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Dec 07

KEN BOOTHE – “Everything I Own”

FT + Popular62 comments • 5,131 views

#359, 26th October 1974

“Give up my life, my heart my home” – Boothe sings this high-stakes plea like a man who’s already lost the bet: he wants to continue abasing himself, piling more and more onto his end of the scales, potlatch-style, but his lover has simply got up and walked away. “Everything I Own” is a thoroughly dejected record, but also a pathetically lovely one, with the rising “is there someone you know” plea at its hopeless centre. Boothe’s vocals are the deal maker or breaker here. His phrasing is impeccably precise – he knows this is the last time she’ll pay attention and he’s weighing, choosing, and forcing out every word even though they’re just carefully-placed straws to cling to. Even his consonants tremble! To be honest his nerdy neediness inspires more pity than sympathy (in other words, you can intuit why he’s got the push) but as an old school indie boy I can get down with pity too. 

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Comments

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  1. 1
    rosie on 3 Dec 2007 #

    Here’s one that surprised me a bit when I revisited it – I thought it was something else altogether. Never mind, it’s not something I feel too bad about when it comes up in the mix. I remember it, but it doesn’t awaken any associations.

    David Gate’s original is too deliquescently sugary for my tastes, so actually I prefer this version. Ken sings it very nicely, but the tow parts – the song itself and the reggae beat. He’s just too impeccably precise – thanks Tom for finding the right phrase for me. The song clops along and Ken fits the words exactly to the rhythm, but reggae doesn’t suit sentimentality, and it all comes out too mechanical.

  2. 2
    Tom on 3 Dec 2007 #

    I think reggae and sentimentality can mix really well – lots of the lovers’ rock style for instance – though I agree it doesn’t necessarily work here. (It doesn’t NOT work either – its reggaeness doesn’t add or subtract anything much from the song for me, though I’d need to go back to the original to see if I liked it better.)

  3. 3
    Doctor Mod on 3 Dec 2007 #

    I remember the original version by Bread. Now that was somewhere beyond either pity or sympathy, indeed it possessed the sort of maudlin emotionality that makes me keep my distance from much of the music of the 70s. But I rather like the jaunty reggae rhythm that suggests that “everything I own” is meant on a metaphorical level rather than a literal one. (We do say things like that in moments of great emotional distress, but I’ve never seen anyone really give up everything they own to get a lover back. Even if they did, it probably wouldn’t make a bit of difference.) And, if you listen closely, he says he’d give up “ANYTHING” he owns. Ah! There’s a quantative difference there–a healthy bit of self-preservation, I’d say.

    I like this enough to have it on my iPod (but then mine can hold 20,000 songs so perhaps that’s not so special). But if you really want to hear Boothe doing the pitiful thing, listen to his “Crying Over You”–which is too pitiful for Doctor Mod’s iPod.

    (BTW, I deleted a whole paragraph in which I discussed this disc vis-á-vis that OTHER reggae version of this song. Then I thought, was THAT ever a UK #1? No, I told myself, not possible. One can be wrong!)

  4. 4
    Mark G on 3 Dec 2007 #

    I think I should point out in all fairness, the song was originally about David Gates’s dad dying, and him wanting to give everything to have him back again. And Ken’s version, adapted and changed to be about a leaving lover, seemingly not able to change the title to suit.

  5. 5
    Marcello Carlin on 4 Dec 2007 #

    I remember Paul Burnett extracting many wan laughs from his impression of the intro to “Crying Over You” – “When you CROYYY,” because all them people talk funny innit? Yes it was ’74 and It Ain’t Half Black And White Neighbours Mum was all the rage on TV but even so…

    “Everything I Own” – which becomes the second vocal number one after “Unchained Melody” never to mention the title in its lyric (albeit by accident) – was definitely an attempt at crossover; hitherto Boothe had done some pretty extreme (if still rootsy) stuff with Keith Hudson, Coxsone Dodd and Leslie Kong but for “EIO” he came under the production wing of the far more commercially minded Lloyd Chalmers. I make no great claims for it as a record but it was nicely surprising to see it getting to number one at the time – this was also the period of John Holt’s 5000 Volts Of Holt, a rather more durable proto-lover’s rock record (with its top ten cover of “Help Me Make It Through The Night” a couple of months after “EIO”), though of course the practice of covering recent(ish) pop or soul hits in the JA style wasn’t exactly new in ’74.

