NICKY THOMAS – DON’T TOUCH ME / COMMON PEOPLE REGGAE

Jogibs - Common people reggae

A: Nicky Thomas – Don’t touch me

B: Jogibs – Common people reggae

 

Although Joe Gibbs was more of a hitmaker than a careermaker, several singers surely did benefit from a lengthy relationship with the producer. Dennis Brown and Cecil ‘Nicky’ Thomas certainly did, as both artists managed to record a slew of hits under Gibbs’ wings. What the pair also have in common, is that they often used other people’s songs and forged them in their own strong mould. Like everything in reggae, most of these originals remained uncredited when they were released in their reggae form (or, if they were ‘credited’, it often just read ‘adopted‘) and that makes it all the more fun to trace a song back to its roots. Being a fan of all kinds of music, I usually really enjoy these little trips into different musical areas. And, rest assured, that wasn’t any different with this Nicky Thomas release.

To these ears the organ heavy instrumental cut to Nicky’s biggest hit ‘Love of the common people’ is played by the Hippy Boys, who recorded more and more for Joe Gibbs at the turn of the decade. I’m wondering which version they took as a template, since there are numerous versions of ‘Love of the common people’ out there. I bet you a dollar it wasn’t the original, though. Released in 1967, penned by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins and sung by a quartet who called themselves The Four Preps, this blueprint is a clean, well behaved, violin laden and sweet harmonied protest song that somewhat fails to match with the lyrics. The melody and the lyrics are golden, though, and that may be the exact reason why country superstar Waylon Jennings also chose to record the track in 1967. His version is a bit rougher around the edges and adds a playful piano and horns section to the instrumentarium. As country and soul are akin, it may come as no surprise that a soul/funk band picked up on it as well. Although they will forever be remembered for their anthemic Amen, brother (from which the Amen break was sampled), The Winstons deserve a bit more credit for their ‘Love..’ version as well. The violins from the original take re-appear, as does the sweetness, but the backing sure is rough enough, what with the funky drumming and hard hitting bass. My guess is it’s this version that inspired Nicky Thomas, as both versions couple the same poppy approach with a rough backing. As you can hear, ‘Common People reggae‘ is rough and tough all over. And despite the slightly corny lead, I love how you can almost hear the organ player punch in the keys, making this a genuine skinhead reggae monstertune. As this was never re-issued, to my knowledge at least, it’s also an obscurity.

All the more so, because most releases of ‘Don’t touch me’ were issued on the Joe Gibbs Record Globe label and had a different track on the b-side (Lonely Feeling, a cover of the Guess Who.) The other difference between the JoGib and Record Globe release is that the latter actually bears a credit on the label. An incorrect one, but a credit nonetheless. It doesn’t really matter in this case either, since it’s almost certain Nicky Thomas had Bettye Swann on his mind when he recorded this fine piece of reggae. He follows the lead she laid down on her impeccable 1968 Capitol Records release almost to the core, but he does so on a much heavier backing track, indicating that this track was made for the homebase. That’s pretty much what Bettye did with her version too. Not only did she add a new backing, she also altered the song’s vocal theme and by doing so, she steered it away from the wailing country it originally was: the 1966 released Jeannie Seely song that was written by Hank Cochran.


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Label: Jogib (Ja)
Release date: 1970
Matrix: JG 1980-2 / DYNA JG NYRS 1682 -1
Riddim: Don’t touch me / Love of the common people

(originally posted on 03-01-12)

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