Saturday, January 17, 2009

Toots & the Maytals - "Pressure Drop" (the song remains the same) (forgotten song)

This is the first in a new series I'm calling "the song remains the same" in which I look at cover versions of songs. Why? Because I love covers. One of the unfortunate side effects introduced by the popularity of The Beatles, The Kinks, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and other contemporary artists is the mythologizing of the singer-songwriter. Individuals and groups were held in higher esteem if they played original music as opposed to the music of others. In contemporary use, to be called a "cover-band" is considered a great slur.

That's unfortunate, because there are far more talented musicians than there are talented songwriters -- by at least one, maybe two, orders of magnitude. The truth is there are a lot of great singers, guitarists, etc. that have nothing to say. To hear their craft, we have to endure aimless songs with dreadful lyrics. If your group has a budding John Lennon or Ray Davies, by all means, write a lot of original material. If you don't (be honest), please consult the catalog of, say, Tom Waits or Husker Du for an appropriate vehicle to showcase your skills. Their songs are 100X better than yours and most people still won't recognize them so we all win.

Prior to the mid-60s, "cover" songs were the norm in blues, jazz, country and even rock. Sure, there would be a handful of originals, but reworking standards and traditional songs was expected. You proved your mettle by your arrangement of proven material. Enough history; I recommend "Freedom of Expression" by Kembrew McLeod if you are interested in this and related topics. On to the music...

"Pressure Drop" is a 1969 song from Toots & The Maytals. TATM are one of the progenitors of reggae, even going so far as to invent the term "reggae" itself. Despite their longevity and centrality, they don't enjoy the mainstream recognition of artists such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Lee "Scratch" Perry, etc. Fortunately, other musicians know about TATM and have covered many of their songs, the most popular of which is "Pressure Drop". While the various artists listed below have more or less kept it within the original vein, they each find a different aspect of the song to make it their own. The song is fun to sing along with regardless of the version. Given the relative obscurity of the original TATM version (earning it a "forgotten song" label as well), we can be thankful that so many artists have also enjoyed this song.


Toots & The Maytals: YouTube, I'm not sure on which LP this originally appeared. They have a 1969 release entitled "Sweet and Dandy", but that is also the name of one of their greatest hits compilations.

Robert Palmer: YouTube, Palmer even titled his 1975 second solo LP "Pressure Drop". He plays this one close to the original, but with the tempo nicely slowed down.

The Specials: YouTube. An obvious choice for one the 1996 revival LP "Today's Specials" from the one of the original ska bands. This version extends the original with additional lyrics and a ska arrangement.

The Clash: YouTube, First released as the B-side for the 1979 single "English Civil War" and then again on their 1980 compilation "Black Market Clash", this continues The Clash's (and in general, punk's) interest in reggae music.

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros: YouTube. Strummer's interest in this song did not end when he left The Clash. I think they only performed this song live.

Izzy Stradlin & The Ju Ju Hounds: YouTube. From their eponymous 1992 LP. Not my favorite version, but they get points for doing something outside their GnR repertoire.

If you're asking where you've heard this song before, you probably remember The Clash version from the Nissan Rogue commercial from a few years ago.

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