Various Artists, Channel 1 • Well Charge


Zoë: Did he know it was your birthday? I mean, he's the director, he's kinda busy. 
Abernathy: He ate a piece of my birthday cake, and he got me a present. Yeah, I think he knew. 
Zoë: What'd he get you?
Abernathy: He made me a tape. 
Lee: He made you a tape? Wait, he didn't burn you a CD, he made you a tape? Oh, it's so romantic. 
Abernathy: I know what you're gonna say so don't even go there. 
Kim: That sounds like the test of true love to me.
       - from Deathproof, dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2007

Today's offering is my digital transcription of a cassette originally bundled within an early '80s edition of  British music weekly NME. I was lucky enough to be in London when this tape appeared on newsstands. Even then, it represented an era gone by. Well Charge (distinct from the dub album cut from tracks by Channel 1 studio band the Revolutionaries, released by Virgin's Front Line label) compiled 22 choice slices of cultural reggae spanning that music's golden era in the mid-'70s. Best of all – and I was unaware of this prior to monitoring my Pro Tools input – this is a mix tape in the truest and most affectionate sense of the term, each of its tracks needle-dropped from original vinyl. All by way of explaining the dialog quoted above. Deathproof's foursome of deadly beauties knew whereof they spoke.

Many of these cuts will be familiar to reggae aficionados. "Queen Majesty," which opens the set, later provided source material for U-Roy's deathless rap, "Chalice In The Palace." The Tamlins' "Hard To Confess" is, for my money, of equal value to the vocal trio's cover of "Baltimore." And "Shaka The Great" may represent my favorite articulation of the oft-versioned 'Chang Kai Shek' riddim. Really, though, it's all about the common denominators: stud-rattling amounts of bass pressure; the infinite field of reverberation; cuffed guitar chords that bring to mind asphalt in deepest summer; and vocals marinated in that one-of-a-kind admixture of suffering, herbal bliss and a reverence most deeply felt. Additionally, it's impressive how cool some people can appear to be when they're desperately horny.

I tend not to rate music by the studio/record label (as so often the two were conjoined in Jamaica), save for the impossible amount of terrific sounds which poured from Lee Perry's Black Ark studio between 1974-'78. This tape speaks worlds, though, about the wonders that were trapped on tape by the Hoo Kim brothers at Channel 1. During the past decade, English music periodicals like Q and Mojo have enabled readers to amass large libraries of music by bundling CD's alongside their print issues. I've enjoyed and learned much from said discs (eg. Mojo's Roots Of The Sex Pistols), but were one to pit Well Charge-Channel 1 against any of these mix-discs-come-lately, my money would be on this most rootical potpourri. The tape earns the highest accolade I can confer upon a reggae compilation: It returns me, in the span of a very few seconds, to a mindset entered in 1977 upon first paging through Stephen Davis' and Peter Simon's impossibly great book, Reggae Bloodlines, which had only just appeared at Everyman Books in Buffalo, NY.

WC002I won't belabor the merits of each track, if only so that I can get this into your hands while daylight remains with which to barbeque. Suffice to say that every single entry here is gorgeous, vocal cuts and instrumentals alike. Love it up, dear humans, and Jah bless Thomas Jefferson's libido. There will be more.