    Boothe I guess is best known these days for being cited in “White Man In Hammersmith Palais” by the Clash, wherein the hapless Joe Strummer wanders in expecting roots ‘n’ blood ‘n’ fire and gets (a) a lush cabaret-style show and (b) a firm and timely lesson about the disparity between white boy expectations of black culture and the needs of the black audiences themselves. He goes on to say that “we” just won’t, or can’t, understand and thus the whole rickety misconceptions will carry on unchecked (the limousine for Hitler etc.). It ends with him as marooned and desperate as any British male singer since John Leyton, pitifully stammering that he was only looking for fun, leave me alone, but then he can’t even look at himself.

    However, to me the most remarkable reggae crossover hit of ’74 was “Ire Feelings (Skanga)” by Rupie Edwards, an uncomprising, up-to-the-minute dub deconstruction of “Everyday Wandering” by Johnny Clarke with swooning vocals and echoes which put me in mind of AR Kane a decade and a half ahead of schedule. Somehow it managed to climb to number nine in our lists. The question is why “King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown” (150,000 copies allegedly sold in the UK, but you won’t find it in Guinness) didn’t follow suit a year later.

  6. 6
    Waldo on 4 Dec 2007 #

    Oh, yes. Now you’re talking! My earliest recollection of this was trying with difficulty to convince a close school chum of mine, who happened to be black, that the song had actually been written by the cheesy white guy from Bread, a group Nigel loathed but whom I thought were brilliant; and that Jamaican Ken Boothe’s Trojan release was a cover (or “nicked, as I put it). It actually required me showing Nigel’s own copy of the record to him confirming David Gates as the writer and coupling this with a newspaper article I had kept concerning Bread headlined “Guitar Man”, before he accepted it as the truth. This, I’m afraid, opened the door for much Waldo mischief and enabled me to reveal that Gates was indeed an inveterate reggae composer and that a large proportion of material released by Trojan and its subsidiaries was in fact written by him. These included tracks by Jimmy Cliff, The Upsetters and Dave and Ansel Collins. I’d like to say I pulled this off but I didn’t, as it was complete bollocks, of course.

    Cover it may have been but this was one of the highlights of the year for me. The song in the first place is superb. Boothe’s delivery heightens it further and what we are left with is pure excellence. A first class intelligent pop ballad given a pleasing reggae coating by a fine performer from a truly great stable. I think this was a choice number one.

    Marcello – “Ire Feelings” really hit the mark for me. A great production.

  7. 7
    mike on 4 Dec 2007 #

    Much as I liked my pop-reggae, this was too downbeat to register much with me at the time. However, I’ve certainly grown to love it over the years – and more so after it kicked off the dancing at the best wedding disco I am ever likely to attend, as the groom’s Jamaican parents and extended family took to the floor way ahead of schedule (it was only supposed to be a post-prandial warm-up track!) and stayed there for the next four or five hours of classic soul/funk/disco.

    For other examples of enjoyable reggae pop covers, seek Honey Boy Martin’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” and “Spanish Harlem”, Toots & The Maytals’ “Louie Louie” and “Take Me Home Country Roads” (with West Jamaica replacing West Virginia), Jimmy London’s “I’ll Never Find Another You”, The Cimarons’ “Over The Rainbow”, Rob Walker’s surprisingly effective “Puppet On A String”, and most especially, Winston Heywood’s sparkling take on “Da Doo Ron Ron”.

  8. 8
    Marcello Carlin on 4 Dec 2007 #

    Which reminds me – Boothe’s first hit in Jamaica was a cover of “Puppet On A String” back in ’67 but I’m not too sure whether that was before/after/concomitant with the Rob Walker one.

  9. 9
    Marcello Carlin on 4 Dec 2007 #

    Also the John Holt record was 1000 Volts Of Holt – as far as I know he never did any Tina Charles cover versions *sigh*…

  10. 10
    mike on 4 Dec 2007 #

    Well, my Rob Walker “Puppet” 7″ is on the UK Jackpot label from 1971… and looking through the label catalogue, it would seem to be to the reggae cover version what Almighty Records would later be to the hi-energy cover version: http://reggaerevolt.foren-city.de/topic,636,-jackpot-uk.html

    Lloyd Charmers did a very pleasant cover of Phil Collins “If Leaving Me Is Easy” in the early 1980s, by the way.

