It was 40 years ago today that The Clash, Sex Pistols and other like-minded fellow travelers fueled the punk revolution in the U.K. and the Ramones, Patti Smith and others did the same here.
Less celebrated, perhaps, is the fact that Jamaican roots reggae was in its heyday at the same time, a fact that did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by punks on both sides of the Atlantic.
You wonâ€™t have to spend much time searching Google to find photos of Smith chilling with Tappa Zukie and Burning Spearâ€™s Winston Rodney, or Johnny Rotten hamming it up with Big Youth for Dennis Morrisâ€™ camera.
(PHOTO: Dennis Morris)
The Clash celebrated all the big names of Jamaican music in "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" and covered Junior Murvinâ€™s "Police & Thieves." Rotten traveled to Jamaica to scout talent for Virginâ€™s Front Line reggae subsidiary.
One of the most important records of the era â€“ and the one perhaps most treasured by punks â€“ was Cultureâ€™s "Two Sevens Clash," a reference to July 7, 1977, a date predicted by Marcus Garvey to unleash chaos. Many Jamaicans stayed inside that day and Cultureâ€™s hit song captured the zeitgeist not only of that experience but of the upheaval in the international music scene, thanks to the punksâ€™ rip it up and start again attitude.
(PHOTO: Heartbeat Records)
The album, produced by Joe Gibbs, featured the inimitable voice of lead singer Joseph Hill â€“ who died in 2006 â€“ with harmonies by Albert Walker and Kenneth Dayes. Songs like the title track, "Iâ€™m Not Ashamed," "See Them A Come" and "Natty Dread Taking Over" were urgent and catchy.
Gibbs tapped Kingstonâ€™s top studio talent â€“ drummer Sly Dunbar, bassist Lloyd Parks, saxman Tommy McCook, among others â€“ to provide the backing.
"Their message," wrote Gibbs in the liner notes on the original sleeve. "The unforgotten suffering of their ancestors as they toiled in blood, sweat and tears, only to perish."
Some â€“ most notably "Black Starliner Must Come" â€“ were tributes to Garvey.
The record charted in England, which was not a terribly regular occurrence for this kind of militant music.
"I wasnâ€™t surprised," says Walker. "I know good things will come from good things. Itâ€™s a really good record for the punks and more conscious people, they love to hear our sound. Our song made it big first in the UK, that was where we used to be, before we came to America, so they really support us."
The record has now been reissued as a double-disc set (and on three vinyl LPs) from VP Records, with the original album on one CD and related material â€“ including some great DJ cuts and dubs â€“ on the second disc. And it sounds as fresh and as urgent as ever.
"I feel like it a very good album," says Walker. "It really surprised me to know that 40 years later, it has been re-released again. Itâ€™s a pleasure. I really love it! I give my gratitude to all the people that got it out and brought it back in the street, itâ€™s a pleasure for us.
"I am really honored. It really helped us reach all international music levels. Recently I was in Malawi Africa and itâ€™s because of the re-release. We have been getting more shows and it takes me back to old times."
I ask Walker if he has a favorite song from the record.
"My favorite song is â€˜Two Sevens Clashâ€™," he says. "We took a lot of time and care to write that song. We learned a lot of history about Christopher Columbus, Marcus Garvey and others and decided to put together a song that the youth of today can listen to and learn something from."
My own favorite is now, as it was then, "See Them A Come."
Filmmaker Don Letts â€“ a fixture on the London punk scene and later a member of Big Audio Dynamite with The Clashâ€™s Mick Jones â€“ has made a documentary about the musical interaction between London punks and Kingston reggae performers. The title? "Two Sevens Clash."
Letts was also tapped to pen the liner notes for the 40th anniversary reissue of the Culture album.
"The punks loved it (reggae)," Letts writes. "They liked the fact that reggae was anti-establishment and that the lyrics had a musical reportage quality about them dealing with themes and subjects they could identify with. ... When (as a club DJ) I dropped Cultureâ€™s â€˜Two Sevens Clashâ€™ â€“ game over. Every punk had the Sex Pistols â€˜Never Mind the Bollocks,â€™ The Clashâ€™s debut album and right alongside â€˜em Cultureâ€™s â€˜Two Sevens Clashâ€™."
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