Johnny Nash: Pop Reggae, 1972

Charlie Gillett  (author of 1970 seminal roots rock history, Sound of the City) writes this review of Johnny Nash’s 1972 LP, I Can See Clearly Now, for the Rolling Stone Record Review, which says, in part:

“It’s strange, but not accidental that the man who has brought Moog and accordion to a reggae record is a show business veteran from Texas, Johnny Nash.  This is actually Johnny’s second shot at making a name for himself with the help of the irresistible rhythms of Jamaican music.  Back in 1967, he went to Jamaica to record his own song, ‘Hold Me Tight’ and Sam Cooke’s ‘Cupid’ with a local rhythm section [i.e., the legendary Lyn Taitt & the Jets], and the record became a huge hit on the island.  The following year, first ‘Hold Me Tight’ and then ‘Cupid’ were issued as singles in Britain and eventually in America, and gradually became local hits.”

Later in the review Gillett makes this comment about the title track, which spent four weeks at the top of the pop chart beginning November 4, 1972:

“‘Stir It Up’ was issued as a single here and became a hit despite what must be a suggestive chorus; the melody line of that chorus has surely been planted in the subconscious of everyone who heard it, and will rest there forever.  Amazingly, the follow-up single and title track of the album, ‘I Can See Clearly Now,’ is just as memorable, and has a simple ‘philosophy’ lyric that we accept and believe even though it can’t be true.  Wishful thinking at its most perverse – nobody can remember a worse summer than the one we’ve been going through in Britain while this record has been selling by the thousands every day.  We take it because the arrangement is undeniable.  A brilliant pop record.”

You might be surprised to learn (as I was) that Johnny Nash released his first album in 1958 for ABC-Paramount.  1972’s I Can See Clearly Now, you might also be surprised to know, was issued by CBS/Epic in at least eight countries worldwide:  US, UK, Jamaica, Brazil, Canada, Netherlands, Spain & Taiwan (and Yugoslavia in 1974).

Johnny Nash aJohnny Nash b

One day I hope to hear the album track, “The Fish and the Alley of Destruction” (according to Wikipedia, it was replaced with “Cream Puff” on later pressings) — but until then, I will have to content myself with the album’s soulful and sweet closing track, “There Are More Questions Than Answers,” which features a lovely (and unexpected) steel guitar break around the 1:45 mark:

Charlie Gillett’s Got His Eye on Bob Marley

Towards the end of the review, Gillett has a lot to say about then-unknown Bob Marley:

“There are at least two more songs on the album that could stand as follow-up singles, ‘Comma Comma’ and ‘Guava Jelly,’ both of them written by Bob Marley, one of the great unknowns of Jamaican music, who also wrote ‘Stir It Up.’  All of his songs make magical use of an indescribable interplay between the peculiar rhythms of reggae and haunting tunes; but they still need Johnny’s sympathetic singing to prevent the simple lyrics from becoming banal.

“Bob Marley was involved as a session musician and assistant producer on the LP, as was a Texas musician named John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick, who contributed three ‘deep’ songs to the record.”

Johnny Nash & Bob Marley Play a One-Time Acoustic Gig in London

Marco on the Bass relates the story of Johnny Nash & Bob Marley’s historic one-off performance at London’s Peckham Manor School in 1972.  The school’s art teacher, Keith Baugh, organized this event and informed Southwark News nearly 40 years later:

“My friend was working with CBS doing promotion work and it was his role to promote Johnny Nash’s single. We were all out in a club called the Bag of Nails in Soho when I ended up meeting both Johnny Nash and Bob Marley. During that conversation they were bemoaning the fact they couldn’t get their single in the top 40 as they could not get any national radio airplay. I suggested as a bit of a promotion they should come down and play to the kids at our school, and a few days later they came down and played two 45 minute sets.”

Marley & Nash in London - bMarley & Nash in London - aMidnight Raver also posted Andy Gill’s account of this one-time acoustic performance from the August 2002 edition of Mojo.

Readers of this piece might also want to check out 1973: The Year Pop Reggae Broke