appalled by the news associated with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week, and I wish Vladimir Putin as much karmic ill will as I can muster. But as a trained political scientist, I’ve also been irritated by some of the major media coverage I’ve read about the historical basis for this current invasion, and about the cultural and political relationships between the Russians and the Ukrainians. (Never mind the narrative that finds a majority of members of the modern Republican Party having a higher opinion of Putin than they have of our own President, ugh!) Whenever matters of Russian import emerge online or in conversation, I routinely cite one of the very best books that I’ve ever read on that topic, so today seems to be a good day to share that recommendation again, for Nicholas Riasonovsky’s A History of Russia. The version I have was written before the fall of the Soviet Union, so it’s not a valuable resource in terms of understanding the latest era(s), but it’s utterly brilliant in terms of explaining and documenting the deep, long, potent, and (to American eyes and minds) weird history of the people who “emerged from the Pripet Marshes,” and who first made their mark on a continental scene as a nation known as Kievan Rus. That history certainly does not justify Putin over-turning nearly eight decades’ worth of continental stability, but I think it does explain why he thinks that his current actions make sense through the lens of deep history.

4. Speaking of history, after waiting for a few last images and photo clearances, I uploaded to the publisher’s site the final manuscript and supporting files for the book I’ve been working on for the past year, along with my collaborator, Jim McNeal.  Very satisfying to see it fly away through the ether. We’ll have to review and edit the type-set layout when it’s ready, and I’ll have to prepare an index once the final pagination is complete, but after that, it’s just a matter of meeting production and publishing schedules before it’s ready to land in your hands, should you be interested in it. I will advise further here when I have news. Because of course I will.

5. During my drive home from jury duty yesterday (63 miles from my home per item #2 here, bleh!), my iPod randomizer queued up the songs “50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain” by Ten Years After, followed by “Hocus Pocus (Reprise)” (Live) by Focus. It occurred to me that I first heard both of those songs when I checked out their source albums (Cricklewood Green and At the Rainbow, respectively) from the lending library at Nassau Community College on Long Island’s Mitchel Field, sometime in the late 1970s. And that got me to thinking what a deeply important resource that was to me between 1976 and 1980, when I was still in middle/high school, but because of my base residency, had access to the college’s stacks and shelves. I first borrowed and read The Gormenghast Trilogy there, along with a variety of other seminal tomes in my intellectual development. I would generally go to the magazine room at least once a week to read the latest Billboard or Rolling Stone editions, getting tuned into what was happening in real time in the music world, beyond what I could readily access via local record stores and trips into New York City at the height of the CBGB era. So many things that still mean so much to me today first crossed my horizons via my many visits to that great lending library. And, therefore, to wrap up this post, I share a “Five Songs You Need to Hear” sequence, celebrating representative cuts from a quintet of albums that all appear of my Top 200 Albums of All Time list, and which I first heard courtesy of the librarians at Nassau Community College.

“50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain” by Ten Years After

“Hocus Pocus (Reprise),” by Focus

“Bitches Crystal,” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer

“I Just Want to See His Face,” by The Rolling Stones

“African Night Flight,” by David Bowie

Whither?

(Warning: There is blogging about blogging text ahead, one of the most dire and cliched and tedious tropes across the entire Internet, easily, hands down. Proceed at your own risk).

As I noted in my 2021 and 2020 Year in Review articles, I’ve been quite profligate here at Ye Olde Blogge over the past 24 months, in large part because of Anno Virum lifestyle choices that have found me sitting in front of my computer far more regularly than I had expected to, after I retired from full-time work in late 2019. It was nice to see that my increased attention to this web-space actually resulted in increased traffic flow, so my efforts, such as they were, did seem to entice readers, new and long-standing alike, to visit this place more than they had in prior years. Thanks to you who are reading this accordingly, whether you’re old virtual friends or new ones. I appreciate you. Truly.

