October 1, 2008

Version on Version – ‘Man Next Door’/’Got to Get Away’/’Quiet Place’

Posted in Roots, Version on Version tagged , , , , , , at 2:40 pm by essentiallyeclectic

Although three names appear in the title above, this is actually a post about one song with three different pseudonyms and a seemingly infinite number of recorded versions. To the best of my knowledge (and frustrated Internet searching) it begins with a song entitled ‘I’ve Got to Get Away’ by John Holt and the Paragons, possibly written and recorded in 1967, although as is the way with reggae releases the track features on numerous ‘best ofs’ and re-released LPs all the way up to 1977.

The track is a great slice of reggae (leaning towards the so-called ‘conscious’ end of the genre’s spectrum), with numerous memorable vocal phrases that compete for the role of ‘chorus’. Perhaps one of the main reasons for the constant reworking of the song by artists over the following 40 years, aside from being filled with beautifully constructed melodies, is that it deals with issues outside the two or three accepted subjects of the reggae genre. Holt is not singing about either his latest love interest (although there are more than enough titles on that subject in his back catalogue!) or anything specifically roots or politics related, he is simply expressing his frustration at the amount of noise his neighbour makes upon returning home late at night. Many subtleties and subtexts could be extracted from the superficially straightforward couplets, although to me Holt is genuinely just venting his anger and declaring his need to move his family somewhere less noisy.

The repeated harmonised phrase “in my neighbourhood” lends itself perfectly to the vocal talents of two of reggae’s finest singers, Dennis Brown and Horace Andy. Brown’s version of the song (his entitled ‘Man Next Door’) is the most popular recording, appearing on countless best-ofs stretching back to 1975. The tempo is slowed slightly to good effect, allowing the wailing ad-libs and drawn out phrases of the vocal to slide in and out of the rhythm. Horace Andy’s take on the track is similar in this respect, although it is his version with Bristol trip-hoppers ‘Massive Attack’ that I have included here; a slow, droning affair with a big beat (yet another use of John Bonham’s infamous intro to ‘When the Levee Breaks’) that gets the dub treatment. Andy’s usual falsetto is absent, replaced by a more restrained vocal that still serves to prove the enduring talent of the legendary performer.

My earlier point concerning the accessibility of the song’s subject matter is proved with a cover by female punk band ‘The Slits’ in 1980. Although it is not actually reworked in a punk style, and is not particularly to my taste, the live version featured below shows that it can be taken out of the reggae context and still stand as a brilliantly written song. This is the case with much of the reggae genre, and perhaps some of its artists have been overlooked during discussions of the great songwriters of the 20th Century.

Finally I have included an interpretation by German down-tempo dance act Geyser, AKA Riad Michael, mainly to add variety to the post, and mainly because I quite like it. OK?

I’ve Got to Get Away – John Holt and the Paragons

Man Next Door – Dennis Brown

Man Next Door – Massive Attack & Horace Andy

Man Next Door – The Slits

Man Next Door – Geyser


  1. Juan said,

    There are at least 2 more versions of this song, that may interest you: Peace and Love in the Ghetto, from U-Roy, and I Shall Fear No Evil, from Dr. Alimantado. Precisely I found your blog while searching for more versions of this song/riddim. Thanks for the posting 🙂

  2. Colm said,

    Such a top rankin tune, wicked melody, wicked vocals and wicked lyrics! Lost the compilation i had Holt’s version on a while ago n been settling for listening to it on YouTube ever since.. ’til now, so nice one to you for that mate!! Much appreciation.
    Yet another version, also by Dr. Alimantado, is ‘Poison Flour’ (track 3 from ‘The Best Dressed Chicken in Town’ LP).
    Although this is one of my favourite vocal melodies of all time, I would be interested to know if Tubby or anyone dubbed it somewhere along the line.
    Who would have had access to paragons raw tapes?
    …Any ideas anybody?

