When asked to name a favorite reggae song, I would be willing to wager a hefty sum that about 98% of people would drop the name of a Bob Marley tune, and I’ll bet that at least some portion of the other 2% would probably name something by Big Mountain, UB40, Matisyahu, Snow or some other white boy pretenders. While Bob Marley made a massive impact on popular music and reggae alike, the genre itself was never quite able to replicate Marley’s individual popularity. This is quite sad, because there have been some great reggae songs and albums released that the majority of people will never hear. Reggae pioneers like Jimmy Cliff, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Bunny Lee, and Desmond Dekker cranked out some classic songs that still hold up to this day, carrying with them a timeless island sound that can warm the coldest heart.
After that introduction, you may be disappointed that I’m not going to haul out some super-obscure classic from the dusty vaults when I name my favorite reggae song of all time. No, my favorite is fairly well known, having been included in the 1973 film The Harder They Come, which is credited as a large factor in introducing reggae to the world outside of Jamaica. The song I speak of is “Pressure Drop” by Toots & the Maytals.
Reportedly having coined the term “reggae” with their 1968 single “Do The Reggay,” The Maytals would return to the studio the following year to create their signature hit “Pressure Drop,” which would appear on their 1970 album Monkey Man. The song took off internationally when The Harder They Come was released three years later, and the band would prove to have a large influence on the burgeoning punk and ska movements in the UK. The song would go on to be covered by the likes of The Clash and Keith Richards, as well as many lesser artists like Izzy Stradlin and The Specials. However, in my opinion, no one has ever been able to touch the original. Beginning with a signature reggae organ and walking beat, the repetitive vocals admonish an unknown target for doing wrong with a warning that the “pressure gonna drop on you,” probably a reference to the drop in air pressure before a large storm. It’s a simple message: keep doing wrong and you’re in for a world of hurt. Frederick “Toots” Hibbert sings with such an urgency to his voice that you can feel the clouds gathering around the targeted offender. None of the other artists who’ve covered this song came anywhere near Hibbert’s vocals on the original, and the backing vocals of the Maytals reinforce his message with authority.
Like I said, the song’s not obscure, just really freaking great. Pitchfork included this song in its top 200 songs of the 60’s, and it’s also featured in Rolling Stone’s 500 Songs. While “Pressure Drop” is far from outside the mainstream of well known reggae hits, I hope that this serves as an introduction to the majority of people out there who think reggae began and ended with Bob Marley.
Toots & the Maytals – “Pressure Drop”
And, as a bonus:
The Clash – “Pressure Drop”