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!

This Is The End And It’s Still Living: Anita Lane (1960 – 2021)

Various media sources are reporting the death of Australian singer-songwriter Anita Lane, though the precise date and manner of her flying away, like her birth date, and like much of her professional career and personal life, remain publicly obscure. She was a long-time contributor to a German-English-Australian creative axis involving such artists as The Birthday Party, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Einstürzende Neubauten, Rowland S. Howard, Crime and the City Solution, Die Haut, Mick Harvey, These Immortal Souls, Kid Congo Powers, and Barry Adamson. A native of Melbourne, Lane emigrated to the United Kingdom with The Birthday Party in 1980, then lived in Germany, Morocco, Sicily, New York and Australia at various times over the ensuing years. In the early 2000s, she largely retired from music-making, returning for good to her native Australia. She spent several years caring for her family in a small coastal town near the Queensland-New South Wales border, then returned to Melbourne, where she died, her peripatetic global experiences ultimately delivering her back to her birthplace for that sad, final bow.

Lane was not at all prolific as a recording artist, releasing but one EP (Dirty Sings in 1988) and two albums (1993’s Dirty Pearl and 2001’s Sex O’Clock) under her own name, all of them outstanding and woefully under-appreciated. Her (slightly) larger mark on recording history was as a lyrical and vocal guest collaborator for most of the aforementioned artists, with a song here, a song there, unpredictable in their occurrence, but always a treat when they landed. She penned lyrics for The Birthday Party’s classic tracks “Dead Joe,” “Kiss Me Black,” and “A Dead Song.” (The header of this post comes from the latter of those three). She was a founding member of Cave’s Bad Seeds, co-writing “From Her to Eternity” and “Stranger Than Kindness,” both regarded among his finest works, by critics, audiences, and Cave himself. She also provided several thrilling vocal parts on ex-Birthday Party/Bad Seed Mick Harvey’s English arrangements of Serge Gainsbourg‘s catalog highlights, and her duet with Blixa Bargeld on Neubauten’s “Blume” is among that group’s greatest achievements.

At bottom line, Anita Lane was judicious, perhaps even guarded, in choosing her projects, but she always made a difference with her contributions. As a long-time listener, I was always pleased when I purchased a record and discovered that she was a part of it, one way or another. While the creative cohort within which Lane primarily moved and worked has certainly been capable of copious macho bullshit over the years, there were and are several personally and creatively strong women active in that orbit (e.g. Lane, Lydia Lunch, Genevieve McGuckin, Gudrun Gut, Bronwyn Adams, Danielle de Picciotto, etc.) who were not just playing a passive “muse” role, but were active, and outstanding, working artists in their own rights.

Their catalogs are all impressive, and worthy of exploration, each with their own unique views and visions as creators and collaborators. Lane, as it happens, was also involved in a long-time personal relationship with Nick Cave through his The Birthday Party and early Bad Seeds days. Reviews or commentary about her often relegate her to that unfortunate “muse” role, or (worse) slot her into some “girlfriend given a job by better-known boyfriend” trope. This has always been wrong, as proven by the evidence of others who actively chose to collaborate with her, and by the objectively brilliant differences that her contributions always made. And also, from the horse’s mouth, by Cave’s own reflections on Anita’s passing, posted here. Key quote: “She was the smartest and most talented of all of us, by far.”

I was pleased to learn that The Quietus had recently published a considered evaluation of Lane’s career, entitled Unearthing A Pearl: Praising the Sexual Mysticism of Anita Lane. Their premise, which I agree with, was that she was most creatively active at a time when the critical and cultural worlds weren’t quite ready for her, forcing her to pave a way for many artists who followed, without ever reaping the plaudits she deserved for her work. I honestly don’t think I can improve upon anything that article says by further expressing its sentiments in my own words, so I simply encourage you to read it as a most fine piece of music journalism. I sort of hope that Anita Lane might have had a chance to see it before she passed, too. 

I would posit that one of the finest visual examples of Lane’s determined willingness and ability to forge, shape, and control her own image comes in the video for a remake of Nancy Sinatra’s signature hit “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” recorded with ex-Bad Seed Barry Adamson. In the video, Lane is confident, sultry, sassy, sensual . . . while carrying and cuddling a baby throughout the shoot. Adamson, ostensibly the auteur for this particular version of that song, is relegated to smart dance steps and tambourine shaking in its visual representation. The short but potent little film turns expected music video tropes on their heads in so many ways, and it’s utterly wonderful in all of its subtle bucking against the established norms of the form.

