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The Music Diaries | Artistes lash out against 1960s 'rude boy syndrome'

Published:Sunday | August 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM
From left: Bunny Livingston, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh when they just formed The Wailin' Wailers.
Alton Ellis
Jimmy Cliff in a famous picture from the movie, ‘The Harder They Come’.
Bob Andy

Independence is always a time for reflection on the achievements of the nation since 1962. Sadly, though, shortcomings by successive governments and setbacks occasioned by other occurrences have served to nullify what would otherwise have been a much brighter future.

One of the occurrences that helped to retard the progress of the nation was the upsurge of the 'rude boy syndrome' right on the heels of Independence 1962. The phenomenon saw a sudden increase in ratchet-wielding, gun-tooting hoodlums, pervading the society like a deadly dragon in a watery woodland.

Granted, history has reminded us that there have previously been notorious 'bad men' in Jamaica, foremost among them being Ivanhoe 'Rhygin' Martin, who became the model for Jimmy Cliff's role in the 1972 movie The Harder They Come. Rhygin, as he was commonly known, engaged the police in a series of gunfights in 1948. But Rhygin's escapade never matched the escalated levels of the 1960s or the violence associated with the 1980 Jamaican general election. With all the fancy talk and ostensibly designed crime strategies, authorities, to this day, have still not been able to make a convincing dent in the malady.

In the meantime, singers in Jamaican popular music at the time sought to quell the surge in the crime rate, with a number of ska recordings during the early 1960s that denounced the rude boy behaviour and offered advice.

Alton Ellis, the godfather of reggae, was perhaps the most vocal. His recording of Cry Tough gave a gentle reminder to the unruly youths that age will soon catch up on them, as he sang:

"Don't you know you're getting old, oh yes you're getting older

Cry tough, cause you know you're getting slow, cry tough

You know you're getting slower."

He had others on the topic like Blessing Of Love, The Preacher, Big Bad Boy, Don't Trouble People and the ever-popular Dance Crasher, with its urgings:

"Ooh dance crasher

Oh, no, no, don't break it up

Please don't make a fuss

Don't use a knife

to take another fella's life

You'll be sorry cause there's a death sentence

and you won't have a chance

and that will be your last dance."

Bob Andy, in his first solo effort at Studio 1 - Crime Don't Pay - questioned the recalcitrant youths with:

"What about you home, what about your food,

what about your future too?

You don't seem to care

about the coming year

You just live for today.

Don't be satisfied with your way of life

You've got nothing to derive

Don't you know crime don't pay

That's what my old folks say."

A quintet of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Junior Braithwaite and Beverley Kelso, singing as the Wailers in late 1963, warned in their first recording and first hit, Simmer Down, that:

"Chicken merry hawk de near

and when him de near you must beware,

so simmer down, control your temper

simmer down for the battle will be hotter

simmer down, and you won't get no supper

and you know you bound to suffer."

Perhaps the earliest of the anti-rude boy songs came before Independence, in early 1962, when record producer Duke Reid, an ex-policeman with credible claims to toughness himself, recorded and released for Stranger Cole the seminal piece, Rough and Tough, sometimes called Ruff and Tuff - an unusual, slow-tempoed ska number that was one of the first instances of a singer in popular music giving warning to the unruly youths:

"Who are you that I should be mindful of

You ran for refuge and were rescued that's a fact

Then why lie and try to bite the hand that feed you

Yes the good you do lives after you

It will be rough and tough on your side," Cole warned in the recording.




Unity, which is perhaps the most important ingredient that would be required for a peaceful and prosperous independent Jamaica of the 1960s, was vociferously echoed in Derrick Morgan's Forward March, in late 1962, as he urged the nation to:

"Gather together, be brothers and sisters, we're Independent

Join hands to hands children, start to dance, we're Independent

Don't be sad and blue,

cause the Lord is still with you.

The time has come."

It was perhaps the first and most important call in popular music for unity of a nation that had just achieved the right to self-government.

It has been generally accepted that the mass migration of young men to the city in search of jobs and other opportunities precipitated the escalating crime rate in the 1960s. The failure of many to get jobs or recording contracts led to desperation, discontent and resentment, which found expression in outbursts of violence, involving the use of ratchet knives and small handguns.

The unprecedented flood of recordings in the 1960s on the topic of rude boys, gunmen and bad men must certainly be an indicator to a new and rising trend in the breakdown of the social order. Some singers and record producers were also discovering that there was a lucrative market for songs that glorified rude boys, and the creation of such songs further exacerbated the problem. Among the other factors that negatively impacted the programme was the then current and very popular James Bond celluloid adventure movie series. Many of Kingston's young criminals sought to emulate the characters in these movies and named themselves after them. Nonetheless, the anti-rude boy singers continued to make their voices heard. By the middle of 1966, the Rulers joined the fray with Don't Be a Rude Boy. They sang in the second stanza:

"Why don't you change your way rude boy

try to be a good boy

Because if you don't change your way

You'll find your mistake some coming day."

Alton Ellis returned around 1971 with Big Bad Boy. As he sums up the mood of such individuals, he advises:

"You can't be bad, you can't be bad

you'll lose the love you've had."

Other songs of note on the topic include Leroy Smart's Badness Don't Pay and Roy Panton's Control Your Temper.