    I also appreciated Marcello’s point about “the disparity between white boy expectations of black culture and the needs of the black audiences themselves”. There was a great article in Songlines magazine a couple of years ago which addressed a similar issue with regards to African music, i.e. the significant difference between carefully marketed “authentic” music packaged to appeal to middle class white European audiences, and the music which is actually popular with people of African origin, but which sounds too cheesy for middle class white European tastes, despite sell-out London/Paris shows for the artists in question, most of whom remain complete unknowns outside of their immediate constituencies. The article makes the point that on this basis, you can more or less split the monthly Sterns sales chart in two, as confirmed by the store’s staff themselves.

  11. 11
    Kat on 4 Dec 2007 #

    This was one of the first reggae tracks I ever paid attention to, as it was featured on my treasured 1993 compilation ‘Ragga Heat Reggae Beat’ – I’d never heard of Ken Boothe, or Jimmy Cliff (or Johnny Nash, or Derrick Harriott or Sugar Minott) before and so they all kind of merged into one (much adored) reggae monolith. I only bought the tape because it had Snow’s ‘Informer’ AND Shaggy’s ‘Oh Carolina’ on it (both those + Musical Youth = bonus win!).

  12. 12
    LondonLee on 4 Dec 2007 #

    Ken did a blinding version of ‘Is It Because I’m Black?’ which I thought would have been roots enough for pasty Joe Strummer.

  13. 13
    crag on 5 Dec 2007 #

    Although i tend to prefer my black pop of the first half of the 70s to be Jamaican rather than US(hence my indifference towards Macrae, The Degrees etc) this is a bit too wishy-washy for me although is probably due to unpleasent memories of the other hit version which i appreciate we will come to in good time.
    Are the reggae versions of Over the Rainbow, Da Do Ron Ron or Puppet on a string mentioned above available on cd at all?

  14. 14
    Doctor Mod on 5 Dec 2007 #

    A few more reggae pop covers worth hearing: Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Sugar Sugar”; Bruce Ruffin, “O-O-Oh Child” [sic]; Dawn Penn, “To Sir with Love”; The Gaylettes (Judy Mowatt, lead singer), “Son of a Preacherman” and “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday”; Judy Mowatt (solo), “Joy to the World” (orig. Three Dog Night); Ken Boothe, “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle”; Lorna Bennett, “Breakfast in Bed”; Marcia Griffiths, “I Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely”; Phyllis Dillon, “A Thing of the Past” (orig. Shirelles); Hortense Ellis, “Secretly” (orig. by someone dull from the late 50s whom I’ve completely forgotten).

  15. 15
    Tim on 5 Dec 2007 #

    There are a pile of relevant items on this, though it looks pretty shady to me: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Keep-Running-Number-Reggae-Style/dp/samples/B0000011HE/ref=dp_tracks_all_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1196848076&sr=1-105#disc_1 (I do know that the Johnny Clarke version of “Tears on my Pillow” is marvellous).

  16. 16
    mike on 5 Dec 2007 #

    Something that I find curious about Ken Boothe’s “Everything I Own” – and this may just be due to my limited exposure to his work, but still – is the way his whole delivery has sweetened and lightened, compared to the stiffer, more urgent gruffness of “Make Me Feel Alright” and “Let’s Get It On” (yes, that one) from just a year or so earlier (both well worth tracking down, if anyone’s taking notes!) The repeated grunts and barks – seemingly more pain-wracked than lust-driven – that punctuate the end of “Let’s Get It on” are particularly striking…

  17. 17
    Brian on 5 Dec 2007 #

    I think I mentioned this somewhere before but ” The Harder They Come” was my indoctrination to reggae. And I loved putting people into mild shock playing the LP for them or taking them to the movie , which was often a part of the Roxy’s ( yes, that was the name ) late night sin-e-ma.

    A curious thing happened to early reggae in Canada. It kind of got kidnapped by travel agents and tour operators ( me included ) as the soundtrack to having a great holiday in the Caribbean. And because of this the music never was taken as seriously as it should have been , at first.

