Sly talks Rolling Stone best of 80s list
Drummer Sly Dunbar consistently points to formulas of pioneer producers Clement Dodd and Duke Reid as the blueprint he and creative partner Robbie Shakespeare used for their Taxi Records label.
It paid strong dividends for them throughout the 1980s when they crafted the sound of roots-reggae trio Black Uhuru and worked with high-profile pop and rock artistes including Grace Jones, Bob Dylan, The Tom Tom Club and Mick Jagger.
Sly and Robbie produced two songs on Rolling Stone magazine’s The 200 Best Songs of The 1980s list, which was released on November 23. Jones’ Nipple to The Bottle is at #19 while Youth of Eglinton by Black Uhuru is #89.
Both songs were released in 1982, when the Taxi label was at its creative peak. Sly and Robbie launched their hit run in the late 1970s with songs by Jimmy Riley (Love And Devotion), Gregory Isaacs (Soon Forward), Junior Delgado (Merry Go Round), and The Viceroys (Heart Made of Stone).
“Wi jus’ wanted to mek dance music, timeless dance music like how Coxson (Dodd) an’ Duke Reid used to mek. Wi love Motown, Stax an’ Philadelphia International Records…dem have a similar way to mek timeless music,” Dunbar told the Jamaica Observer last week.
He and Shakespeare, who died two years ago, are particularly proud of the songs they did with Black Uhuru and Jones. Those hits were done for Island Records, mainly at Compass Point studios in The Bahamas.
“With Grace Jones, it was easy like Sunday morning. Everything wi did with her was one take,” said Dunbar. “With Black Uhuru, wi wanted a different sound than with Peter an’ some of di other artiste.”
Sly and Robbie were the driving forces behind Peter Tosh’s Word, Sound And Power band during the mid and late 1970s. They left that unit to focus on Taxi and had immediate success with Black Uhuru, who were from the tough Kingston community of Waterhouse.
Their growing reputation caught the attention of pop artistes, producers and musicians who utilised their innovative drum-and-bass skills.
Several Caribbean acts made the Rolling Stone Magazine ’80s list. They are headed by Grandmaster Flash, the Barbados-born rapper who was raised in New York City. He is at #3 with The Message, featuring the Furious Five.
At #51 is Electric Avenue by Guyana’s Eddy Grant, also released in 1982. Dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, born in Jamaica and raised in England, holds the #152 spot with the defiant Inglan is A Bitch, released in 1980.
Steel Pulse, whose original members are from Jamaica and Antigua, are at #178 with Chant A Psalm, from True Democracy, their 1982 album.
Prince topped the list with Kiss. At #2 is Madonna’s Like A Prayer, with Billie Jean by Michael Jackson at #4, and Bring The Noise by Public Enemy completing the top five.