October 1, 2008
Version on Version – ‘Man Next Door’/’Got to Get Away’/’Quiet Place’
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?