What’s the hallmark of being an icon in your musical field? If your voice is instantly recognizable, if you’ve got at least three hit songs that just about anyone who hears your name will know immediately, if your name is mentioned in another song by other musicians in different genres to add credibility to their lyrics…you’re probably considered iconic. Gregory Isaacs was certainly that.
The reggae world reeled at the sad news last week – Gregory Isaacs, The Cool Ruler, had passed away from lung cancer. As a lifelong fan of reggae music, it strikes me as the end of an era and the passing of a generation. Add Yabby You, Sugar Minott and Gregory to the list of reggae music icons who have shuffled off this mortal coil this year. There must be a hell of a jam session going on behind the pearly gates.
I can’t tell you the first time I heard a Gregory Isaacs song – his music was part of the fabric of my life from an early age. I also can’t choose a favorite Gregory Isaacs song in any kind of sensible order. So what I’ll do is share five of the songs that most directly impacted me, and reminisce on the legacy of The Cool Ruler.
When I was a little one, this was one of the most ubiquitous hits on the radio in Trinidad – always played in a mix with other songs on the same riddim, including Telephone Love and Nuff Respect by Lady G. If you are a certain age and grew up in the islands, I know this brings back memories!
When I was old enough to start “digging in the crates” myself so to speak, this song became one of my favorites. And it remains so to this day. Number One is one of Gregory Isaacs’ more upbeat songs – less sensual than many of his lovers rock anthems, but no less romantic. And there’s that trademark moan. Ahhhhh.
No list of Gregory Isaacs hits would be complete without his biggest hit. Night Nurse became Gregory’s anthem, his Let’s Get It On, his Let’s Stay Together, his Turn Off The Lights. This is lovers’ rock at its sexiest. How many kids were concieved to this song? There’s no way to tell, but I know its a LOT.
Not The Way.
Oh how I LOVE this song. A message you don’t hear enough in reggae, or ANY kind of music, really. “Go and tell her you’re sorry, you ain’t too big to apologize. If you care that much about her, you gotta treat my sister nice.” Gregory teaches more macho and less mature men the right way to treat a lady. I don’t dig the message of the chorus – this daughter doesn’t need a dude to show her the right way, thankyouverymuch…but I appreciate the anti-violence message. Gratitude to Gregory for that one.
If I Don’t Have You.
When Mos Def alluded to a sexy reggae tune in his hit song Ms. Fat Booty, he had to draw for a Gregory Isaacs tune. And If I Don’t Have You remains one of his most romantic songs, filled with yearning and passion. Beautiful stuff.
Can I throw in a bonus track?
I had to include Tune In. Because it gets NO BETTER. That song is made for skanking around your kitchen on a Sunday, I tell ya.
The passing of Gregory Isaacs feels like the end of an era. So many of his peers who helped to shape and make reggae music what it IS, have passed away. Jacob Miller, Dennis Brown, Joseph Hill, Sugar Minott. Like Supercat said, nuff man a dead. But at least they left us with this music, these memories, these melodies. And for that we will forever be grateful.
RIP, Gregory Isaacs. You’ll always be The Cool Ruler.