I have mentioned recently that I spent most of 2021 working on a book, which will be headed off the publisher next Monday, once my collaborator and I finish up with final photo placements and ancillary documentation of our research. Having finished that big, non-web, project, it would seem that I would, could, and should have more time and energy to dedicate to this website, but as January squeaks into its final week, I find myself a bit befuddled about where I want to go here in 2022, and what I want to write here, and why. For the past few years, I’ve had several ongoing series that have engaged me, and have seemed to work for my readers, too. There were two periodical recurring articles related to my favorite musical artists (see here and here for summaries on those), and before I got going on those, I spent a year working on my Credidero series. I found all of those projects enjoyable. Until I didn’t.

From my original list of favorite artists to be documented in my 2021 series, I still had about ten entries remaining to cover, and expected to address them in 2022. But I find myself not being terribly excited at this point by writing more of those pieces (as much as I love, and apologize to, the artists that I did not get to gush about soon enough), so at this point, I think I’m going to put that series to bed. Having finished the long non-fiction book project, I also find myself not really being engaged by the idea of returning to poetry or short story series (both of which have worked well here in the past), even though I’ll likely have more free time available to me by virtue of not having commitments related to the bigger book project. Weird psychology at work there, as having more time to write whatever I want somehow seems to be making me feel less like writing whatever I want. Go figger.

I suppose I will continue to pump out occasional entries in my ongoing 10,000 Words and With Which I Am Well Pleased series, though neither of those is particularly verbal in terms of actual added-value commentary, so they don’t really count as meaningful writing in any meaningful ways. And beyond that . . . I’m just not sure what 2022 could or should bring here. I might have a lightning-bolt “a-ha” moment at some point soon that will frame some thrilling (?) new series, or I may muddle along waiting for inspiration to hit, just reacting to things has they happen around me. I guess at bottom line, I’m not feeling deeply committed to providing loads of content here for the foreseeable future, with apologies to those who have been getting regular fixes of my piffle and tripe in recent years, as I’ve tried to maintain sanity and fill time during various lock-downs and hunkers associated with the raging pandemic.

Maybe it’s a positive sign that I’m not feeling as deeply committed to writing a lot here, as it could be my subconscious finally accepting that there’s an end in sight to our current virus-dictated cultural malaise. Or maybe it’s a negative sign, in that I just give up, braj, and don’t have it in me to continue providing content to all you other folks who are hunkering in your own bunkers, desperate for entertainment. Or maybe it’s neither of those things, and this is just one of those occasional lulls here that I’ve been through countless times in the past since launching the earliest version of this website around 1995.

We’ll see. I welcome suggestions or feedback, as always, if you’ve missed or want to see something in particular here, as I consider “Whither the Website?” Lest this post feel like a complete navel-gazing waste of time to me, I’m going to turn it into a Five Songs You Need To Hear series entry, with the following five cuts from my catalog all exploring the concept of “whither?” More to follow as the year goes on, but maybe less than what has preceded in years past . . . .

#1. “Whither Goest the Waitress,” by The Weasels

#2. “Whither? Hither,” by Shrunken Head

#3. “Whither Thou Goest,” by Les Paul and Mary Ford

#4. “Whither the Starling,” by Walt Kelly and Norman Monath, featuring Mike Stewart

#5. “Whence to Whither,” by Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizon Ensemble

Ten Songs You Need to Hear: Crimbo Version

I’m on the record here as being deeply averse to most of the standard and stock “Christmas-season” music that’s blared and broadcast across our public spaces here in the United States of Commercia, from just before Hallowe’en-time until about the point when everyone has had the chance to return the gifts they didn’t want for store credit, to be applied to something that they’d actually selfishly prefer, in lieu of something that they were selflessly given. Oh Holy Night, indeed, the stars are brightly influencing, and it is the night of the dear Amazon’s sales!

