Lee "Scratch" Perry & the Upsetters

Scratch on the Wire

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Island reputedly compiled this ten-song set of Black Ark productions in a tit-for tat response to Lee "Scratch" Perry's licensing out tracks from the Heptones' Party Time album to another label (Black Starliner). Or so the Upsetter would later claim. In any event, sparse as it looks today; in 1979, Scratch on the Wire was quite an exciting collection. The material dated from 1976 through 1978, and it was the last number, "War in a Babylon," the title track to Max Romeo's classic 1976 album, that was inevitably most British fans' point of entry. Most everything else on this set was of equally high caliber, "No Peace" was one of the Meditations' best, "In This Time" is a masterpiece of vocal performance and riddim, and the coursing "John Public" is just as good. Jah Lion's "Police and Soldier" was just extraordinary, a powerful cultural toast over a sublime version of Junior Murvin's "Police & Thieves." But even that can't beat the mesmerizing "Vibrate On," one of Augustus Pablo's best performances for Perry. Perry himself features on three of the cuts, two -- "Soul Fire" and "Big Neck Police" -- appeared on his Roast Fish Collie Weed & Corn Bread album, the third was drawn from his Return of the Super Ape set. Both records were released in 1978, thus bringing this compilation right up to date. This trio of songs emphasize the diversity of Perry's influences and sounds, from the funk flecked, soul inspired but reggae speckled "Soul Fire," across the roots reggae "Big Neck" (a song written with Bob Marley in mind), and onto the blues-goes-jazz-turns-dub of "Bird": this was Scratch at his best. The proof of that is in the pudding, for bar one, all these numbers were also included on the three-CD Arkology set, probably the definitive collection of Black Ark material. The exception was George Faith's lovely cover of Paul Anka's "Diana"; Arkology preferred his "To Be a Lover." All in all then, a phenomenal set, Arkology has since made it redundant, but for its time it was without peer.

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