Lee "Scratch" Perry
The Upsetter Selection: A Lee Perry Jukebox
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2007, Volume 14, #5
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Fri May 4, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
In the perspective of many, Lee "Scratch" Perry is as famous for his larger-than-life persona and antics as he is for his music. The Upsetter Selection: A Lee Perry Jukebox, an excellent new compilation from the revitalized Trojan Records label, ought to go a long way toward remedying this. Simply put, the set is the best compilation of Perry’s classic reggae songs to be released in quite awhile. Following in the footsteps of the superb sampler Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller as well as Bill Laswell’s two Trojan dub remix packages, The Upsetter Selection: A Lee Perry Jukebox represents a further mining of Trojan’s seemingly inexhaustible vault of reggae singles and dub 45s.
It may be hard for the uninitiated to understand the importance and impact that Lee Perry has had on reggae and, by extension, on pop music. Perry began his career in the early 1960s with a limited budget and primitive equipment, and he went on to create some of the most innovative and groundbreaking work that anyone will ever hear. He singlehandedly invented the concept of taking samples from his environment and embedding them in his songs. Before either The Beatles or Pink Floyd incorporated "found sounds" into their greatest endeavors, Perry was recording animals, garden tools, and sirens of various sorts, which he then inserted into his rhythm tracks. Like Frank Zappa, Perry’s compositions often have been undervalued because of his humorous and irreverent lyrics, but setting aside his bizarre persona, his work has a level of depth and creativity that rarely has been rivaled — in any age or genre.
Hand-selected by Perry himself, the songs that are featured on the two-disc The Upsetter Selection: A Lee Perry Jukebox by no means form an exhaustive overview of his canon. For one thing, Perry recorded for so many labels — from Island Records to his own Black Ark outfit, with many other stops in between — that these selections represent only a sampling of the hundreds of tunes that he pressed with Trojan. It is a sad fact that a definitive compilation may never be possible without the benevolent permission of many different entities.
Some of Perry’s greatest hits, such as Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves — which famously was covered by The Clash on its debut — and Roast Fish and Cornbread are noticeably absent from The Upsetter Selection: A Lee Perry Jukebox, but there are enough rarities here to please even the most ardent reggae fans. For new listeners, the inclusion of original versions of some classic Bob Marley cuts such as My Cup and Soul Rebel — which are presented here in their primitive, psychedelic glory — may be worth the price of admission. For more diehard fans, early Heptones tracks like I Do Love You as well as Perry’s bizarre Clint Eastwood and Enter the Dragon may be more inviting. Most of the material on the set is taken from the period of Perry’s peak during the 1960s and 1970s, but two excellent latter-day selections — I Am a Madman (from his 1986 effort Battle of Armagideon) and Jamaican ET (the title track from Grammy-winning album in 2001) — are included, and they provide a sense of continuity to the proceedings. Wherever one’s pleasure lies, it is truly hard to imagine a more interesting overview of Perry’s groundbreaking work, and because they reveal as much as anyone could possibly want to know about these songs, the excellent liner notes by David Katz — author of People Funny Boy, the definitive biography of Perry — make for great reading while listening to these discs.
Just in time for summer, The Upsetter Selection: A Lee Perry Jukebox is a wonderful compilation, and it provides further evidence that — after years of floundering — Trojan Records is back on the right track. Lee Perry’s music truly is a gift to the world. More fun than a barrel full of monkeys, these songs will bring a smile to your face, and they are guaranteed to get you moving and bending in ways that you didn’t think you still could. At birth, everyone ought to be issued one of his albums, but lacking such enlightenment from the world’s leaders, Perry’s music, with any luck, will be pumping from the sound system at a barbecue or a beach party near you some time soon. It will certainly be blaring out of mine.
The Upsetter Selection: A Lee Perry Jukebox is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box