Snark aside, I always make a Christmas playlist for our home consumption to avoid the usual musical dreck pushed our way at this time of the year. As a very early riser, I thought I’d share ten of this year’s very favorite Christmas songs before anybody else arises hereabouts. (Consider it a double whammy bonus entry of my “Five Songs You Need to Hear” series).  I must note that “Christmas Songs” is somewhat loosely defined here, in that these tracks mean and speak something to me at this time of year, even if it’s not obvious as to why that’s the case. Music matters, with deep associations to be felt and experienced, outside of any defined normative rosters of that which we must hear and consume today, because Mammon says.

I’m sincerely thankful to each and every one of you who has read my piffle and tripe here over the past year, and I’m grateful for the little community we’ve built, especially in times where real world community is hard to come by. Here’s wishing you and yours a joyous seasonal celebration today and in the weeks to come, and if any of these ten songs brighten your day(s) just a little bit over that time, then I’ll consider my work here done for the day.

“Joy,” by Apollo 100

“Christmas Now Is Drawing Near,” by COIL

“Santa Claus Is Sometimes Brown,” by El Vez

“Jólakötturinn (The Christmas Cat),” by Myrká

“Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” by James Brown

“Song of the Snowy Ranges,” by Robbie Basho

“Santa’s Got A Bag of Soul,” by The Soul Saints Orchestra

“A Christmas Song,” by Jethro Tull

“A Joyful Process,” by Funkadelic

“A Dream of Winter,” by Sun Kil Moon and Jesu

Loose Salute: Michael Nesmith (December 30, 1942 – December 10, 2021)

Three months ago, Marcia and I attended our first live concert of the COVID era, traveling down to Phoenix to see Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith, of the Monkees, live onstage, fronting an outstanding band directed by Mike’s son, Christian. I wrote about that show at length and shared some photos here. Earlier this week, in my 30th Annual Best Albums Report, I cited the Dolenz Sings Nesmith album as my third best record of 2021, noting in that review that: “While I think Mike’s touring days are likely coming to an end, with him having wrestled with serious health issues in recent years, Micky’s voice remained a thing of wonder, so I will eagerly see him live again when I can, and eagerly look forward to his next record. There’s a bunch more great Nesmith songs out there, so I’m totally game for Dolenz Sings Nesmith 2.”

Sadly, my sense of Mike’s declining health was proven correct today when I learned that he had passed away peacefully, of natural causes, surrounded by his family, at the age of 78. His last concert with Micky was in mid-November, so he did one of the things that he loved to do pretty much right up until to the end, and even though he was frail when we last saw him, it felt good to see him earning such unmitigated love from his audience, and such respect and support from Dolenz. It also makes me most happy that we had the chance to see Nez a few years back in Chicago, playing a robust and joyous set of songs primarily culled from his influential First National Band days in the early ’70s. He’s never achieved the critical respect of the likes of Gram Parsons, nor the commercial success of The Eagles and their imitators, but there’s no doubt whatsoever that Michael Nesmith was one of the true, great and pure pioneers of the country-rock idiom, and that many, many modern artists working in Americana and related genres owe him a deep debt of gratitude.

His obituaries are likely going to focus on his time with The Monkees, and if that was all there was to his career, then he’d have left a fine mark on popular culture and music. But there’s a blessing and a curse embedded in that part of his history. The group was obviously assembled “artificially” for a Beatles-inspired wacky television show, and many of The Monkees’ hits were crafted using the best studio musicians of the day, as was the norm in American popular music at the time, e.g. nobody gives Brian Wilson any guff for Pet Sounds, even though many of the same studio pros who supported The Monkees in the studio play on that over-rated album. But somehow it was The Monkees who experienced a vicious backlash as representatives of standard industry practice, with Micky and Mike and Peter and Davy slagged with a harsh “Pre-Fab Four” tag, hinging on comparisons to the The Beatles, who almost always wrote and played their own songs.

