Picking a sunshine song from the great Robert Nesta Marley isn’t too difficult; most of his music has the glow of the dawn about it. I always turn to the glorious sun-baked Sun Is Shining to throw some light on the day.
It dates from my favorite Wailers era – that period in the early 1970s, when, for want of musical direction (a cover of The Archies’ ‘Sugar Sugar’ and the similarly saccharine Dance Do The Reggae date from around this time) Marley turned to one of Kingston Jamaica’s most mercurial characters, Lee Perry.
It’s not that Perry just turned the Wailers around musically – he quite literally gave them their backing band as The Upsetters. Formerly the house band at Randy’s Studio 17 and Perry’s new Black Ark studios the band quickly emerged as The Wailers. It was more than that. The Wailers at the time had lost direction a little. It’s as if they were looking for a hit single to break out of the small Jamaican music world and needed to take a step back.
Perry, along with a number of wily producers of the day (Harry J, Bunny Lee) had been successful over in the UK too where a sizable Jamaican expat community and an increasingly receptive British audience were turning onto reggae. So when Bob Marley Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingstone started to hang with their old mate Chicken Scratch (Lee Perry’s nickname from Coxone/Studio One days) a whole new vibration emerged.
Perry in those days wasn’t too keen on working with singers, as they had a habit of asking him for money. He was making good money from Instrumentals so why rock the boat. Perry’s band The Upsetters were the hottest session guys of the day, and the Wailers (essentially a three piece vocal band in those days) were quick to recognise how well their music was working.
What Perry did for the Wailers was he blew smoke through their music. He turned the process of recording songs into into a relaxed and creative environment, where experimentation with styles and sounds fundamentally changed the way that their music was made.
Kingston’s producers uniquely had a habit of reworking famous backing tracks – riddims – endlessly so that there was never really a finished song. The Wailers first recordings with Perry were a combination of well rehearsed songs – some recorded years before in voguish ska and rocksteady styles – and extended musical jams.
Lee Perry was still a small time guy but was building a reputation for his endless sonic experiments. In Perry’s company there was no pressure to do things in the usual way. The emergence of dub was partly down to his stripping down and re-modelling and overdubbing wild effects over the top of old tracks.
Sun Is Shining is probably the standout song from the second of those Lee Perry produced albums, Soul Revolution. It’s a laid back jam, really, what Family Man Barrett – Wailers bassist – would call a “chanting vibe”. Bob Marley would revisit the song on one of his most famous albums ‘Kaya’, giving it a more professional international reggae vibe, but essentially the song remained the same. Peter Tosh’s melodica and Bob’s wonderfully uplifting lyric is a perfect Caribbean endless summer set to music.
Even the million-selling reggae fusion remix by Funkstar De Luxe, a Danish house producer, doesn’t diminish its essential power. The song somehow reaches into the soul and melts away the blues like few songs can do.
The original Lee Perry recording.
The Kaya version, probably the best known:
Funkstar De Luxe house remix.
Bob’s son Kymani’s beautiful live version.
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