Words by DJ Skratch Bastid—
Something slightly different this week on Throwback Thursdays. Toronto turntablist DJ Skratch Bastid traces the roots of Beenie Man’s “Memories” back to soul man Jerry Butler and shows how the Chicago R&B scene of the ’60s and ’70s has had a profound influence on music in Jamaica, and how that same Chicago-inspired reggae has made its way back to the U.S. through some classic samples.
“Memoriiiees… Don’t Live Like People Do…”
I believe that if you let music and songs take you places, they will. After all, they are messages and a form of communication. Melodies, rhythm and lyrics are passed from person to person, generation to generation, and in a broader sense from culture to culture. Tracing the lineage of songs can show musical and cultural trends that go well beyond borders and man-made divisions. ‘Covers’ and ‘versions’ are great modern carriers of these messages, and Jamaican artists have used these tools to great effect.
Beenie Man’s “Memories” (or, as it is sometimes known, “Stop Live In the Past,”) is a dancehall smash from ’96 that still packs a floor today. Beenie’s off-key-but-catchy hook is one of those simple choruses that will get in your head and not leave. Mos Def and DJ Honda’s “Travellin’ Man” session was surely inspired by it. But it’s pretty obvious that Beenie is lifting it from somewhere, so where did it originally come from? A quick search using the lyrics brings up Jerry Butler’s “Memories Don’t Live Like People Do” (’73), a sappy love joint from the man who formed The Impressions with fellow Chicago church choir-mate Curtis Mayfield. More digging turns up a cover of that tune from Jamaican balladeer Vic Taylor, which very well may have been Beenie’s source of inspiration, but let’s continue to follow the path of The Impressions’ and their influence on reggae music.
During a visit to Henry’s Records in Toronto, I heard store owner Henry Marks play a Curtis Mayfield-led tune that I had never heard before. Curtis’ unmistakeable voice immediately grabbed my interest, but it was more than just the voice that caught my ear: the melody sounded very familiar as well. The song was called “Minstrel & Queen.” Henry told me that early Jamaican recording artists were heavily influenced by vocal groups like The Tams and The Impressions, and that this song was a popular one on the island in the early 60s. The song was covered in Jamaica to massive success more than once, specifically with Cornell Campbell on Studio One with “Minstrel of The Queen,” and The Techniques on Treasure Isle with “Queen Majesty.”
These two versions would become classics in their own right. Countless songs have been recorded on the Queen Majesty riddim, such as Sizzla’s “Dry Cry (Just One Of Those Days)”, but arguably none more famous than Dawn Penn’s “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)”, which was actually recorded twice on two different versions of the riddim, once in 1967, and then finding international crossover success in 1994:
Both Beenie’s hit and Dawn’s re-recording have gone on to inspire and be sampled in modern club and hip-hop music, specifically in the US. You can play “No, No, No” just about anywhere and gain a heavy response. Jae Millz used it in a street banger in 2003 and Ghostface rapped over the entire song:
Like a game of ‘broken telephone’, the message has left its sender and come back full circle in a different form. America has bought back it’s own export via the creative interpretations of Jamaica’s finest musicians. And the music carries on. Forward!