The Joy of Cod Reggae
August 18, 2019 12:32 AM   Subscribe

When non-Jamaicans attempt to make reggae, the resulting music, sometimes termed ‘cod reggae’ (cod in this context meaning ‘faux, ersatz, false, counterfeit or synthetic’) often ends up smelling a bit fishy. But not always. John Doran at The Quietus challenged ‘crate digger extraordinaire’ Bill Brewster to compile a playlist using only the freshest of cod reggae fillets.

With the listicle being four years old, some of the links in it have gone dead. A reconstituted list follows:
posted by misteraitch (71 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've enjoyed some of the Irish dabbling with reggae.

Sinead
Black 47
Century Steel Band
posted by Candleman at 3:26 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I did some audio-visual work once with Traveller girls, when it came to choosing music it was always, always reggae, the sort with quite heavy and meaningful lyrics. Re which, a Northern Irish person told me reggae is massively popular there, like it's almost been adopted as a folk expression.
posted by glasseyes at 4:43 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


UB40 isn't on the list, is it cod or not?
posted by glasseyes at 4:45 AM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


I am a terrible person
posted by prismatic7 at 4:51 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Re: UB40 - good question. A borderline case perhaps. To my inexpert ears, I'd say they may contain traces of cod; are not guaranteed cod-free.
posted by misteraitch at 4:57 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


It may just be my age, & the fact that I listened to Bob Marley, the Clash, & Elvis Costello a lot at a very impressionable age, but I have a real love for this stuff. Yes, I know that it is what it is, and it's not a replacement for anything put out by Blood and Fire or whoever, but there is a real love in my heart for this micro genre. I would say their list needs more Police, however.
posted by Burgoo at 5:02 AM on August 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


Brenda Ray is a white woman from England who started out in post-punk and then did a reggae album with some Jamaican musicians and producers--it's good.

Kind of adjacent to this genre, folks like Adrian Sherwood and Mad Professor did some neat things on the dub side from England, and Lloyd 'Bullwackie' Barnes and the Wackies label did some neat things in the States.
posted by box at 5:07 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Not sure if cod or not but very good, turn up yer bass:
The Orb/Towers of Dub (multiple versions online it's worth searching for remixes)
New Steppers/Fade Away
The Clash/Black Market Clash 10"/B side
Probably more once I have had more coffee.
posted by carter at 5:28 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


(Definitely cod - the Beatles obladi, oblada ...)
posted by carter at 5:48 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


The Clash were one of the only white bands whose reggae I really loved although Elvis's Watching the Detectives is such a great song. I liked Clapton's Sheriff as a kid when it was an AM radio hit until I heard Marley's original which is just in a different league.

Even late into his career Joe Strummer could jam out some pretty great jams.
posted by octothorpe at 5:56 AM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


(Also: don't assume non-jamaicans aren't deeply and meaningfully enmeshed in the origin of the music - cf this mefi post about chinese producers!)
posted by lalochezia at 6:11 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I would say their list needs more Police, however.

reggatta de poisson blanc
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:12 AM on August 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


Ari Up — Me Done
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:13 AM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


I was never a fan, but — Sublime?
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:39 AM on August 18, 2019


I would say their list needs more Police, however.

The Police rarely sounds like one genre or another though. More like 3 guys each playing a different genre at the same time.
posted by wabbittwax at 6:47 AM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


RIP Ari...
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:52 AM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


I couldn't resist...Your Time is Gonna Come.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 7:01 AM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]




I would say their list needs more Police, however.

Came in wondering what would be said about the Police. Their early reggae-ish sound is mainly what attracted me to them. I think today though they'd probably get accused of cultural appropriation or something like that. Sting seems to be mindful of that now and that may be one of the reasons he collaborated with Shaggy. In live performances Shaggy doesn't have to effect a fake accent.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:12 AM on August 18, 2019


With regards to the police, here is their best reggae track:

Sheila Hylton - The Bed's Too Big Without You
posted by cloeburner at 7:14 AM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


The omission of The Tide is High by Blondie will not stand
posted by ejs at 7:15 AM on August 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


I thought 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' was seminal goth stuff.
posted by Selena777 at 7:17 AM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


The Idlers are from Newfoundland. Pretty good cod. They even have a song about cod, rum, and the slave trade.
posted by kaymac at 7:18 AM on August 18, 2019