Of course, pretty much anybody making music the late 1960s would have been found to pale in comparison with what John, Paul, George and Ringo did and pioneered in their heyday, so that was a truly unjust and hurtful line of attack. Especially since The Beatles actually loved The Monkees, personally and creatively. To his credit, Mike Nesmith drove the ensuing charge among The Monkees’ four members to assert their creative rights and capabilities as songwriters and players, and he placed more original songs onto their albums over the years than did any of his band-mates. Great songs, too, most of them. As was one of his earlier, Pre-Monkees songwriting masterpieces, “Different Drum,” which became a huge hit for Linda Ronstadt’s Stone Poneys, launching her career as a pop icon and titanic song interpreter.

Mike Nesmith was also a pioneer in the evolution of music videos (his PopClips show was the recognized direct precursor to MTV), was a film producer of note (most notably for Repo Man), served on the Board of Trustees of the American Film Institute, wrote and told fine stories on stage and in print, and produced and promoted other artists of note and interest. On a personal touch as a native Southerner with a mostly unshakeable accent, I always appreciated that he didn’t downplay or deny his Texas-bred roots and cadences. It pleases me to hear smart Southerners speak like smart Southerners, even if too many Northerners presume we’re stupid racists when we do so.

In the end, and despite all of the acrimony surrounding his time with The Monkees and the various machinations within and outside of the group’s core creative team, Nez remained proud enough of that body of work to want to play and sing the best bits of it live right up until his final days, even if it physically taxed him to do so. And that was right and just, as he should have been proud of that work, any critical chatter to the contrary notwithstanding. We play his Monkees songs and his First National Band songs (and Micky’s spectacular interpretations of the same) around our house all the time, happily and with open-eared and open-minded joy. He was talented and funny and smart and wonderful, and I’m sad and sorry that he’s flown away from us.

As a wee tribute, I offer one of my occasional “Five Songs You Need to Hear” lists below, focusing on Mike’s First National Band era, which many of you are less likely to have heard before than The Monkees’ classic nuggets. (In one case, I do offer a Monkees’ song given First National Band treatment, for the record). I highly recommend you explore his solo catalog further, and I hope you’ll also dust off any old Monkees albums you might have (or download some new bits and bytes versions) to be reminded of just how very good they were. Bless you, Nez. I really appreciated you.

“Nevada Fighter,” from Nevada Fighter (1971)

“Calico Girlfriend,” from Magnetic South (1970)

“Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care),” from Nevada Fighter (1971)

“Listen to the Band,” from Loose Salute (1970)

“Grand Ennui,” from Nevada Fighter (1971)

Only A Rumour: Pat Fish (The Jazz Butcher)(20 December 1957 – 5 October 2021)

I was deeply saddened this afternoon to learn of the sudden death at the age of 64 of Pat Fish, better known as The Jazz Butcher (“Butch” for short), which was also the name of a band he played in, when they weren’t called The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy or the Sikkorskis from Hell or JBC, and before his later bands Sumosonic and Black Eg and Wilson. The moniker thing was always a tricky bit when discussing the man and his music, especially since even Pat Fish was a pseudonym for the man born Patrick Huntrods in London in 1957. Whatever he was called, and whatever he called whatever he was doing, he was just an absolutely brilliant songwriter, and a charming singer-guitarist with a vast and rewarding studio and live career to his credit.

Pat Fish attended Oxford University in the late 1970s, and began playing with a collection of local musicians thereabouts, while reading Lit. Hum. at Merton College. A couple of his early collaborators (Rolo McGinty and Alice Thompson) went on to fame and acclaim as members of The Woodentops, while a couple of others (singer-guitarist Max Eider and drummer Owen P. Jones) stayed on with Butch to anchor his most impressive creative period in the 1980s, aided and abetted first by David J (former Bauhaus, later Love and Rockets) and then by Felix Ray on bass. (Note that I am pretty sure Jones is the only one of those core Jazz Butcher Conspiracy musicians whose stage name just might be his real name; I do know all the others’ true monikers, but why complicate things further with that, yeah?)

