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Guppy Conquerors: The Joy Of Cod Reggae
John Doran , January 30th, 2015 10:52

We set crate digger extraordinaire Bill Brewster an unenviable task - prepare us a set culled just from cod reggae. Check out the YouTube playlist below to see how he got on.

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Cod reggae has existed for as long as reggae itself. Even further back than that, there have been some hilariously ill-conceived cod calypso records. Tough guy Robert Mitchum made an entire album dedicated to the genre, with faux islands accent and all, Calypso Is Like So. Bernard Cribbins delivered the cringeworthy 'Gossip Calypso', based on Lord Kitchener's 'London Is The Place For Me', while the recently deceased Lance Percival regularly delivered satirical calypsos on That Was The Week That Was, such as 'Shame & Scandal In The Family'.

  The Beatles' 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da' was the first major fillet of cod served up to the British public in 1968. Although it was never released as a single in the UK, Marmalade reached number one with their version in October 1968. Since then, there have been many examples of this much maligned genre, including the oft-cited 'Dreadlock Holiday' by 10cc (despite this, it has been sampled and covered by countless bands, including the incorrigible Boney M), 'Did Ya Mama Ever Tell Ya' by Slade, Paul Nicholas' astonishingly bad 'Reggae Like It Used To Be', which is essentially a souped-up version of the Detroit Emeralds' 'Feel The Need' fed through a combine harvester.

  The arrival of punk brought in its slipstream a new generation of British kids that had grown up on inner city sound systems. Don Letts, who DJ'd reggae at the Roxy, told the Punk77 website: "Don Letts wasn't the bringer of reggae. Paul (Simenon) was into reggae, Joe (Strummer) was into reggae and John (Rotten) was into reggae. They were turning me onto tunes. It wasn't always the other way around." The Police commandeered the charts with a rubbery hybrid, while various council oiks had a crack. Leaving aside certain outposts (and the Eurovision Song Contest), cod never sounded quite the same afterwards.

  So what is cod? There's codding, a phrase much used in the north for fibbing or lying. When Brian Clough received the injury that finished his career, Bury defender Bob Stoke exclaimed, "Come on, ref, he's fucking codding is Clough." This meaning of the word cod is thought to go back to the 19th century (possibly derived from codger) and is almost exclusively a British term. So cod-reggae means faux, ersatz, false, counterfeit or synthetic. Authenticity is so overrated in pop music.

  So when does cod stop being fishy and turn into actual reggae? Let's lay down some ground rules. Having Sly & Robbie holding down the rhythm is a certain disqualifier (that's you, Serge Gainsbourg and Joe Cocker). The ideal cod reggae band would have a German drummer called Ringo Funk, a bass player with white dreadlocks called Sven and a singer whose knowledge of the West Indies was based on a package holiday to Tenerife. Competence and a cod-Jamaican accent - optional.

  So free your mind, loose off your beaver hat, roll up a fatty and let's embrace all that cod has to offer, safe in the knowledge that whatever follows can never be as bad as Jamie Oliver's effort.

  Nina Hagen - 'African Reggae'

I first discovered Nina Hagen on a holiday in The Netherlands in the late 70s, when she was romantically involved with Herman Brood (the mainland European equivalent of Patti Smith dating Joe Strummer) and have been fascinated with her ever since. Even the pottiness of the lyrics [sample: "Cannabis I'm the Black Forest, Bob Marley on Venus"] does not prevent this from being one of the greatest cod reggae tunes ever recorded.  

Clout - 'Sunshine Baby'

South African pop band Clout are mainly known in the UK for their monster reworking of the Righteous Brothers' 'Substitute'. This, the B-side of Euro-hit 'Save Me', is comfortably the best thing they ever did, driven as it is by a thunderous B-line and those syrupy yet effective Moroder-strings.

  The Electric Dread - 'Haile Unlikely'

Given that this experimental ensemble includes Don Letts, I feel slightly guilty at the suggestion of cod, so let's call this ackee and saltfish reggae. Stratetime Keith is, judging by the sleeve, Keith Levene, while the mysterious Steel Leg sounds somewhat like Mr Letts intoning the pure cod invocation, "Haile unlikely".  

