It’s unfortunate that our 5 of the best have come to reflect the passing of an artist. Again, it is with a truly heavy heart that we compile today’s list.
Frederick Nathaniel “Toots” Hibbert, O.J. (Order of Jamaice) was a Jamaican singer and songwriter, known as the leader of the band Toots & the Maytals. 8th December 1942 – 12th September 2020 (Aged 77).
A true legend, a consummate professional, a mainstay in both of our (and I imagine everybody’s) record boxes over the years, the man gave reggae its handle (Do the Reggay) a Jamaican icon who was constantly at the top of his game.
Toots moved to Kingston, Jamaica as a teenager and formed the first version of the Maytals in the early 1960s. Over the following 10 years the group recorded with a series of producers that reads like a reggae hall of fame: Coxsone Dodd, Prince Buster, Byron Lee, Leslie Kong. The Maytals became one of the more popular vocal groups in Jamaica in the 1960s, and reeled off Hibbert compositions like “Bam Bam,” and “Sweet and Dandy”.
In 1966, Hibbert was sentenced to 18 months in prison for possession of marijuana. This experience provided the inspiration for one of his best known songs, “54-46 That’s My Number”. Hibbert was one of the first artists to use the word “reggae”, in 1968’s “Do the Reggay”.
1. Reggae Got Soul
Not only my favourite Toots song, but probably my all time favourite track (3DJ), it is perhaps, arguably one of the most awesome tracks ever written and simply perfect to me. Here Playing for Change brought together Toots Hibbert, Taj Mahal, Ernest Ranglin and many many more musicians to contribute to this worldwide reggae anthem. As Toots sings, “listen to the beat, move your dancing feet…”.
Turn it up, spread it around – you can’t fail to move to this track.
2. Pressure Drop
Being performed live here before I was born, 15th November 1975 – Winterland – San Francisco, CA. An outstanding track delivered with confidence and ease by the big man.
Milo Miles described the song as, “utterly irresistible but utterly mysterious like Louie Louie or Tutti Frutti. It gets over on pure passion, and it seems all you need to know is when it drops you’re gonna feel it”.
No wonder Joe Strummer covered the track with The Clash. In fact, Toots and the Maytals’ compositions experienced a resurgence of popularity in 1978–80 during the reggae punk and ska revival period in the UK, when the Specials covered “Monkey Man” on their 1979 debut album and the Clash covered the group’s hit “Pressure Drop”. During this period Toots and the Maytals were also included in the lyrics to Bob Marley & the Wailers’ song, “Punky Reggae Party”: “The Wailers will be there, the Damned, the Jam, the Clash, the Maytals will be there, Dr. Feelgood too”.
3. 54-46 Was My Number
We’ve both had the pleasure of seeing Toots & The Maytals several times (Manchester Academy being one of the finest). If he was on a festival bill you simply had to watch this legend!
Crossing generations of reggae fans here he is playing to an enormous Boomtown crowd (opening the Lion’s Den on Friday afternoon, 2017) – and every single person loving it.
Give it to me 10 times, Toots.
4. Funky Kingston
How can you not move to Funky Kingston?
Reviewing the 1975 release, Robert Christgau wrote in “The quick way to explain the Maytals is to say that in reggae they’re the Beatles to the Wailers’ Rolling Stones”.
5. Monkey Man
Funkdub would simply not have existed without this track, and its one that we’ve probably dropped the most over the last 15 years (including so many covers – from Amy Winehouse to The Specials).
I have to sign off now, i’m getting too emotional.
Rest In Power, big man.
8th December 1942 – 12th September 2020
Full discography available at https://www.discogs.com/artist/81139-Toots-The-Maytals