Picture this: you’re driving across the great state of Nevada towards California, marveling at the vast expanses of nothingness.
The road is empty as far as the eye can see and the vista reveals the inspiration for America the Beautiful — spacious skies, purple mountain majesties, all that good stuff.
Scattered across the arid landscape are barely-there towns in various stages of dusty erosion. There are subtle, sad signs of life in these almost-abandoned places. Water towers graffitied with the tag “tweekers rule,” and brothels tucked behind old-timey saloons.
For such a journey, you need music that’s soothing and layered, slightly hypnotic but with a rhythm that moves you forward. If you love Seventies roots reggae as much as I do, you need some Culture. Specifically, Two Sevens Clash. The seminal authentic roots album has been re-released in a cool 30th anniversary edition, and there’s a reason Rolling Stone named it one of the fifty coolest albums. It’s like Rastafarian gospel music. As Robert Christgau says, “Imagine it’s how a prophet might sound if the prophet believed in black starliners. You have to hear it to believe it.”
The album is steeped in mythology — the title is derived from Marcus Garvey’s prophecy that there would be chaos when the “sevens met” on July 7, 1977. Earlier this year NPR did a great segment on the history of the song. “Two Sevens Clash” was so gripping a song, with such a vivid message, that when the actual date came the city of Kingston was reportedly brought to a standstill.
The album begins with “I’m Alone in the Wilderness,” the perfect song for zooming across the desert. The tracks all flow so effortlessly into each other, it seems that almost every song should have been a hit in its own right. But some tunes have proven to have greater resonance and staying power than others. “Pirate Days” will always be a significant foundation tune, even moreso to students of Caribbean history who studied the Arawaks and recall the brutal slaughter of those peaceful people. The swirling harmonies of “Natty Dread Taking Over” took us past Death Valley and through sleepy Beatty. And when the road seemed too long, “See Dem a Come” took us through. That song is definitely in my top ten reggae songs of all time. The refrain never fails to uplift my spirits — Jah Jah see dem a come, but I and I a conqueror. Here, I want you to have the 12″ mix with Prince Wendy. It’s the Thursday jam, to float you through to the weekend. Hope you enjoy this as much as I do!
I found an amazing video of a studio session for the album, and it made this roots reggae lover so very happy. So here’s Culture, featuring the late, great Joseph Hill, performing Natty Dread Taking Over. I wish I had the chance to see them perform live just once before he passed away. I’ve heard amazing things, and the videos on YouTube reveal the power the group had as a live force.
Long live YouTube for this kind of thing. I just wish they had as much classic calypso and soca as they do reggae and dancehall. Here’s a shout-out to my Trini massive — let’s get some of our old videos online once and for all!