Wings - 'Arrow Through Me'

Paul McCartney has committed more codtrocities than most and is therefore probably the genre's patron saint. These are somewhat compensated for by this zingy B-side to 1979 minor hit 'Old Siam, Sir'.  

Nina Simone - 'Baltimore'

If anyone should doubt the potential power of the genre, they need only tune into Nina Simone's fantastic reading of the Randy Newman tune 'Baltimore', which completely reinvents the song into languid jazzy reggae, courtesy of David Matthews' expansive production.

  Saada Bonaire - 'Funky Way'

What a strange old project this was. Take two non-singing statuesque 'singers', chuck them in the studio with some local Turkish and German session players as well as Dennis Bovell in order to see who salutes. EMI Electrola spent a fortune, released one very collectible EP (this track, the JJ Cale penned 'Funky Way' being one of the cuts) and were dropped. Imagine a Teutonic Tom Tom Club produced by Mad Professor and you're somewhere near the truth.  

Eric Clapton - 'I Shot The Sheriff'

Arguably even better than the original version, Clapton, aided by LA's finest sessions, turns this into a funky behemoth with only the slightest hint of poissonerie. Let's not talk about his politics, though, eh?  

Patti Smith - 'Redondo Beach'

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say this is probably the only reggae-based song about a lesbian suicide. As cod as they come, despite Patti sounding like she's singing through a pair of tights rather than mimicking Dennis Brown.  

Alternative TV - 'Love Lies Limp'

Originally issued as a free flexi disc with the final edition of Sniffin' Glue, Mark Perry's excellent punk fanzine, it's an exemplary example of the collision between the two outsider genres of the '70s, all cack-handed guitar figures and lumpy drumming.  

Bauhaus - 'Bela Lugosi's Dead'

Much-maligned in the press at the time, Bauhaus' 1979 debut single 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' is one of the most inventive dub-influenced tunes in the post punk period, even if it did launch a thousand miserablists in oversized greatcoats onto the dance floors of the UK.  

The Slits - 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine'

It's the sound of a group having a collective nervous breakdown, but wonderfully so. The fact that it's held together with the assistance of Dennis Bovell (him again), some sticky-back plastic and a few prayers only adds to the generally joyous mayhem. On stage they were even more untogether. Brilliant.  

Elvis Costello - 'Watching The Detectives'

Great production by Nick Lowe, great song from Elvis and lyrics as incomprehensibly delivered as any toaster. Cod turned up to ten. Perfect.  

The Clash - 'Guns Of Brixton'

Along with Macca, The Clash were the Kings of Cod, but of the many reggae-influenced songs they recorded, this is my favourite, thanks to the depth-charged bassline from Paul Simonon (who also wrote it). It was also later sampled by Beats International for their smash 'Dub Be Good To Me'.  

Brian Eno & Snatch - 'R.A.F.'

Predictably weird, this hidden away B-side to on 1978's 'King's Lead Hat' is three minutes-worth of Pop Group-style dub gymnastics aided by Patti Paladin and Judy Nylon chatting over the top. (And that's chatting in the Woman's Hour sense of the word.) Great.  

Colourbox - 'Looks Like We're Shy One Horse'

A severely underrated band, Colourbox, got somewhat lost in the baton-change around the arrival of house music (they were one half of MARRS along with AR Kane who released 'Pump Up The Volume'). Here, with the assistance of Red Rum and Nijinsky, they conjure up an ace slice of dubtronics with little in the way of North Sea produce.  

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - 'Egyptian Reggae'

Despite essentially being recorded by resident Bostonian nut job Richman in a bucket with a guitar and two coconut shells, there's still something winsomely beautiful about this 1977 hit.  

Can - 'Flow Motion'

There are a few examples of reggae-fiddling in the Kraut canon but one of them really stands up today and that is the title track from 1976's Flow Motion by Can. Although if you want a more visceral take on JA music, check out 'The Sad Skinhead' from Faust IV. 'Flow Motion' revolves almost entirely around the Michael Karoli's explorations of the guitar while avoiding ever getting dull. (Karoli also contributed 'Deluge', a collaboration with Polly Eltes to the genre.)  

