King Tubby's Meets The Rockers Uptown (1976)
This was probably the first dub album that was critically accepted in its own right and preceded the punk/dub/roots reggae crossover that really took off in 1978. The dark, deep, bassy, often scratchy and mysterious "riddims" dominated the sound systems at Notting Hill Carnival, pounding out from under the Westway flyovers once darkness fell. The sounds were also played a lot, pre-gig, over the p.a. at countless punk gigs, which is where I first came across it. Listening to this takes me right back there.
"Dub" is in its purest form was instrumental reggae backings to songs, stripped down to a thumping bass, drums, staccato cymbals (check out Young Generation Dub for an example) and intermittent horn breaks. Here, the acknowledged "dub master" King Tubby mixed these intoxicating, deep sounds with the assistance of Augustus Pablo, who played the unique, strange-sounding melodica as well as piano, organ and clavinet. Vocals, when they occur are often repetitive and deliberately echoey, fading in and out. Guitar sounds are typically chunky "skanking" breaks, but, once again, they come and go. The organ swirls in and out too. It is all one big, infectious cornucopia that instantly summons up the spirit of inner-city London in the 1976-1980 period. The style of music influenced so many - Don Letts, Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, The Ruts, The Slits, The Police as well as countless reggae artists subsequently. Other musicians on here are Wailers drummer Carlton Barrett, bassists Robbie Shakespeare and Wailers Aston Barrett and Earl "Chinna" Smith on guitar. Reggae royalty indeed. It is pretty pointless analysing each cut one by one, as I do on most albums, as they just wash over you in one well-spent, atmospheric half hour of bassy therapy. I will say, though, that Carlton Barrett's drumming is just superb - rhythmic and powerful simultaneously. The best reggae drummer of all time? Up there with Sly Dunbar.
If you want to choose just one track, just go for the title track, King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, which introduced Augustus Pablo's evocative melodica. Check out Carlton's cymbal work on it too. Sublime. That guitar skanking on Corner Crew Dub is exhilarating as well. The bass and skanking on Say So. There you go, I am picking out some of the cuts after all. A whole new genre was being created. I know dub versions of hit singles had existed for several years before, often created by just taking the vocal out of the recording, but this was taking the whole thing to a new level. It became an art form. Yes, there is heavier dub around than this, produced as the genre developed, and the sound isn't great (but isn't that part of the nostalgic appeal?) but this is certainly a ground-breaking album. Check out any of Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark Studio work as well as an example of the art of dub at its finest - Arkology or Sipple Out Deh.
Roots Radics Meets Scientist & King Tubby (2006)
Released in 2006, but containing material from the early 1980s, this is a pretty definitive collection of crucial dub sounds. King Tubby, his protegé Scientist and the impeccable Roots Radics instrumental combo of Errol "Flabba" Holt (bass), Eric "Bingy Bunny" Lamont (guitar) and Lincoln "Style" Scott (drums) were some of the hottest exponents of dub around. The sounds here are, as you would expect, thumpingly bassy, but often deceptively melodic and always inventive. The album is produced by Jah Thomas and the tracks are shared out between Tubby, Scientist and the Radics. Vocal fragments are occasionally woven into the sound, such as on King Tubby's Cloud Dub and guitar and keyboard breaks come and go. A great example of the genre would be King Tubby's Moon Dub, but, to be honest, you could take any of the tracks. You can't really analyse them one by one (although I am sure hardcore dub afionados can!).
For me, I enjoy dipping into atmospheric albums like this for half an hour or so, or putting a track or three into a "punky reggae party"-style late seventies playlist to bring back that old Notting Hill Carnival after dark vibe, or pre-punk gig sound system thing. So many gigs played this sort of thing non-stop before punk bands came on. The sound quality on this remastering of the tracks is superb, although beware - your speakers will seriously shake! The CD has good, informative sleeve notes too.
The Best Of King Tubby (Trojan)
This is an excellent compilation in the equally impressive series from the legendary Trojan label. As on all the releases, the sound quality is excellent, as indeed it needs to be on the deep bass-heavy dub from iconic dub master King Tubby (Osbourne Ruddock).
The music is so redolent of the punk/dub/roots reggae crossover era of 1977-80 when sound systems before punk gigs blasted out this solid, dense dub material endlessly. No punk gig was complete without these pounding bass lines filling the expectant pre-gig air. Similarly, no Notting Hill Carnival after dark in that era was complete without them.
To the uninitiated, King Tubby took the instrumental backing tracks from songs and tinkered with them, adding occasional repeated vocal lines, similar brass breaks, intoxicating crystal clear cymbal work and, of course, big, booming bass lines all over them, shaking your speakers almost out of service. That was dub reggae, and Tubby was one of its pioneering exponents, starting around 1970-71 to experiment with creating new rhythms. It became a whole genre in itself and many dubs were soon being made in their own right, simply instrumental tracks as opposed to the backing track of a well-known song (which is how the very first dub versions came about).
The sounds are all very atmospheric - Augustus Pablo's strange melodica sound hauntingly enhancing many of them, the typical "chicka chicka" guitar sounds very prevalent and the bass invariably thumping. Echo and reverb are all over them too. The cuts are not without melody, however, although, to be honest, more than half an hour or so of dub is probably pushing it a bit before you start to crave a bit of vocal. a good thing to do is stick several of these tracks in a playlist of roots reggae from artists such as The Congos, The Mighty Diamonds, The Gladiators, Israel Vibration, The Abyssinians, Prince Far I, Big Youth, U-Roy and I-Roy and you have a great playlist. Stick a few reggae-influenced track from The Clash, The Ruts and The Slits and you have one heck of a punky reggae party!
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