The Bed's Too Big Without You

My high school garage band started covering a lot of Police songs, which was very educational , in that these seemingly easy pop songs were actually quite difficult to play well. This song was my Waterloo -I just could neither count nor feel the rests between the bass figures, and I'm not sure I could even play the chorus part.
posted by thelonius at 7:31 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


prismatic7 no. Why.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:06 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I am a terrible person

That's more of a jungle ting, innit? Which has evolved, changed and mutated into variations of Drum n Bass, and at that point, we're pretty far from Jamaica (though there are some who bring back in more reggae influences).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:15 AM on August 18, 2019


I'm having a little trouble with Bela Lugosi's Dead as reggae. I'd say someone was trolling, but Brewster seems sincere: "one of the most inventive dub-influenced tunes in the post punk period". Some of the production techniques, sure, all the echo and guitar delays. I think every UK-connected music producer in this era was biting what Jamaican music producers were doing. But the song ain't exactly beach dance parties, weed, and Jah. Not really a dancehall either. More of an acid trip in your friend's apartment.
posted by Nelson at 8:16 AM on August 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


‘cod reggae’ (cod in this context meaning ‘faux, ersatz, false, counterfeit or synthetic’)

Let's also note that cod meat is white, appropriate for a term mostly referring to white musicians.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:20 AM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


The Clash were one of the only white bands whose reggae I really loved although

I'd say they were the only white band* who consistently pumped out relevant, un-embarrassing music with Jamaica somehow in its blood and/or bones. From their first swing at it (White Man in Hammersmith Palais) through the vastness of Sandinista's six sides all the way to final side of Combat Rock (the last proper Clash album) -- they always managed to sound like they weren't dabblers or imitators. Which is not to say their stuff sounded like Jamaica. It didn't. They were never trying to fool you, just cranking out music that deeply mattered to them, which often seemed to evolve out of a reggae and/or dub groove or styling.

I mean, a track like Charlie Don't Surf -- that's just out there in its own universe. Yet a friend heard it once at a bar in Jamaica and it worked so well with everything else, it didn’t even register until a few hours later that The Clash’s sideways take on reggae had made it to a Jamaican mixtape!

* UB40 (who are not all white anyway) are an interesting case in that their first two albums (plus various dubs and versions) have always sounded quite solid to my ears (with Madame Medusa a particular standout), but then more and more pop crept softly into their sound (which led to some big deal unit shifting), and I quickly found them very easy avoid.
posted by philip-random at 8:35 AM on August 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


New Zion Trio plays kinda dub-influenced jazz. YMMV, of course, but I'm a fan.

Ryan Moore (of Legendary Pink Dots semi-fame) has a long-running dub side project called Twilight Circus Dub Sound System that's worked with people like Big Youth, Ranking Joe, and Luciano, whatever that's worth as a cosign.

I wouldn't call Bill Laswell consistent (and I'm not sure he'd take it as a compliment), but he's done a lot of both Jamaica-influenced music and straight-up dub reggae.
posted by box at 8:51 AM on August 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


My favorite bit of cod-adjacent reggae is when Paul Simon went to Kingston to record Mother and Child Reunion with Jimmy Cliff's backing band, and the Pioneers (contractually obligated to release the tracks under the name "the Uniques") released their cover within like 2 months.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:57 AM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm having a little trouble with Bela Lugosi's Dead as reggae. I'd say someone was trolling, but Brewster seems sincere: "one of the most inventive dub-influenced tunes in the post punk period". Some of the production techniques, sure, all the echo and guitar delays.

Can't say said Bauhaus tune could ever be called "pure" reggae, but parts of that song are definitely pure dub (or at least dub-influenced) so I can see how it made it on the list.

That said, if he's expanding the scope of the list to include "dub-influenced" tracks, then the lack of anything from Public Image Limited (or Ruts D.C. for that matter) is most disquieting.
posted by gtrwolf at 8:58 AM on August 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


You beat me to the Ruts, grtwolf, so I'll add Bad Brains.

And just agreeing on Sinead O'Connor - her roots reggae record is really good.

Oh and I'm a fan of reggae-ish Stones, like 'Hey Negrita" and "Send It to Me".
posted by Lyme Drop at 9:09 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Whatever happened with that Snoop Lion thing?
posted by thelonius at 9:42 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


A great live version of Watching the Detectives from 1979 (Elvis sporting a hot pink suit)
posted by octothorpe at 9:50 AM on August 18, 2019


their first swing at it (White Man in Hammersmith Palais)

White Man in Hammersmith Palais wasn't The Clash's first swing at reggae. They covered Junior Murvin's Police & Thieves on their first album, which (at least in the UK) was released over a year before White Man.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:59 AM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Got 15 of these on the Google play right here...

