Sunday, August 6, 2017

Chaos/ Confusion: What a Confusion

Lee “Scratch” Perry, The Upsetters, Dave Barker: What a Confusion


Dave and Ansel Collins: What a Confusion


The Selecter: What a Confusion


The obvious choice for our new theme would have been Ball of Confusion by the Temptations, but I posted that one for our 70s Motown theme not long ago. There are some interesting covers that might make a good post for one of my cohorts here a Starmaker, but I will leave that to others. Instead, I have a confusing tale of music credits to share.

What a Confusion is a good song to use in discussing the entwined developments of ska and reggae. Ska was the earlier form, combining elements of calypso and American R&B of the 1960s to create something new. Jamaican ska had a fairly rigid rhythm line, with vocals and horns having some freedom on top. As the music began to develop into reggae, the bass lines became more melodic, and the rhythms less regimented. My first selection of What a Confusion is from 1971, and you can hear the beginning of this transition. The song was produced by Lee Perry, who would become famous a little later as Lee “Scratch” Perry. The “Scratch” refers to his pioneering experiments with what would become dub music, but those were still a few years in his future at this point. The singer on the 1971 version is Dave Barker, and this recording is sometimes credited to him. The song was released on Upsetter Records, and I have also seen the song credited to that labels house band, The Upsetters as a result. Somehow, Bunny Wailer and U-Roy also wind up on the credits on some of the videos of this one on YouTube. I believe Bunny Wailer is in the backup band, but I have no idea how U-Roy got in the mix. All of this reflects the early history of artist exploitation in reggae. Performers and writers of these early songs were often not credited or paid, with their producers or labels taking the money instead. Efforts to properly assign credit retroactively are hampered by poor or nonexistent record keeping. So some or all of these people may have something to do with this recording, but it is hard to be sure.

Dave Barker is better known for his work in the duo Dave and Ansel Collins. Their version of What a Confusion is a fairly straight remake, with some changes in the vocal line and vast improvements in the recording quality. The production here brings the song more firmly out of ska and into reggae territory.

The Selecter are a British ska revival band that got their start as part of the two tone movement of the late 1970s that also included the Specials, the English Beat, Madness, and so many others. Two tone ska is different from its Jamaican ancestor in that it includes elements of punk and reggae and even dub on occasion. There is also a prominent role for keyboards such as the organ heard here. I could not find a video of just What a Confusion, so skip to 26:47 to hear the song. This version comes from a 1998 album in which the Selecter paid tribute to some of their influences by recording with them; the lead singer on this recording of What a Confusion is Lee Perry, which brings us full circle.

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