ALTHEA & DONNA / “Uptown Top Ranking”
OK, folks. We’re having another one of our ‘Katrina’ weeks. (Long-time readers will recall last September/October, when we couldn’t post downloadable tracks for a time.) I’m in New Orleans, typing this from my brother’s laptop. Kalamu is on the road. The music for my intended writeup is on my hard drive back in San Diego. Before I left for New Orleans, I emailed the tracks to Kalamu. He burned them to CD but left town without them. I was supposed to email them to myself to make sure I wouldn’t have to write anything like this but…I forgot. We’re in the process of setting up a joint iMac account from which we’ll both be able to access our shared files—that’ll solve this problem for good. So, next week, expect magic! ☺ I’ll be posting a seven-part investigation of Deep Soul, falsetto style. For this week, I’m going to have to go a lot simpler. Just one track, y’all, but it’s one of my all-time favorites. It’s Althea Forrest and Donna Reid, with their later Roots-era classic “Uptown Top Ranking.” Over the years, “Top Ranking” has become one of those songs that people know as much from the many other songs that refer to it as from the song itself. (For example, as Kalamu remarked after hearing “Top Ranking,” Lauryn Hill quotes the chorus on J. Period’s The Best Of Lauryn Hill.) Over a loping Sly & Robbie groove, the two sisters chant their lyrics in a style that perfectly encapsulated the time. It was 1978. The DJs (in the States, we’d call them rappers or MCs) hadn’t yet taken over the dancehall, but they were already gaining in popularity. For the moment, Roots music was still king. Althea & Donna’s vocal style sounds like a compromise between the classic, Roots style singing and then-new style of DJ toasting. “Nah pop, no style” they promise in the chorus. “A’ strictly roots.” But there is an obvious and immediate catchiness to the song, an infectious quality that makes you want to sing along even if you’ve never heard the song and even if you can’t understand what the girls are saying. What are they saying, you ask? Most of the lyrics are a sardonic, though gentle, knock at the (nearly all-male) establishment. They’re saying, “Yeah, we make look cute and sweet, but when it comes to the music, don’t sell us short.” (“True, you see me inna pants and ‘ting / See me in a halter back / Say me give you heart attack.”) But whether you catch the meaning or not, something about the song’s sound and vibe mark it as exactly what it is, classic. —Mtume ya Salaam yes, we have no bananas Technical problems continue, but we are making headway. There was a delay in getting the post up for the week of February 26, 2006. Soon come finally came just after sundown. So, yes, we had no bananas today, but we’ve got some sounds & science to drop on you over the next few weeks. Stay tuned. —Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, February 26th, 2006 at 10:50 pm and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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