GROUNDATION / “Picture On The Wall”
This week’s Cover is actually a ‘Cover.’ Let me explain. A couple of years ago, I bought a 4CD compilation called Simply Reggae. Disc two is called ‘Roots Legends’ and includes the following description of a song by a British reggae band, Natural Ites:
There are two big tunes called “Picture On The Wall” in reggae – this one was created by Nottingham band Naturalites, who made a stir in the mid-80s with their fine blend of regular reggae topics filtered through a British perspective. The backing of the Realistics, utilizing a nice horns swing, gives the band a traditional roots feel that ran contrary to the dancehall business that was reggae’s mainstream back then in 1985.Just from the song’s intro I decided I was going to like it because it starts with one of the band members asking one of the others: “Do you have a picture of his majesty, Jah, Rasta?” And the answer is, “Yes. I, I. Jah live, ya know.” The first voice comes back, addressing another member of the band: “And do you have a picture of his majesty, Dread?” A third voice answers, “Yes. I, I. Jah is within I.” How do you not like that? (For those not following along at home, Rastas are required—or is it impelled? or just prefer?—to have a picture of his majesty, Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah on display in their homes.) And how’s about the phrase ‘regular reggae topics’? I’m tempted to think ‘What the hell does that mean?’ except that I know exactly what the writer means. How funny is it that there’s a genre of music so insular that one might reasonably describe the general nature of its subject matter as ‘regular topics’? Moving along to disc three of the Simply Reggae compilation, we get a description of a record by rocksteady legend Freddie McKay that happens to have the same title as the Natural Ites song.
And here’s the other classic “Picture On The Wall” song, a romantic agony that became an anthem when Freddie sang it for Studio 1 in 1971. This later version updates it slightly, as Freddie was wont to do throughout his career, which ended in tragedy when he died in the mid-80s.The great thing about a cut-rate box set like Simply Reggae is you get 45 good (and quite a few great) songs for only fifteen bucks. The bad thing is the documentation isn’t quite up to par. There are no other details about Freddie’s remake of his own song; they don’t tell us whose voice that is on the second half of the song; they don’t even tell us the year it (the remake) was recorded. Out of curiosity, I looked for and found Freddie’s 1971 original. It’s a both a lot shorter and a lot faster than the later version, and apparently, is every bit the reggae anthem the write-up claims it to be. To whit, I found numerous covers of “Picture On The Wall” (the Freddie McKay version) including one by the Wailers. A late addition to the jukebox (courtesy of Kalamu) is a cover of Freddie McKay's “Picture On The Wall” as sung by the Wailers—Bunny, Bob and Peter—when they were recording with the Upsetters. You’d think that’d be the end of the story, but it’s not. Last year (’06), Michael Rose, the recently-rejuvenated former frontman of Black Uhuru, released not one but two albums of new material. One of them, Babylon A Fight, includes a song named—you guessed it—“Picture On The Wall.” Would you believe it isn’t a cover of either of the previously-described songs of the same title but rather a third original and a good one at that? So weird. If all of that isn’t enough coincidental strangeness for you, imagine if you, like me, came across all three of these songs only after you’d already heard yet another reggae song with the same fricking title. That right, this week’s feature track isn’t Michael Rose’s “Picture On The Wall,” it isn’t Natural Ites’ “Picture On The Wall,” and it isn’t either version of Freddie McKay’s “Picture On The Wall” or any of the many covers of McKay’s classic. Instead, this week’s feature is a fourth roots reggae song named “Picture On The Wall,” this one by a band named Groundation. I first heard of the Groundation cats several years ago while I was in a record store in Berkeley. (Some of the best record stores in the country are in Berkeley. Dunno why.) It’s no coincidence that I came across Groundation while I was in the Bay Area because even stranger than the whole title madness is that Groundation—which sounds for all the world like a classic ‘70s roots band—is actually eight white dudes who hail from Sonoma County in Northern California. Go figure. Get your favorite “Picture On The Wall” here:
- Natural Ites & The Realistics – “Picture On The Wall” – From Picture On The Wall (CSA, 1985); Available on Simply Reggae (Simply, 2005)
- Freddie McKay & unknown DJ – “Picture On The Wall” (Remake) – Original source unknown; Available on Simply Reggae (Simply, 2005)
- Freddie McKay – “Picture On The Wall” (Original) – From Picture On The Wall (Studio One, 1971); Available on Freddie McKay & Soul Defenders At Studio One (Heartbeat, 1991)
- Michael Rose – “Picture On The Wall” – From Babylon A Fight (Cousins, 2006)
- Groundation - “Picture On The Wall” – From Hebron Gate (Young Tree, 2002)
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