What is Reggae?
Around the 1960s, many political changes and rebellions by the people of Jamaica occurred. This saw the rise of Reggae, which, similar to Blues music in relation to African-Americans, was viewed by many as “the very expression of the historical experiences of the Jamaican working-class, unemployed and peasant (Johnson, 1976)”. While Reggae helped spread the word of the hardships of the rebels, the international popularity that the music to Europe and the US also split Jamaica into two main groups: the religious and the political. The reason for this is that the commercialisation of this music meant that people outside of the country started mimicking many of the traits of the Rastafarian religion such as the dreadlocks, excessive marijuana smoking and a lot of the lingo, without actually being a part of the religion. It became a phase in society rather than a serious movement (King, 1998).
Although it is not solely responsible, Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1973 album Catch a Fire was a significant part of bringing Reggae into the international spotlight, as it appealed to a wider fanbase, including many Rock fans. This is apparently because of the album cover, which featured Bob Marley smoking a cigarette (King, 1998):
Traditional Reggae was generally very percussive, with an easy-going pace and a beat that was good to dance to, almost with a funk kind of groove in it. The Rhythm was generally quite repetitive, which is why at first many people of the Rock genre criticised it. The bass and other instruments were usually brought forward to be in the forefront of the song, to be on the same level if not higher than vocals, which is quite unheard of in Western music. A lot of the time there was also back-up singers or a chorus behind, similar to African-American gospel music:
In the way of lyric content, as Reggae began as a music of the rebellion, the lyrics generally addressed very important world issues, which is continued today in the likes of the John Butler Trio. In particular, their song Good Excuse, is “one of several songs that are wake-up calls to our self-obsessed consumerist society (“John Butler Trio Biography”, n.d.)”.
Good Excuse by the John Butler Trio is 3 minutes and 26 seconds in duration, with a bpm of approximately 108. The structure is verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus. What’s interesting about this chorus though is that it is more of a repeated chant, which is more like traditional Reggae than anything likened to Western culture.
There many instruments in the mix: vocals, back-up vocals, bass, drums, electric guitar, shakers and a whole bunch of random percussive instruments, maybe a vibraslap, a triangle? There is a tonne of percussion in this, building on top of each other to create that traditional chill groove of Reggae, which is added to by the backing vocals. Even though the vocals are still at the forefront of the song, they are maybe not as much as the usual songs we hear and the bass is definitely more forward in the mix than usual Rock music.
As previously noted, the lyrical content also talks about world issues, just like early Reggae songs. With lyrics such as, “You are just another white boy / Thinking your so hardcore / Go take a step out side and see what’s shaking in the real world,” they portray a society that only things of themselves, rather than caring about the real issues of the world and realising how good most of us actually have it.
Lastly, John Butler himself at the time of recording this song had dreadlocks (his more recent albums aren’t as Reggae influenced, and he no longer has dreadlocks, interesting connection hey?), which are a part of the Rastafarian religion:
So as you can see, the John Butler Trio in this time was greatly influenced by the Reggae genre. Other Reggae-esque (that’s not a word, oh well) songs by them include Zebra, Used to Get High, Better Than… the list goes on. Thanks for reading, hope y’all learnt something about the history of Reggae!
John Butler Trio Biography. Artistdirect.com. Retrieved 3 March 2017, from http://www.artistdirect.com/artist/bio/john-butler-trio/3190853
Johnson, L. K. (1976) The Reggae Rebellion. New Society, 589.
King, S. A. (1998). International reggae, democratic socialism, and the secularization of the rastafarian movement. Popular Music and Society, 22(3), 39-60.