(is a Google playlist a good way to share here?)
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 10:00 AM on August 18, 2019


They covered Junior Murvin's Police & Thieves

You know what I just only recently learned? "Police On My Back " was a cover too
posted by thelonius at 10:05 AM on August 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


Canadians are famous for cod, no? How about Big Sugar? (I think their bass player died recently. R.I.P.)

A Revolution Per Minute
Turn the Lights On
posted by klanawa at 10:06 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


There is, of course, a connection b/w Canadian cod ("salt fish") and Jamaican rum (including its side effect, Screech), which substances have been traded for each other for centuries on ships - so it's a pretty good term.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 10:59 AM on August 18, 2019


How about some Tom Tom Club?
posted by kinnakeet at 11:08 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


It would be criminal to skip over Moritz Von Oswald's work in Germany, particularly as part of Rhythm & Sound as well as his solo projects. He also ran the Wackies label, releasing high quality tracks from Jamaican roots artists. Some of Rhythm & Sound's later releases were pairings between Von Oswald and Wackies artists, but the 1st album was really neo-traditional dub. A few recommendations:

Rhythm & Sound - Mango Drive
Rhythm & Sound w/ Tikiman - Never Tell You
The See Mi Yah release is quite enjoyable, the single See Mi Yah riddim with 8+ artists contributing very different versions. I quite enjoy Dem Never Know w/ Jah Cotton.
Moritz Von Oswald trio - Sounding Lines (less pure reggae, more organic dub-infused techno)
Moritz Von Oswald trio - Fetch
posted by SoundInhabitant at 11:29 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Definitely cod - the Beatles obladi, oblada ...)

Definitively, even.

I was never a fan, but — Sublime?

Cod-multiple-Jamaican-genres, probably. Being from California it's a little surprising not to see them mentioned but perhaps the U.K. does not think much of them at all.

Moritz Von Oswald Trio

von Oswald has definitely made the best dub music ever by a German guy but I feel like you kinda have to have the vocal element for the purposes of this exercise.
posted by atoxyl at 12:06 PM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


haha did you know that Moritz von Oswald is a great-great-grandson of Otto von Bismarck?
posted by atoxyl at 12:10 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


I kind of feel like American nth-wave ska kind of stops being cod reggae and starts being another thing. Like, ska kids weren't playing that way to remind you of Jamaica. They were doing it to remind you of a specific era of British mod and punk (and then the streams got crossed with the swing revival and the cultural references got even more muddled).

The fact that its roots went back to Jamaica before that was... something we knew, but kind of didn't care about or find especially compelling, at least where I grew up.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:32 PM on August 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


While I can't rule out the possibility that my complete aversion to the Clapton cover of "I Shot the Sheriff" is at this point inextricably tied up in my distaste for Clapton in general [though the aversion to the cover predates the generalized Clapton distaste so it can't be responsible for originating it; possibly it explains its persistence..] I certainly would have left it off this list. How about subbing in the Beatles' Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da"? as something significantly less problematic?
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:01 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I thought 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' was seminal goth stuff.

It's the only song whose Nouvelle Vague cover removed a bossa-nova rhythm.
posted by acb at 1:02 PM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


I kind of feel like American nth-wave ska kind of stops being cod reggae and starts being another thing.

This is probably true but at this same time I think something like Sublime has a stoner side that makes me think of the kind of white guys who would listen to... well probably Bob Marley and not much else (of the genre).
posted by atoxyl at 1:12 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Bad Brains deserve more attention in this topic; here are two songs from 1982.

Leaving Babylon
I Luv I Jah
posted by msalt at 1:18 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


I dunno about "Obla-Di-Obla-Da" ; it has bass and drums hitting the downbeats, and it's perhaps closer to faux zydeco.
posted by thelonius at 1:30 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Aux armes, et caetara... Serge Gainsbourg, 1979.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:03 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Bad Brains deserve more attention in this topic; here are two songs from 1982.

H.R. from Bad Brains has Jamaican family though.

Before I checked on that I was going to say that it raises the question - do you have to be white for it to be cod reggae? But Bad Brains wouldn't quite fit anyway, as I see it, because they did both punk and reggae from the start, and because they were quite serious about their Rastafarianism.
posted by atoxyl at 3:14 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure UB40 is the very poster-child of the term cod reggae.
posted by pompomtom at 3:22 PM on August 18, 2019


Bad Brains also started out as jazzers, so I'd say they came to reggae as sincerely as anybody else.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 3:34 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Das Racist - Fake Patois
posted by chrchr at 4:16 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


I never new until a few years ago that D'yer Mak'er is supposed to be a homonym of "Jamaica".
posted by hydrophonic at 4:21 PM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


I dunno about "Obla-Di-Obla-Da" ; it has bass and drums hitting the downbeats, and it's perhaps closer to faux zydeco.