BT Express - 'Herbs'

Maybe it's because the Jamaican community is less well embedded in American life, but Johnny Nash aside, reggae has never really formed a key part of the well of influences of the black community there. BT Express, the Brooklyn-based funk band led by Jeff Lane, made probably the best crack at it, with the wonderful instrumental 'Herbs'.

  John Martyn - 'Johnny Too Bad

Hard call to make on John Martyn, since there's also the monumentally great 12-inch version of 'Big Muff' (written by Lee Perry), but this is a killer version of the Slickers' rocksteady tune, driven by Phil Collin's ace Devo-style rhythm.  

Maynard Ferguson - 'Swamp'

Although Ferguson is largely known as a jazz trumpeter and bandleader, he made a successful foray into the world of fusion during the 70s on Columbia Records. 'Swamp', taken from 1976's Primal Scream, is one of the few examples of cod reggae-fusion, but is none the worse for it. Also features Steve Gadd on drums, the man behind the monumental reggae-ish rhythm on '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover'.


[For lovers of leftfield cod, Wrong Tom has compiled the rather excellent Spiky Dread album and also runs the essential Skank Bloc Bologna blog]

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Jan 30, 2015 11:14am

What, no UB40? :o)

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Martin Donnelly
Jan 30, 2015 11:28am

Very uncool to admit, but "D'Yer Mak'Er" is my holiday song. I'm not in full-on downtime mode till I've blasted that from the balcony.

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Jan 30, 2015 12:07pm

Speaking of Skank Bloc Bologna, this one's a fave:

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Jan 30, 2015 12:11pm

Top genre for nonsense round a pub table, if some of the exponents are distinctly dodgy... The Scorpions "Is There Anybody There" off Lovedrive may be one of my bad-taste faves. Mike Read's UKIP Calypso doesn't count...

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Liberty Belle
Jan 30, 2015 12:36pm

Not particularly into that period of Can but yeah that's a good one.
Here, one from Vini:
Durutti Column- No Communication

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JR Moores
Jan 30, 2015 1:05pm

'Good Thing Going' by Eastenders' Sid Owen, anyone?

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john p.
Jan 30, 2015 1:30pm

Tha Eno-trach is great... but reggae?
How about this old David Sylvian tune:

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Jan 30, 2015 2:26pm

Judge Dread 'Up With the Cock'!

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Likkle axe
Jan 30, 2015 2:31pm

Wacha pood inna spliff BIG?OHN

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Jan 30, 2015 3:15pm

Space Cod anyone?

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Jan 30, 2015 3:41pm

that was fun, thanks

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Nicolas Frankcom
Jan 30, 2015 4:46pm

This is your Haitian Divorce....

Raging raggamuffin tasticness

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Jan 30, 2015 4:46pm

Cod reggae is without doubt my all time favourite genre. Two further classics of the school -
Ace of Base -
Matthew Wilder -

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Jan 30, 2015 5:05pm

Not really, but:

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Mark F
Jan 30, 2015 5:58pm

In reply to dubstatik:


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robin watson
Jan 30, 2015 6:20pm

Generation X-Wild Dub, Demon Preacher-Perfect Dub 2 of the better cod-punkers!

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harry sword
Jan 30, 2015 8:09pm

'We done it reggae'

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Samuel Scott
Jan 30, 2015 9:01pm

I do love some cod reggae. I think a glaring omission is Moebius & Plank's mid 80s classic 'Rastakraut Pasta'.

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Bela Lugosi
Jan 30, 2015 9:39pm

Don't speak ill of the natty dead

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ML Heath
Jan 30, 2015 9:57pm

'Too Sick To Reggae' by the late lamented Wash DC nutter Root Boy Slim is a classic in this genre, as are 'Gina Gina' and 'Animal Crackers' by Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

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Jan 30, 2015 10:07pm

haha, loved this piece. a very enjoyable hour spent listening to some classic skanking oddities. I'd like to contribute Gary Clail to the list - Emotional Hooligan - mixed by Adrian Sherwood.