The Jazz Butcher’s 1983 debut album, In Bath of Bacon, found the group’s formative line-up in flux, but Fish’s unique blend of smart-to-silly lyrics, interesting instrumentation, and ear-worming sing-along melodies was already in full and fine effect, as were Eider’s exquisite jazz guitar stylings. By the time the second Jazz Butcher album, A Scandal in Bohemia, was released in 1984, the “Me n’ Max n’ Dave n’ Jones” line-up, as Butch name-checked them in the lyrics to the tremendous single “Southern Mark Smith (Big Return),” had cohered and utter madness and magic then spilled out, frequently and ferociously. This is about the time when I jumped aboard the Butcher bandwagon, having heard their song “Caroline Wheeler’s Birthday Present” on Washington’s (then)-great free-form radio station WHFS, which most thoroughly addled and altered my consciousness, making me realize in less than five minutes that I had a new favorite group, right then, right there, right now, and that I had to rush out post-haste and go into deep credit card debt to acquire their entire catalog at extortionate import-level prices. But it was worth it, and then some. Because do you know what happens if you leave a fish too long in an elevator? You don’t? Well, listen to the song for a clue.

From A Scandal in Bohemia‘s stellar musical platform, the Conspiracy leaped off the high dive and raged on prolifically through a tremendous series of singles, EPs, and albums, culminating with the Distressed Gentlefolk LP in 1986 (Felix had replaced David J on bass by this point) and the related mini-album Conspiracy, credited to The Jazz Butcher vs Max Eider. (In addition to his always scintillating guitar work, Eider generally also wrote and scored a couple of spotlight numbers of his own on each of the Conspiracy’s albums, and they’re often among the group’s finest works). Things seemed to be going swimmingly for the group from the devoted fan’s perspective, and of course that means that the classic Jazz Butcher Conspiracy then immediately blew itself up while on tour supporting Distressed Gentlefolk, with Max Eider departing to pursue a solo career.

Max’s debut album, The Best Kisser In the World, came out in 1987, and it was a joy to hear and behold. He and Jones also played on some David J records of the period. Pat Fish, for his own next move, left his long-time label home (Glass Records) to sign with Alan McGee’s hugely-influential Creation Records. The first fruits of that new partnership emerged in 1988 when The Butcher released Fishcotheque, featuring Herr Huntrods backed with a new crew of collaborators. I liked it a lot, but I did miss the “Butcher vs Max” dynamic, as on this and (most) subsequent records released under the Jazz Butcher rubric, there was definitely more of a “front man” and “supporting band” vibe to the proceedings than had been the case when Max served as a key foil and co-frontman for the group.

Fish remained active under the Jazz Butcher persona with a variety of collaborators through the latter part of the 1990s,  at which point he apparently tired of the constraints evoked by that musical brand’s baked-in associations, opting to form and record with the more electronic Sumosonic as a next step forward. But that was to be a short step, as Creation Records dropped the group after their first album. Phooey! And so, at that point, why, and well, and golly, it sure made perfect sense (no, no it didn’t, not really) for an unexpected Butch and Max and Jones reunion that resulted in the delightful Rotten Soul album in 2000, credited once again to The Jazz Butcher Conspiracy. The ever-volatile Max and Pat pair worked together on and off and on and off again over the years following, while Eider’s solo career built strength upon strength with a series of just soul-crushingly brilliant and beautiful records, one of which, Max Eider III: Back In The Bedroom, I named as my Album of the Year for 2007.

