Tuesday, June 13, 2017

HARD: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Nooooooooooo, not that one!

This is no syrupy Sedaka or claggy King, this is Studio One, Kingston, Jamaica, Hortense and Alton Ellis, a wonderful slab of early lover's rock from, um, much the same time. Probably. Don't get me wrong, the "other one" is a fine piece of music. For it's day. If not a little unbearably twee, not to say the image of  Neil Sedaka and Carole King in the clinch they once were seems a little not-in-front-of-the-children in it's euww-ness.

Brother and sister, Alton and Hortense were better known apart than together, with Alton, the 'Godfather of Rocksteady', being by far the better known of the two. Indeed, the duet in this song is probably not even that, with Hortense added as an overdub to an earlier hit for her elder sibling, and the LP in the frame for the clip being otherwise songs by one or the other, rather than both, even if Alton had originally produced some solo success with most of them. This is how show biz worked in 1960s Trenchtown. Or maybe even 70s, as the recordings didn't reach any much wider public until 1990. It is no less wonderful for that, and is a staple on many of the excellent retrospectives of the original era produced by Soul Jazz records amongst others.

Alton had a long and varied career ahead of dying from lymphoma in 2008, in a career stretching from the derivative jamaican ersatz american r&b of the 60s, in time for the birth of ska and, eventually, reggae. As these music forms blossomed, Ellis was often a lone voice in decrying the violent 'Rudeboy' culture that caused so much social chaos. After sojourns in Canada and the U.S. he eventually made his home in the U.K., arriving well in time to be greeted as an elder statesman for the emerging 2-Tone ska revival of the late 1970s, as the Specials and their kin made a stand for multiculturalism. His legacy includes many wonders including this version of this David Clayton/BS&T groaner, giving it a little less sweaty smell, and, less successfully, this curious version of 'Whiter Shade of Pale.' Fabulous bass, though.

Hortense, meanwhile, spent time both under and out the wing of her brother, recording constantly, alongside a couple of marriages and producing, at least, 8 children, before herself succumbing to throat cancer. Here is a staple from her live career in the States, a version of the Patti Labelle song, although her biggest hit was 'Unexpected Places.'

You can't have too much vintage reggae and I can't have too much love for it.


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