They definitely thought they were making fake reggae. This is just a testament to how impressively bad they were at it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:30 PM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Canadian cod

No discussion of Canadian cod without The Payolas, possibly the whitest ersarz reggae band ever recorded. Of course, Bob Rock of The Payolas went on to ruin music in several other genres as super producer extrordinaire.
posted by rodlymight at 5:03 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Completely missing here - any mention of Pacific Reggae:

Katchafire

Herbs

Fat Freddy's Drop

Trinity Roots

Salmonella Dub


These are only Kiwi bands, I know there are others from other Pacific islands but I'm no expert - are these cod? I kind of think they are their own thing, if they are they're "blue cod"
posted by mbo at 5:11 PM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Aux armes, et caetara... Serge Gainsbourg, 1979.

Featuring performances from the I-Threes, as well as Sly & Robbie, so IMO, it's a bit too real to be cod.
posted by stannate at 6:31 PM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Completely missing here - any mention of Pacific Reggae:

Also Africa.
posted by pompomtom at 6:55 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Uh, what about 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday? I thought this was pretty much the platonic ideal of the cod reggae genre. Even the video is a bunch of fake patois white guys being menaced by Jamaicans.

(PS It’s not reggae but Fake Patois is pretty good too.)
posted by Concordia at 1:30 AM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Sheila Hylton - The Bed's Too Big Without You

Thanks for the tip. I found out there was a whole album of Police covers done by actual reggae artists and released in 1997 (which included the Sheila Hylton cover). Sting also appears on a song with Ziggy Marley.

Das Racist - Fake Patois

Maybe they could do a remix feat. Iggy Azalea.
posted by fuse theorem at 9:43 AM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


And "Weird Al" Yankovic.
posted by box at 10:36 AM on August 19, 2019


Nobody owns a style. I respect anyone who takes a crack at it sincerely. That said, success varies.

I remember going to see Eric Clapton in 1974(?). His version of Sherriff was on top of the charts. But even he knew the naffness of his version, and never played it in his long set.
posted by Steakfrites at 11:03 AM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


On his blog, the composer David Bruce has talked about how the traditional music of many cultures use subtle shifts in rhythm that outsiders would have trouble reproducing, and may not even notice.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:29 AM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm having a little trouble with Bela Lugosi's Dead as reggae. I'd say someone was trolling, but Brewster seems sincere: "one of the most inventive dub-influenced tunes in the post punk period". Some of the production techniques, sure, all the echo and guitar delays.

Yeah, there's some dub mixing things for sure, but literally nothing else.

I dunno about "Obla-Di-Obla-Da" ; it has bass and drums hitting the downbeats, and it's perhaps closer to faux zydeco.

They definitely thought they were making fake reggae. This is just a testament to how impressively bad they were at it.


Seriously? I would have never guessed that. But I thought the same about D'yer Mak'er. I read a Robert Plant thing where he said most Americans had no idea that that was a play on words, or that it was supposed to be Reggae because it was so far off the mark.

I feel like younger people don't realize how many new forms came out in the 60's-90's and how everyone wanted to try them out. It wasn't that The Clash was an established Punk band that tried Reggae, people were inventing Punk, Reggae, Metal, Disco, Hip Hop, Goth, and a ton of other things at the same time or within a few years of each other.

Here's Judas Priest taking a stab at it in 80 and The Scorpions fully going for it in 79.
posted by bongo_x at 3:22 PM on August 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


Man, I hated Clapton's "Sheriff" so much as a kid that it wasn't until decades later I learned I learned to love Reggae.
posted by bongo_x at 3:26 PM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


All this Clash talk, has anyone mentioned Rancid?
posted by Lyme Drop at 5:24 PM on August 20, 2019


I had a fish gyro for lunch today, and it was delicious. I mentioned it to a coworker, and they were like ‘what kind of fish was it?’ And I was like, ‘I dunno, whitefish? Maybe cod—cod’s cheap. Probably cod.’
posted by box at 6:37 PM on August 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


OH! What about the Blues Brothers' cover of "Groove Me"?
posted by msalt at 11:15 AM on August 27, 2019


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