This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #229: Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals.
For such a small island, they have such a large, rich musical history. As we have discussed in earlier posts about Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, Jamaica is known as the birthplace of Reggae. But, leaving it at that is ignoring the many subsets of music that pre-date the style that became known as Reggae. It is impossible to talk about the music of Jamaica without also talking about Ska, Rocksteady, Dancehall, DubStep and many other musical styles that are related but, distinct, at the same time. Today’s post is a tiny bit of a history lesson that will connect some of the musical dots that exist between Jamaican music, as it existed before the world came to know about it, the moment the world found out about it and the musical reverberations that shook the world of music as a result of “discovering” it.
For years in Jamaica, musicians such as Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff practised their craft and gained fame on the island for their terrific songs and their musicianship. At the same time, groups like “The Maytals” were writing and performing all over the island, too. In fact, it was The Maytals, with their release of a song entitled, “Do the Reggay” that the term, “Reggae” was used for the very first time to describe/categorize the type of music that was being played. In much the same way that the Supremes became, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Maytals decided that, for marketability purposes, it would be better for them to have a “face” to front the band so, they became, Toots and the Maytals”…”Toots” being a man named Toots Hibbert, who had a voice on a par with Otis Redding and the charisma of a Bob Marley. In Jamiacan musical lore, Toots Hibbert is every bit as well-respected as any of the major solo artists such as Marley, Tosh, Cliff or Wailer.
In any case, the seminal moment in Jamaican musical history occurred when Jimmy Cliff was hired to star in, and provide music for, a movie called, “The Harder They Come”. *(You can read about that post here). It was this movie and the soundtrack that it contained, that helped to introduce Jamaican music to the world. On the soundtrack were many fine Jamaican artists, including Toots and the Maytals. Their contribution to the soundtrack of “The Harder They Come” was a song called, “Pressure Drop”. “Pressure Drop” is a fun, boppy simple song that discusses the Jamaican version of the concept of “Karma”. The song talks about if you do somebody wrong then, the pressure is going to drop on you. There isn’t a whole lot more to know about the song than that. But, because of the infectious grooves that act as the foundation of this song, “Pressure Drop” became a big hit; especially, in the UK and has been covered by some of the most influential bands of the day shortly after it was released.
But first, let’s backtrack a second and talk about how this movie soundtrack came to the world’s attention. If you recall when we profiled the Clash song, “The Guns of Brixton”, *(You can read that post here), we talked about how the late 1970s/early 1980s was a time of great emigration of people from the Caribbean region of the world to many new countries but, most specifically to England. Many of these new immigrants settled in the London suburb of Brixton and were housed in overcrowded community housing complexes. As a result of such a concentration of immigrants, soon there were on-going clashes with local police and the Brixton Race Riots ensued. One of the settings that served as the epicentre of these riots was a park that served as a de-facto Jamaican/Caribbean cultural centre. As part of the activities that took place in the park, music festivals became popular. Much of the most popular of that music came from the soundtrack to the movie, “The Harder They Come”. To those Jamaicans, far from home, in an increasingly hostile social environment, hearing songs sung by some of their biggest musical heroes was intoxicating. For UK bands like The Clash, hearing “Reggae” for the first time was a revolutionary experience and ended up becoming an integral part of their musical catalogue from that point onward. As well, there were many other musical groups who formed because they felt, as The Clash did, that music could be a way of unifying the races. So, Tu-tone groups (a mix of black and white performers sharing the stage equally) like Madness, The Specials and The Beat all sprang up; many of them doing their own respectful covers of Jamaican classics. In fact, both, The Clash and The Specials have covered “Pressure Drop” by Toots and the Maytals and helped bring that song further out into the non-Jamaican world. ***Not that it really matters but, until recently, I had always viewed “Pressure Drop” as being a Specials song. I am happy that my research has enabled me to give rightful credit where it is due and that is, with Toots and the Maytals.
The music of Jamaica is some of the proudest, most joyful music you can find anywhere. If you have never heard “Pressure Drop” before then, you are in for a treat. This is an awesome song to play at parties and one that will always get people moving and dancing. As for Toots and the Maytals, they still exist as a band, However, Toots Hibbert passed away recently; having received The Order of Jamaica, for his contribution to the culture of the island nation. He is one of the most influential and popular singers to emerge from Jamaica; every bit the worthy peer of the likes of the great Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Jimmy Cliff.
So, without further delay, here is “Pressure Drop” by “Toots and the Maytals”. Enjoy. I know you will.
The link to the video for the song, “Pressure Drop” by Toots and the Maytals, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Toots and the Maytals, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.