  3. rigorousechoes said,

    Very Interesting blog page, I love this fully versioned riddim for much the same reasons you have laid out. It kind of speaks to the heart and soul of the compact city/state condition we find ourselves in in the modern era. There are many more versions that you or other replies have not mentioned. There is a cover by Winston Francis and of course I Roy’s “Noisy Place”. Adrian Sherwood had a hand in the Slits record as he did in the Bim Sherman/Strange Parcel’s version, and of course Massive Attack. There is a plethora of covers from indie bands too numerous to mention. There is even another (what I call) reworked riddim by the African Brothers where the riddim is similar but not exact and the lyrics are totally reworked, It’s called “One Big Family” and King Tubby and Yabby you have done numerous version of that offshoot. But if you’re looking for the original inspiration, best not look to Jamaica.
    Studio One does have it’s place in the history of this tune and they are the inventors of the foundation riddim, and It is the one I like the best, but Jamaica is notorious for taking northern soul and reworking it into reggae…so always look north for the original.
    In this case we need to go back to 1964: Garnet Mimms and the Enchanter’s released the song “A Quiet Place”
    As far as I can tell, this is the foundation of the Paragons cover. Now, I’ve read that John Holt recorded it in 1961, but I don’t believe this. This tune inspired from the doo wop streets of Philly to New York, was written by Jerry Ragovoy for Garnet. I should mention, and I’m by no means a historian, that the original that hit Jamaica was “Johnny Dollar”, now I don’t know If this came before or after the Paragons “quiet place”, but Johnny Dollar is identical to the Mimms version, with a reggae beat. Roland Burrell recorded it. Here are the original Lyrics:

    Johnny, Johnny Dollar

    Lady, lady, lady
    Why do you holler
    Ain`t nobody seen
    Your Johnny Dollar

    I can`t get no sleep
    In this noisy street
    I`ve got to move
    (I`ve got to move)
    I`ve got to find me

    A quiet place

    There`s a man next door
    With a radio and he plays it
    All through the night
    There`s a couple in the
    Apartment above my head
    That don`t do nothing
    But fuss and fight


    Tell me, where do you go
    When you got no dough
    There must be a way
    Out of here

    But I`ve got to find
    Some peace of mind
    There must be a place
    That I can find

    Believe me when I tell you
    There`s a cat that gets
    Under my window and
    He meows all the time

    There`s a drunk that wakes me
    In the middle of the night
    Singing Sweet Caroline

    (CHORUS) 2X

    Oh, I`ve got to move
    (I`ve got to move)
    I`ve got to find me
    A quiet place

    I got to get away from
    This noisy street

    Likely, this is the inspiration for Studio One!

    The reference to “Sweet Caroline” is a sly dig from producer/writer Jerry Ragovoy at his friend, singer/writer Neil Diamond….but this name is also interchanged with other names like “Adeline” in various versions.

    So In conclusion, that should explain your mystery.

    Youtube d1R5TjKw1AE for original Garnet Mimms classic

  4. rigorousechoes said,

    Here’s something I just found out…

    I just wanted add the Kennedy connection to the song…It appears the original lyric was “Sweet Adeline” In reference to a 1903 barbershop ballad…but here’s something interesting I found…”Sweet Adeline” was the campaign song for John F. Fitzgerald, the grandfather of JFK…regarding the later lyric of “Sweet Caroline”, strange irony is that it is also a Kenedy reference, as Neil Diamond said a picture of a nine year old Caroline Kennedy was the inspiration for that tune in a 2007 interview…

  5. essentiallyeclectic said,

    thanks, some great info there!

  6. donald duck said,

    thanks for researching! interesting stuff. I wonder how many people who sympathize with the lyrics do so while playing the song loud and pissing their neighbours right off!

  7. Dip said,

    Wow, I know this song thanks to Massive Attack because I loooooove it, but I didn’t know that it wasn’t their song until I read this post on youtube that said that it was a cover from Jonh Holt’s original one, and I have to say that it was quite shocking. However, now that I have heard the original one, and some other versions, although they sound pretty good, my favorite it’s still the Massive Attack’s one, because it’s dark and mysterious, and so, so sexy (I know the lyrics have nothing to do with sex but that’s how it sounds for me hahaha) that thanks to whoever wrote this song, but really thanks Massive Attack because your version is my favorite one 😉

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