Some of our favorite tunes of all time are those blessed with the sun, green haze and indecently heavy bass and riddims of the Caribbean, from Roots and Dub, to Dancehall and Ragga. So we loved that Anwar Carrots picked out the ‘Istanbul’ riddim based Jahu Cure tune ‘What Will It Take’ to feature on the Peas’n’Carrots playlist. A ridiculous beat and a reminder of the tendency in reggae production to recycle and repurpose killer tracks, giving any one riddim life upon life, and a surprising level of originality and diversity of results.
So with that in our heads we thought we’d dig out the legendary “Blood and Fire” track from Winston ‘Niney the Observer’ Holness, released originally in December 1970 and a tune that is just pure murderation. The ‘blood and fiyah’ refrain hooks the song around the mellowest of skanks and bass driven lilt. Niney toasts, grunts and sings sweetly over the track, coming in on the on and off beat to give the record a wickedly organic feel. A classic cut, and from a guy aged just 19 at the time. Originally pressed in just a run of 200, the record went on to sell 30,000 copies and become Jamaican record of the year, securing its legendary status almost immediately. And this despite the fact that Niney literally had to spill blood to get it released, a shoulder length scar his permanent reminder of a studio tussle involving the Wailers’ Glen Adams who accused him of theft of a segment of their work to make up the track.
Whatever the case, the rhythm is an established part of the reggae canon, and never bettered than in its original form. Never bettered, but perhaps equalled, because the other tune that has long been a favourite is the mighty Big Youth’s own use of the track. ‘Fire Bunn’ followed quick on the heels of the original in 1971, and if ‘Blood and Fire’ is raw and passionate, ‘Fire Bunn’ is pure melody, and a brilliant vocal performance that is archetypal Big Youth. Youth’s style is laid-back to the point of meditation, but he is perhaps the most engaging artist of reggae’s 1970s purple patch, his soulful ability to ride a track with precision unrivalled amongst contemporaries. He half-sings, half-raps, sometimes chanting in preacher man harmony, and the result is one of the most beautiful artists to listen to. ‘Fire Bunn’ came just before Big Youth broke through properly with the quite excellent ‘Screaming Target’ LP in 1972, and is a sure indicator of how great he would go on to be. So there you have it. One track. Two favourite tunes as outcomes.