Fish’s post-Conspiracy and post-Sumosonic trajectory then anchored itself around a new band called Wilson, which gigged like champs over the years, and then, time passed, and of course, it once again made perfect sense (no, not really, no it didn’t) for Max and Pat (and Jones on one song) to join forces again for yet another delightfully unexpected album, Last of the Gentlemen Adventurers. That record, released in 2018, was funded through crowd-sourcing, to which I eagerly contributed. As a donor of a certain level, I was offered a meaningful memento from the band, and I asked Max to send a hand-written set of the lyrics to the group’s epic song “D.R.I.N.K.,” personally inscribed to my daughter, Katelin. (Ironically, neither Katelin nor I drink anymore, and the cautionary tale contained in that song is probably as good a reminder as any of why that’s a sound idea. I mean, God forbid we start playing “Sweet Jane” sober, especially with that god-awful “heavenly whine and bullshit” coda that Lou insisted be grafted back onto the song decades after its better original release. Doug Yule was right, in this case, dammit!) (But I digress). Anyway, I just told Katelin about Pat’s passing and she sent me a photo of Max’s kind gift, which I share below; you can click on the image to hear the song itself.

Anyway. I’m very sad that Pat the Butcher of Oxford and Wilson has flown away from us all on short notice. I knew he’d had some health issues in recent years, but I also knew that he was back gigging as long as the damnable virus let him do so, that he was active with online performances after the pandemic shutdown (he had one scheduled for last Sunday night, which he had to cancel because he was not feeling well), and he’d recently announced that recording of a new Conspiracy album was underway, with Max back in the fold once again. Max’s announcement on the Butcher’s official Facebook page noted that Pat “died suddenly but peacefully on Tuesday evening,” so it wasn’t an expected demise, and 64 years is just way too young to be saying farewell for folks of his capabilities and capacities. In thinking about how to title this post, I elected to use “Only A Rumour,” the title of a gorgeously dark song from 1985’s Sex And Travel, which contains these lyrics: “And how I wish I knew for sure how many years I had before this state I’m in will put me under the ground.” I guess we all wish we knew that, but all I know right now is that Pat didn’t get enough of those years on his tally.

All of that said, even as I’m very sad to lose an artist who moved me so deeply over the years, I’m also so very happy to have the catalog he left behind, which always makes me smile, so good is it all, and so smart, and sometimes stupid-smart, and other sometimes stupid-stupid, but in the good sense, always fun, always meaningful, always a pleasure, always a joy. The catalog is rich for exploration, but I’ll end this post by appending a special Jazz Butcher edition of my “Five Songs You Need to Hear” Series, featuring a quintet of my favorite Pat Fish numbers. (I’ve already linked to “Caroline Wheeler” and “Southern Mark Smith” and Max’s “D.R.I.N.K.” above, so I’m kinda sorta gonna ignore them and cheat and include five other songs below; consider those bonus cuts above, all of which you also need to hear). RIP Butch. You were one of the great ones.

“Grey Flannelette,” from In Bath of Bacon (1983)

“Holiday,” from Sex And Travel (1985)

“Real Men,” from A Scandal in Bohemia (1984)

“Partytime,” from In Bath of Bacon (1983)

“Angels,” from Distressed Gentlefolk (1986)

Fly Away: Lee “Scratch” Perry (March 20, 1936 – August 29, 2021)

Brilliant Jamaican producer Lee “Scratch” Perry left this world today for mystical pastures elsewhere and beyond, leaving an incredibly rich and influential body of creative work behind him. His Discogs entry cites 2,846 recorded appearances over the course of his long career, and I suspect that actually under-estimates the total number of discs that he produced, wrote, sang or performed on, given the dodgy record-keeping and dubious release (and re-release) practices of his earlier professional years.

Perry’s career began in the late-1950s, when the mystical maestro-in-making cut his teeth in the studio and on the business side of the music industry with influential Jamaican producers Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and Joe Gibbs. The difficult-to-irascible sides of his personality resulted in Scratch falling out with both of those mentors, and he eventually established his own label, Upsetter Records, in 1968. (Two of his earliest single successes, “Run for Cover” and “People Funny Boy,” were lightly-veiled attacks on Dodd and Gibbs respectively). Perry’s work was a cornerstone in establishing the standard traits and tricks of what we now call “reggae” music, adapting and refining elements of the ska and rock-steady beats that had come before; The Wailers (still featuring Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer at the time) were among the early beneficiaries of his production and marketing mastery.

