THE WAILERS / “Dreamland”
I first heard Bunny Wailer’s beautiful spiritual “Dreamland” about ten years ago when I picked up Bunny’s classic 1976 LP Blackheart Man, Bunny’s first solo album after leaving the Wailers in 1973. (Bunny had spent the intervening three years releasing a few Jamaican-only singles and doing what Rastas call ‘reasoning’ and ‘cultivating’…whatever that means.) Ignorant as I was, I checked the liner notes, saw that the song was written by Bunny and figured that was the first time the song had been recorded. I was far, far away from the truth. Not long after hearing Bunny’s 1976 version, I heard Third World’s ethereal cover of the tune. That version is on Third World’s 1977 LP 96° In The Shade, an album that is every bit as classic as is Blackheart Man. How I didn’t remember “Dreamland” from back when I was a kid, I don’t know. I’m positive my parents played the album a lot because I remember hearing “1865” (aka “96° In The Shade”) all the time. Now let’s fast-forward to just a couple months ago—this is where the story gets deep. Kalamu got me a great book for my birthday and in the process of reading through it, I found out that The Wailers (with Bunny singing lead) actually cut a version of “Dreamland” in 1971 when they were still recording with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and the Upsetters. That was a surprise. I tracked down the 1971 version and sure enough, there it was. Same song, same phrasing and feel, but with that rougher, rawer vibe that anyone who’s heard early-Seventies Wailers music will recognize.* I figured that was it for the “Dreamland” story until I read some of the fine print in the book. It said: “Bunny first cut ‘Dreamland’ for Studio One in 1966.” Interesting. I searched that one out too and was really surprised to discover that I already had the damned thing. It’s on a collection of early Wailers songs that Heartbeat Records put out in 2000. I’m usually not a big fan of early ska-sounding reggae, so I guess I passed it over. It’s a great version though—the rhythm track isn’t recorded well at all, but the vocals are sweet enough to make up for the fact that the mix is so bad that you can’t tell the drums from the bass. In fact, I like it enough that it’s the feature Cover for the week. (A trivia note about the 1966 version of “Dreamland”: although it is often credited to “Bob Marley & The Wailers,” Bob Marley isn’t on this record! During 1966, Bob grew disillusioned with The Wailers’ lack of financial compensation despite their consistently having hit records on the Jamaican charts. In February, he moved to America and worked at a hotel, trying to make enough money to start his own record label. In October ’66, Bob got drafted by the U.S. army. As you might expect, he went back to Jamaica immediately and good for him. Can you imagine the drastically different course of music history if Bob had gone and gotten himself killed in Vietnam? In any event, the lead vocals on this track are by Bunny Wailer with Peter Tosh singing harmony.) Now for the biggest surprise. You might have noticed that I used the original version of “Dreamland” as the feature Cover. That’s because it’s not an original song. Although Bunny Wailer is credited with writing “Dreamland,” he apparently plagiarized it from an obscure American R&B band called the ‘El Tempos.’ I wish I had a copy of that record, but I don’t. (If anyone does, hit me up!) One clue is that the earliest Wailers version (the ’66 one) includes lyrics that are omitted from all the later versions…lyrics that point to the song’s origin as a love tune as opposed to a Rasta-type ‘back to Africa’ spiritual. One last thing. Asante (my sister) points out that although the El Tempos original may actually be a love song, there are many ‘love songs’ in Black music that are anything but. Way back in the day, the slaves used music to communicate. As we all know, songs like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Wade In The Water” aren’t actually about low-swinging chariots or wading in water, they’re about escaping to freedom. This tradition lives on with records like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and The Vandellas’ “Dancing In The Street,” records that would seem to be about romance and partying, respectively, but are actually about Black Americans’ struggle for civil rights. So when Bunny remade an R&B record that talked about a guy fantasizing about a girl, and he changed it to a Rasta fantasizing about Africa, maybe he wasn’t that far off from the record’s original intention. Maybe. Get your versions here:
—Mtume ya Salaam * According to p. 51 of the Wailers discography book, the 1971 Wailers version and the 1976 Bunny Wailer version are different mixes of the same track, vocals and all, but with instrumental overdubs added. Hmm. Give a man a book Next year I’m thinking of giving Mtume three books for his birthday: Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon, Art of War by Sun Tzu, and What Is To Be Done by Lenin—I just want to see what he’ll come up with! Although it is probably obvious, we should never overlook how big an influence R&B had on early reggae. Huge and direct. Once again, with neither shame nor hesitancy, I bring up my hole in the earth theory, although in this case, the flying Negroes theory works just as well… and for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry… be hap… —Kalamu ya Salaam P.S. For the sake of those who don’t know, Marcia Griffiths is one of the original I-Threes, Bob Marley’s backup singers (along with Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt). The Wailers were originally a vocal trio in which Bob sang the majority of the lead vocals and from which Bob was plucked by Island Records head honcho Chris Blackwell. Blackwell decided to promote Bob as the star, which is when the I-Threes entered the picture. There is probably some story about why “Dreamland” has been recorded so often by folk associated with Bob. Unfortunately here is where the road of knowledge runs out….
- The Wailers (Bunny & Peter) – “Dreamland” – Originally a 1966 7” single on Studio One, currently available on Climb The Ladder (Studio One/Heartbeat, 2000)
- The Wailers (Bunny, Peter & Bob) – “Dreamland” – Originally a 1971 single on Upsetter Records, currently available on The Best Of The Early Years (Trojan, 2001)
- Lee Perry & The Upsetters – “Dreamland Version” – From Africa’s Blood (Trojan, 1971)
- Bunny Wailer – “Dream Land” – From Blackheart Man (Island, 1976)
- Third World – “Dreamland” – From 96° In The Shade (Island, 1977)
- Marcia Griffiths – “Dreamland” – From Naturally (Shanachie, 1977)
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