Fri | Jan 19, 2018

1975 reggae song among Ali-inspired music

Published:Monday | June 13, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Sam Cooke
Whitney Houston
Spray flies from the head of challenger Joe Frazier (left) as heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali connects with a right in the ninth round of their title fight in Manila, Philippines, on October 1, 1975. Ali won the fight on a decision to retain the title.


Before he was even heavyweight champion or had changed his name from Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali was a force in the music world. He had befriended Sam Cooke and released an album featuring his comic poetry and a cover of the hit, Stand By Me. But starting in the mid-1960s, Ali himself would inspire songs of all kinds from all over the world. A reggae track is among the notable releases about the late boxer, but it was not done by a Jamaican.

Black Superman (Muhammad Ali) is a mid-tempo reggae ballad by British artist Johnny Wakelin, released in early 1975 as a tribute to Ali's recent victory over George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire. Wakelin sings some of Ali's own rhymes and adds original lines such as "he moves like the black superman/and calls to the other guy/I'm Ali/catch me if you can."

8ieme Round is another homage to Ali's knockout of Foreman, a catchy work of African pop music by Zaire's Trio Madjesi and Orchestre Sosoliso.

Written by Michael Masser and Linda Creed for a movie few remember, the 1977 Ali biopic The Greatest, the soaring, self-affirming ballad The Greatest Love of All would conquer the world, first as a hit for George Benson then as a standard performed by Whitney Houston.

A 1964 comedy track by the Beach Boys that spoofed the Ali-Sonny Liston rivalry, Cassius Love vs. Sonny Wilson, has snippets of the band's hit songs interspersed with insults exchanged between lead singers Mike Love and Brian Wilson, the cousins who would feud for real in subsequent years. "Listen Mike, with a voice like yours, when you open your mouth, it's a big put-down," Wilson cracks. Answers Love: "At least, when I'm singing, it doesn't sound like Mickey Mouse with a sore throat."

In The Louisville Lip (He's the Greatest), Memphis singer-songwriter Eddie Curtis used a funky blues track to tell Ali's story, with digs at Floyd Patterson, Liston and other Ali foes. The song came out in 1971, soon before Ali lost to Joe Frazier in 15 rounds at Madison Square Garden, quickly dating some of the lyrics: "He's the greatest, he's the greatest, don't you know it, Joe Frazier," Curtis chants.