Perry established his own studio, The Black Ark, in 1973, continuing to shepherd some of the greatest and most-lasting moments of reggae’s maturation period through the mid-to-late-1970s. His Black Ark era is where he most fully developed and honed his masterful “dub” techniques, which typically adapted existing songs into new versions by stripping the vocals out, beefing up the drum n’ bass “riddims,” and slathering the remaining tracks with echo, reverb, chorus, samples, and other production tricks, creating spacious soundscapes that, in their turn, went on to heavily influence the evolution of the electronica, hip-hop, and modern R&B genres. While Perry wasn’t a prominently vocal proponent of the Rastafarian religion and culture, he certainly embraced its use of marijuana as a creative and spiritual sacrament, and he was known to blow cannabis smoke into his studio microphones as part of his special studio session seasoning. No surprise that listening to a classic Lee “Scratch” Perry dub version is probably the most accurate way to capture in audio the experience of being really, really high, becoming one with the music in the process, actual weed optional, though helpful.

Perry was struggling a bit creatively and personally around the dawn of the 1980s, but his stock was significantly revalued when his music and his production approaches were embraced by the nascent punk rock and post-punk scenes; the Clash most notably advanced his cause with their cover of Junior Murvin’s Perry-penned hit, “Police and Thieves,” while The Beastie Boys pimped his cause with their “Dr. Lee, PhD,” which also featured Scratch on vocals. Perry’s vintage dub and reggae cuts have been heavily sampled as hip-hop has emerged as a global lingua franca, and he remained prolific with original releases and productions right up until his passing.  The latest cut of his that I acquired was the outstanding “Here Come The Warm Dreads,” which featured equally game-changing producers Brian Eno and Adrian Sherwood in an epic dub-meets-electronica melt-down that’s as trippy as it is dance-worthy.

Given his insanely large catalog, it’s hard to capture and present a snapshot of Lee Perry’s career; just poking around online this morning for lists of his most notable works, I’ve found multiple sites with fine setlists that are mostly mutually exclusive one to the other, given the richness of his recorded work. I’ll offer my own little capture today as a memorial to the great music man with a new installment of my “Five Songs You Need to Hear” series below; these are the five songs in Perry’s immense catalog that have won the most spins about my own living spaces over the years, and if you like these, then, well, there’s a whole world of wonders out there for you to dig as follow-up. Let me know if you’ve got a personal Perry favorite in the comments; I might have heard it, but then again, I might not have, and if that’s the case, then I sure might need to.

“Fly Away,” from Musical Bones (1975), credited to Lee Perry and the Upsetters

“Mr. Brown,” from “Mr. Brown/Dracula” single (1970), credited to The Wailers

“Police and Thieves,” from Police and Thieves (1977), credited to Junior Murvin

“Chase The Devil,” from War Ina Babylon (1976), credited to Max Romeo and the Upsetters

“Party Time,” from Party Time (1977), credited to The Heptones

Five Songs You Need To Hear (Another Engine)

Marcia and I are hitting the road for a few weeks tomorrow, heading up to Northern California, Oregon and Washington (State). Posts may be a bit spotty while we’re away, as is usually the case, though I will inevitably take too many photos, and equally inevitably share them here when I get back, for better or for worse. As a holding pattern until my next update, I return to my periodic “Five Songs You Need to Hear” series, with a selection of great tunes below that are all road-trip worthy classics of (my) canon. This is the 22nd installment of this series here, so if these songs hit your sweet spot, you can click here to get all of the previous “Five Songs” installments (scroll down after you click that link to move past this current article). Happy listening, as always! And see you (virtually speaking) on the back side of the trip!