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Jan 31, 2015 12:15am

Let's not forget Kate Bush adding a little skank to Elton John's "Rocket Man"

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Jan 31, 2015 3:21pm

I love The Quietus, its like a world where your Mum never asks for rent.

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Jan 31, 2015 7:09pm

How about "You're More Than Fair"? Lovely little pseudoreggae b-side by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Outrageously explicit lyrics the cherry on the top.

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Post-Punk Monk
Feb 1, 2015 12:13am

My oh my. I have lots of these in the old Record Cell, and yes, enjoy them in spite of being somewhat resistant to real reggae. My reticence has a lot to do with the Rastafarian subject matter which doesn't resonate with me. That's why I like dub far more as it's more abstract. That said, I was thrilled to see some love going out for my favorite such example, the monolithic Colourbox "Looks Like We're Shy One Horse/Shootout" which is my all time favorite dub track with its unparalleled Morricone-Meets-Scientist vibe. And yes, they were severely underrated in my book as well. Slits, Clash, Eno/Snatch, Smith, Costello + The Attractions, Jonathan Richman, even the [absolutely correct] shoutout to the almighty Bauhaus I can get 150% behind, but I'm sorry, I have to draw the line at Clapton's cover of "I Shot The Sheriff." As a child, it was my troubling first exposure to reggae; a genre of music I didn't even have a name for until 1977! I found the song utterly dire and it probably accounts for part of my antipathy for reggae to this day. But many thanks for pointing out the supremely enticing-sounding Saada-Bonaire to me! That's just the sort of thing that I gravitate to and, shockingly, this is the first I've heard of it. many thanks!
For further rumination on the Fresh New Sound of Yesterday®

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Feb 1, 2015 2:40am

Please enter the crown prince of Creggae, Jah Davies - The Kinks 'The Video Shop'

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Feb 1, 2015 4:19pm

Brilliant idea for an article. That Nina Simone track is so good that I've never noticed that the beat was Cod Reggae before.

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Feb 2, 2015 12:47pm

It's Bob Stokoe, not Bob Stoke.

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Feb 2, 2015 1:25pm

Yay! Colourbox! So underrated, and so wonderful! First time I've ever seen any mention of them, anywhere. Looks Like We're Shy One Horse is one of their best.

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Feb 2, 2015 1:28pm

In reply to Martin Donnelly:

I wondered why that was missing too. Bonham showing a nice touch, albeit with a little heavier style than Sly Dunbar! You're right, it's probably very uncool, but it's one of my faves.

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Feb 2, 2015 1:37pm

surely that's jah wobble on the left, on the Electric Dread sleeve?

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Feb 2, 2015 1:40pm

In reply to KFD: it clearly says on the sleeve...

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Feb 2, 2015 3:24pm

Good article, but isn't it Joe playing the bass on Guns of Brixton? Always was live, and is on the demo.

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Lance Crisp
Feb 2, 2015 5:12pm

the white man reggae club.....

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Feb 2, 2015 7:34pm

We're never allowed to talk about Clapton's politics are we?

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Dick Pountain
Feb 2, 2015 9:25pm

Best cod reggae ever has to be Kevin Ayers' "Connie on a Rubber Band" from his Bananamour album.

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Natty Jez
Feb 2, 2015 10:56pm

How about the Eagles' Hotel California? Take another listen to it - the biggest reggae hit of 1977.

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Feb 3, 2015 4:18am

That's Bob Stokoe to you

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Geraint Williams
Feb 3, 2015 12:35pm

The Fall's Tom Ragazzi sounds like a Studio One outtake

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Feb 3, 2015 2:15pm

Eric Clapton's version of 'I Shot The Sherriff' is in no way better than the original.

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Feb 3, 2015 9:34pm

The Monks - I can't get over you

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jd twitch
Feb 3, 2015 11:38pm

egyptian reggae purloined from johnny clarke -

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