Bumbaklat Hits: Pop's 10 Most Unforgivable Reggae Misappropriations
Can you feel it yet? Don't let all this rain fool you -- Summer is on its way. Sure, that means triple-digit temperatures, mutant mosquitos and Astros-fan apathy, but it also means live music outdoors. And where there's live music outdoors, there is always reggae. It's some kind of rule.
Personally, I and I are looking forward to the Ja-Ga Reggae Fest next month in downtown Galveston, and iFest is set to bring accomplished reggae artists like Steel Pulse from around the world to Houston the weekend after.
Jamaica may boast fewer than three million inhabitants, but anyone with even a passing interest in music knows that it's the home of reggae. The popularity of artists once unique to the island like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh has carried reggae across the world's oceans in the last 50 years.
Frankly, it hasn't always worked out for the best. One of pop music's most powerful strains, reggae is prone to being appropriated by musical clowns and stripped of its righteousness in the service of mass appeal. The result has been some of the silliest and worst chart offenses imaginable. Here are 10 that we love to hate.
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10. Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy":We're happy to give Bobby McFerrin props for being the only guy in history to score a worldwide smash with an a cappella reggae tune, just as long as we never have to hear it again. This saccharine novelty ditty and its insipid music video became inescapable in the fall of 1988, committing the twin crimes of encouraging public whistling and giving Robin Williams regular MTV airtime.
We haven't done any formal research, but we're willing to wager that less ganja has been smoked to this song than anything else remotely resembling reggae.
9. Culture Club, "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me":How thin can reggae possibly be watered down? This thin. Culture Club's first big hit was an incredibly gentle affair featuring possibly the softest, weakest approximation of reggae ever set to wax. Bonus frown points for the bizarre jury of blackface minstrels in the nonsensical music video.
8. Sublime, "Pawn Shop":Mea culpa: Our issues with this song are personal. In college, one of our close friends had a Sublime CD-R jammed in his car stereo. He had the only ride available, and if you wanted music, Sublime was it. Inside that Nissan 240SX, we heard "Pawn Shop" approximately 90 trillion times, and we weren't even baked.
Why does it suck? A semi-cover of The Wailing Souls' "War Deh Round a John Shop," "Pawn Shop" clocks in at an interminable six minutes. The phrase "Down there at the pawn shop" is repeated 18 times -- I didn't have to look that up. The song goes nowhere and never ends. It's a monotonous earworm scientifically engineered to remain stuck in your head for days at a time, and we hate it.
7. UB40, "Can't Help Falling in Love": Diluting reggae was something of a mission statement for UB40, but they never scored bigger than they did with this milktoast Elvis cover. The original song is weak soundtrack fodder from the King's Hollywood period, and it was improved not at all by synthesized horns and electronic drums. Naturally, it managed to hit No. 1 on the charts.
Some credit this tune for helping spread appreciation for reggae around the globe, but it surely spawned just as much hatred.
6. 311, "Lovesong": It's kind of impossible to discuss the worst appropriations of authentic reggae sounds without at least mentioning 311. We can't be sure how much ganja the band smoked before deciding that the Cure's biggest hit would sound incredible as a reggae track, but surely a single Swisher wasn't enough to wrap it all.
Apparently they weren't the only ones lighting up, because 311's version went No. 1, charting higher than the original. Didn't stop us from referring to it as "Loathesong" to anyone willing to roll their eyes at us, though.
5. Robert Palmer feat. UB40, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight": Maybe it's unfair to disparage UB40 twice on this list, but they deserve it for dragging the late Robert Palmer into this mess. There's no denying that Bob Dylan is a truly great songwriter, but that doesn't mean it's necessary to translate his compositions into every musical style on the planet. This dire reggae cover of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" serves as grim proof.
The tune was a hit upon its release in 1990, but has largely faded from memory since. Probably because the song is so embarassing that nobody's got the balls to even consider playing it on a cruise ship in Jamaica.
4. Big Mountain, "Baby I Love Your Way": The Reality Bites soundtrack is best remembered these days for giving us Lisa Loeb's smash single "Stay (I Missed You)." Mercifully forgotten is this wholly unnecessary bit of sputum from Big Mountain. There are few lamer '70s superstars to rehash than Peter fucking Frampton, but that didn't stop these dreaded-out peckerwoods from drenching his sappiest ballad in dub. The assholes even added a saxophone solo.
3. Led Zeppelin, "D'yer Maker": Jimmy Page has taken a lot of shit over the years for "borrowing" black music, but most of the time he did a pretty great job of it. "D'yer Maker" was a notable exception. The track's troubles begin with John Bonham's apparent inability to play a proper skank beat, and Robert Plant's doo-wop caterwauling renders the whole thing pretty excruciating.
Considered by many to be Zep's worst song of all time, the track nearly derails the group's best album, Houses of the Holy. The band never performed "D'yer Maker" live in its entirety, thank Jah.
2. Snow, "Informer": "Informer" has spent 20 years as the standard-bearer for wack riddims. It wasn't always reviled, of course -- the song actually managed seven consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the U.S. and netted Snow a Juno award for Best Reggae Recording before everyone realized how fucking hilarious it was that a whitebread Canadian was spitting patois about stabbing someone down the lane.
A memorable parody on "In Living Color" sealed the song's infamy, and by the time Snow made it to the Park Party at U of H in 1993, the quintessential wannabe was chased across campus and popped square in the grill for the sin of showing up. Welcome to Third Ward, mon.
1. Paris Hilton, "Stars are Blind": When the time came for Paris Hilton's inevitable debut single, the sex-tape star's high-priced handlers must have struggled to choose a musical style as hated as the heiress herself. Unsurprisingly, they settled on white reggae. Somehow, the completely needless and unwanted track became a Top 5 hit in Canada, Ireland and the UK.
It doesn't get much further from reggae's oppressed, revolutionary roots than the vanity project of a rich American princess. Just another soulless cash-grab in a career defined by them, "Stars Are Blind" didn't make much of a dent in U.S. pop culture. If it's remembered at all in a few years (it won't be), it'll be for proving that this "star" was not only blind, but possibly deaf, too.
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