The title of this post was a running joke a friend of mine had on a chat forum. You’d say something to him, and his comeback was “you’ve upset me, and I’m not easily upset.”
But really I want to talk now about Lee Scratch Perry and the Upsetters. I finally ripped the 3 CD Trojan box set. And it is such an overwhelmingly rich collection of some incredibly original, arresting of music.
The first thing about Lee Perry is he was writing and producing and recording because he was trying to make a living. So some of the best tracks on the compilation are ridiculously commercial. When Lee covers the Coasters hit “Yakety Yak” he makes it his own. Starting from a beat from outer space, so perfectly simple and mechanically funky.
Dave Barker’s “Prisoner of Love” whose rocksteady ska beat is topped by one of the most original, soulful voices in Jamaica. Think Wilson Picket, James Brown, and Otis Redding rolled up into one.
“Fever” – a cover of the song made famous by Peggy Lee – has Susan Cadogan’s channelling Lou Reed (no, not really, but kindof). Her double-tracked lead vocal stays in a single octave and rides the beat like it’s a freight train. There’s a flute part that might be a synthesizer that’s mixed subliminally low, but the stars are the drum and bass.
The classic Upsetters song “Clint Eastwood” is the definitive Upsetters groove. Simple drums, bass, keyboard and drum with an irresistable woodblock ostinato rhythm.
The conscious borrowing from American soul music and New Orleans funk is in Lee Perry but there’s also his inimitable internal riddim. He was not a man who made much sense when he spoke, but his instincts as a producer are deliriously focused and full of his unique soulfulness. That would be enough, but layered on top of compelling music is an extra layer of surreal kookiness. He had something in common with Wesley Willis: he was a fountain of weirdness, and you’re never sure how seriously he takes his weird.
Three different Lee Perrys talk at once over “Evil Brain Rejecter” It’s a later production so the beat is not as greasy and low down as his 60s & 70s material. The beat sounds like it was made in Garage Band, but having three Lees at once is like Ken Nordine’s “Word Jazz” cranked to eleven.