Various Artists: Well Charge – Channel 1
Zoë: Did he know it was your birthday? I mean, he’s the director, he’s kinda busy.
Abernathy: He ate a piece of my birthday cake and he got me a present. Yeah, I think he knew.
Zoë: What’d he get you?
Abernathy: He made me a tape.
Lee: He made you a tape? Wait…he didn’t burn you a CD? He made you a tape? Oh, it’s so romantic.
Abernathy: I know what you’re gonna say, so don’t even go there.
Kim: That sounds like the test of true love to me.
— from Deathproof (2007, w. & dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Today’s offering is my digital transcription of an audio cassette originally bundled within an early ’80s edition of the now late British music weekly New Music Express. I was fortunate in visiting London when this tape first appeared on newsstands. Though even by that date, the tape represented a bygone era. Channel 1 • Well Charge (distinct from the dub album of the same title drawn from tracks by Channel 1’s studio band The Revolutionaries, released by Virgin’s Front Line reggae imprint) compiled 22 choice slices of cultural reggae spanning that music’s golden era in the mid-’70s. Best of all — and I was unaware of this prior to monitoring my Pro Tools input as I dubbed the tape —Channel 1 • Well Charge is a mix tape in the truest and most affectionate sense of the term, with each of its tracks needle-dropped from original vinyl. This, all by way of explaining the dialog quoted above. The deadly beauties conjured by director Quentin Tarantino for his wonderful film Deathproof (originally one-half of the portmanteau feature Grindhouse) knew whereof they spoke.
Many of these cuts will be familiar to reggae aficionados. “Queen Majesty,” which opens the set, later provided the rhythm track for U-Roy’s deathless toast “Chalice In The Palace.” The Tamlins’ “Hard To Confess” is, for my money, of equal value to the vocal trio’s cover of “Baltimore.” And “Shaka The Great” may represent my favorite articulation of the oft-versioned ‘Chang Kai Shek’ riddim. At day’s end, it’s all about the common denominators: Stud-rattling amounts of bass pressure; an infinite field of reverberation; cuffed guitar chords summoning images of asphalt bubbling in the heat of deepest summer; and vocals marinated in that one-of-a-kind Jamaican admixture of suffering, herbal bliss and reverence most deeply felt. Additionally, I’m continually impressed by how cool some of these vocalists sound, singing like birds even as they’re consumed by terminal horniness.
I tend not to rate music by the studio and/or record label of its origin (and the two were conjoined often enough in Jamaica), save for the avalanche of terrific sounds which poured from Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio between 1974-78. However,Channel 1 • Well Charge speaks worlds about the wonders trapped on tape by the Hoo Kim brothers who produced sessions at Kingston’s Channel 1 studio.
During the past couple of decades, UK music periodicals such as Q and Mojo have enabled their readers to amass libraries of music by bundling CD’s in their print issues. I’ve enjoyed and learned much from said discs (eg. Mojo‘s Roots Of The Sex Pistols), but one could pit Channel 1 • Well Charge against any of these mix-discs-come-lately, and invariably the humble cassette would come out on top. This rootical potpourri earns the highest accolade I can confer upon a reggae compilation: It returns me, in the span of a very few seconds, to the mindset I entered in 1977 upon my initial scan of Stephen Davis’ and Peter Simon’s impossibly great book, Reggae Bloodlines.
I won’t belabor the merits of each track included here, if only so I can get this into your hands while daylight remains with which to barbecue. Suffice to say that each entry on Channel 1 • Well Charge is gorgeous, vocal cuts and instrumentals alike. Love it up dear Group, and Jah bless Thomas Jefferson’s libido. There will be more.