If you’re not familiar with that song or any/many other works from Lane’s career, I offer a special memorial installment of my “Five Songs You Need To Hear” series below, documenting highlights of Anita’s vocal work, each song by a different artist, each one greater for her contributions. Anita Lane was a classic, in her own deeply-personal ways, and I am grateful for the small, but densely-powerful, body of work she left behind her.

“These Boots Are Made For Walking,” from Delusion (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Barry Adamson (1991)

“The Fullness of His Coming,” from Dirty Pearl by Anita Lane (w/s/g The Birthday Party) (1993)

“Blume,” from Tabula Rasa by Einstürzende Neubauten (1993)

“Overseas Telegram,” from Intoxicated Man by Mick Harvey (1995)

“Firething,” from Members of the Ocean Club by Gudrun Gut (1996)

Five Songs You Need to Hear (Baby, Please Come Home)

I’ve written before at length here about how much I hate the mercenary use of Christmas music in public spaces through the shopping season in the weeks-to-months preceding the Great Unwrapping. That said, I don’t hate all Christmas music, especially when it’s deployed sensibly and with sensitivity in the privacy of one’s own home, getting jiggy with the spirit of the season, independent of the need to acquire for acquisition’s sake. So as the big day draws nigh, I return to my periodic series here to present another Five Songs You Need To Hear, all of these with a festive (?) seasonal feel. This is the 21st article in this series, 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!

#1. COIL, “Christmas Is Now Drawing Nigh”

#2. Half Man Half Biscuit, “All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit”

#3. Hljómsveitin Myrká, “Jólakötturinn (The Christmas Cat)”

#4. The Residents, “Christmas Morning Foto”

#5. The Fall, “(We Wish You) A Protein Christmas”

Five Songs You Need To Hear (And That’s The Truth)

With all the excitement around our move to Arizona, I note that my normal monthly flow of articles here at Ye Olde Blogge has been a bit disrupted of late. So in trying to achieve a new normal during the last month of this most weird year, it seems a “Five Songs You Need To Hear” post is in order, since I haven’t managed to get one out here since September. I return fully to the original premise of these pieces today, as the following five songs have nothing in common except that (a) they have been rocking my world recently, (b) you may not have heard them, and (c) I think you should do so, right now.  This is the 20th article in this series, 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!

#1. Awa Poulo, “Mido Yirima”

#2. Alice Donut, “The Puny and Revolting Men of Advertising Smile”

#3. First Aid Kit, “Come Give Me Love”

#4. Frank Zappa, “Watermelon in Easter Hay”

#5. Fleetwood Mac, “Earl Grey”

Five Songs You Need To Hear (To Everything There Is a Season)

Goodness, October’s looming, and I’ve not offered one of my ongoing Five Songs You Need To Hear articles in September! Guess I should rectify that this morning, if only to satisfy my own obsessive tendencies. And, of course, to goose your curiosity on some music that you might never have heard before, but should. I’ve already written a few pieces this month about new things that are rocking my world, so rather than reiterating or re-culling cuts from those albums, the five songs below represent older things that have re-emerged into the active playlist hereabouts, with pleasing results. In each case, some external factor jogged my memory, so I also offer a little narrative before each song on why I’m playing and loving it now, in some cases after many years of not having heard it.  As always, 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), which are now at 19 posts and counting. Your Head A Splode.

#1. “I Am The Walrus” by Spooky Tooth. (Why: It played over the end credits of the Watchmen mini-series, which we enjoyed. It’s a shockingly visceral take on a very cerebral Beatles cut).

#2. “Weakling” by Swans. (Why: We watched the outstanding Where Does A Body End documentary this week. Two hours and forty minutes of pummeling, along with some great, informative interviews. Perfect. Brutal. Sweet. Also, note the cover of the 1983 album from which this cut was culled, and compare/contrast to the mask I am wearing in my current profile photo).

#3. “Sweet And Dandy” by Toots and the Maytals. (Why: First, because we watched the film Yardie recently; it was partially set in the early ’70s Jamaican gang war era that framed the epic The Harder They Come film, the classic soundtrack of which featured this song. Second, because Toots Hibbert died this month, alas).

#4. “Come On Over” by Olivia Newton-John. (Why: I wrote a whole article explaining this one).

#5. “Uncloudy Day” by The Staple Singers (Why: We also watched the outstanding Mavis! documentary recently).