Back in the day, before Sean Paul or Damian Marley in the Top 40 charts, chances are if you had any reggae in your collection it was Bob Marley’s Legend and the soundtrack to The Harder They Come. While the former is pretty much background music for kush-ball dropouts and sorority girls making friendship bracelets on their semester abroad, the latter was an excellent glimpse into the early 70s transitional period of Jamaican music. It was an eclectic mix of nascent roots reggae and dj/toasting genres, as well as the last swan songs of the winding down ska and rocksteady era. It was there you could hear Desmond Dekker & The Aces croon their second best known track (next to The Israelites) 007 (Shanty Town).
Shanty‘s protagonists and Kingston’s original gangsters, rude boys, were of a then recent bygone era where legions of unemployed and angry youths took to a sharp look of tailored black suits and ties, white shirts, dark shades and pork pie hats. While outwardly they may have resembled the CIA or James Bond, their main source of kicks was more along the lines of Spaghetti Westerns, Clockwork Orange or Boyz In Tha Hood; robbing, stabbing and shooting each other as well as innocent bystanders, over territorial (yard), drug and even soundsystem disputes. Despite how quaint Desmond Dekker and his contemporaries like Alton Ellis, Prince Buster, and even pre-Chris Blackwell The Wailers may sound now, rocksteady and ska was their equivalent of NWA back then (despite pleas in their music for the contrary). By the late 60s/early 70s the rude boy sound and culture started to slow, giving way to the more spiritual, introspective, as well as political, roots reggae and Rastafarianism. That bit of history aside, The Harder They Come soundtrack was really the gateway drug for a lot of us looking to dig deeper into something a bit more frayed, more authentic, than Jamming or One Love.
Besides tracking down plenty of covers of 007 (Shanty Town) I am also proud to put the ‘version’ in Versions Galore today with several proper versioned cuts as well. Playing favorites is a 1969 Spanish cut from Las Cuatro Monedas (re-named Buena Suerte), Jamaican music pioneers Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, turn out a classic rocksteady-era cover, the Beverley’s Crew make a mean (and rare) dub cut, a mento rendition ala Stanley Beckford, I’ve always had a soft spot for second wave UK all-girl ska act The Bodysnatchers‘ version, and lastly speaking of ladies a nice sluggish drone-y indie one from The Duke Spirit (BTW tip of the had to Jonder for that last one).
And speaking of version here’s a set of fun versioned cuts from Dennis Alcapone, Screechy Dan, Joseph Cotton, Winston Francis, Mike Brooks, Invisible J, Ambelique and Betti Mac.
Next is a mixed bag of straight ahead ska covers from LoLo,Natural Rhythm, No Sports, Trevor T as well as a spate of recent versions from acts that I loved but sadly should have called it quits a long time ago during their prime: The Specials, The Selecter, The 1995 incarnation of Byron Lee & The Dragonaires and Ken Boothe.
Las Cuatro Monedas- Buena Suerte
Byron Lee & The Dragonaires – 007 (Shanty Town)
Beverley’s Crew – Shanty Town Dub
Stanley Beckford – 007 (Shanty Town)
The Bodysnatchers – 007 (Shanty Town)
The Duke Spirit – 007 (Shanty Town)
Dennis Alcapone – D.J. Roll Call (Shanty Town riddim)
Screechy Dan – Panty Town (Shanty Town riddim)
Joseph Cotton – Ship Sail (Shanty Town riddim)
Winston Francis – Dance Floor (Shanty Town riddim)
Mike Brooks – Blam Blam Blam (Shanty Town riddim)
Invisible J – My Boo (Shanty Town riddim)
Ambelique – Shake That Thing (Shanty Town riddim)
Betti Mac – Oh Daddy (Shanty Town riddim)
LoLo Sings Rocksteady – 007 (Shanty Town)
Natural Rhythm – 007 (Shanty Town)
No Sports – 007 (Shanty Town)
Trevor T – 007 (Shanty Town)
The Specials – 007 (Shanty Town)
The Selecter – 007 (Shanty Town)
Byron Lee & The Dragonaires – 007 (Shanty Town) 1995 version
Ken Boothe – 007 (Shanty Town)
PS For those in Thee Versions Galore Facebook Fanclub it’s REWIND MI SELECTAH! as we got the original and some other fun bonus versions on the wall for you…