    There also wasn’t the ” cultural diversity ” to support much more than Elton John and the disco scene at the same time

  18. 18
    Marcello Carlin on 6 Dec 2007 #

    Then again there was the influx of some Jamaican musicians to Toronto and elsewhere from the late sixties onwards – see for instance the work of Wayne McGhie and his Sounds of Joy, a big favourite of myself and the missus, including very successful reggae versions of such contemporary standards as “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” with the great Jackie Mittoo helping out on the keys.

  19. 19
    doofuus2003 on 6 Dec 2007 #

    On reggae and the charts, I tried for weeks and weeks and weeks to get Rayners Records at the top of Park St. in Bristol to sell me ‘Moon Hop’ by Derrick Morgan – answer ‘We haven’t got it’ again & again, but then one week, they did and I bought it, and the next week it crept in to No.49, and the week after dropped out again. I always thought it was me wot did it.

  20. 20
    Marcello Carlin on 6 Dec 2007 #

    Ah yes, the legendary distribution skills of unheralded Trojan subdivision Crab Records (not a misprint).

    At school our one and only attempt at chart hyping was one Saturday in mid-1979 when, at intervals of roughly five minutes, a bunch of us went one by one into Bruce’s Record Shop in Union Street in Glasgow to buy OMD’s “Electricity” on Factory since we knew it was a chart return shop. It didn’t make the national chart but came straight in at number 19 on the Radio Clyde Tartan Thirty the following week then went straight out again.

  21. 21
    Erithian on 6 Dec 2007 #

    How did you get to know it was a chart return shop? Ah, the power of that knowledge!

    I was never particularly moved by “EIO” – except possibly moved to anger as it kept “Far Far Away” off number one, and Slade only once got so close to another number one again. Looking back I can see it was a perfectly worthwhile record, but again nothing special. Of the pop-reggae crossovers discussed above John Holt’s “Help Me Make It…” comes back immediately to mind – the delicious little drum roll under “Yesterday is dead and gone” followed by the return of the rhythm swishing your insides around – lovely.

    Re Paul Burnett (#5) – the only controversial remark I remember from him was when he played Toyah’s “I Want To Be Free” then commented, “Good luck, Toyah love, but don’t forget someone has to work in a factory so that you can wear as much make-up as you like – we can’t all be alternative personalities.” Miaow!!

  22. 22
    Marcello Carlin on 6 Dec 2007 #

    The reason we knew was that they unwisely kept their wee black chart return diary on the front desk in full view…the other “art project” we did at Bruce’s in Union Street was the previous summer after Scotland had ingloriously exited the World Cup and they were selling off their abundant stocks of “Ally’s Tartan Army” by Andy Cameron at 10p each, so we all went in, bought one each, went back outside and publicly smashed them in the street. There was some applause from passers-by.

  23. 23
    Drucius on 6 Dec 2007 #

    It’s at least an 8 you heartless brutes.

  24. 24
    Erithian on 6 Dec 2007 #

    IIRC, that made the national media, whether Newsbeat or Record Mirror – I certainly heard about it at the time

  25. 25
    Waldo on 6 Dec 2007 #

    Marcello – At least you guys made the Finals in 1974. As Andy Cameron was at pains to mention: “But England cannae do it ’cause they dinnnae qualify. Hey!” This was correct due partly to Norman Hunter but more to that insane Polish keeper. No qualification for England. It’s funny how things don’t change much…

  26. 26
    Erithian on 6 Dec 2007 #

    I suspect MC might pip me to this one, but of course the Andy Cameron record was referring to how England didnae qualify in 1978, not 1974. Tomaszewski of course was why they didnae qualify in ’74 – in ’78 it was down to Don Revie, a high-quality Italian team and Ron Greenwood coming along just too late to change things. Keegan and Brooking’s combination in the 2-0 beating of the Italians at Wembley in ’77 was a hint of what might have been, but due to injuries in’82 both of them only ever got 25 minutes of World Cup action.

  27. 27
    Waldo on 6 Dec 2007 #

    You’re absolutely right, Erithian. 1978 it was. The Scots’ 1974 World Cup Song was “Easy Easy”, to which MC has referred in another place.

  28. 28
    Chris Brown on 8 Dec 2007 #

    #5 – Er, ‘The Ballad Of John And Yoko’?

  29. 29
    Marcello Carlin on 9 Dec 2007 #

    Ah yes, of course! Well spotted Chris!

  30. 30
    Mark G on 11 Dec 2007 #

    “Apache” and “Wonderful Land” don’t count I guess!

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