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Aug 08

10cc – “Dreadlock Holiday”

FT + Popular/118 comments • 14,992 views

#426, 23rd September 1978

On one level the ‘plot’ of “Dreadlock Holiday” is hugely important to any judgement of it. On another, not at all, but let’s recap anyway. The narrator is a tourist in Jamaica – he gets mugged for his silver chain and returns to the comfort of his hotel where a woman tries to sell him weed.

Nobody comes out of the story well: the song’s parent album was called Bloody Tourists, and the narrator is a simp, trying and failing to fit in (“concentrating on truckin’ right”) and then fleeing to the hotel at the first sign of trouble. But the island isn’t exactly a welcoming place either, and the message seems to be that if you’re a white tourist, any approach is misguided and nowhere is entirely safe from the scary dark other looking to hustle you at every turn.

This, to my mind, makes for a rather mean-spirited song, a lose-lose game whose main purpose is to make 10cc seem clever and cynically realistic. I haven’t ever been a great fan of 10cc, precisely because I feel there’s this callous smirk behind a lot of their music, and “Dreadlock Holiday” crystallises the feeling for me. That makes me dislike it more than whatever racial or cultural politics might or might not lurk underneath the song: I am sure an extensive comments thread will tease them out!

On the other hand, “Dreadlock Holiday” is often superlative popcraft: that shimmering, unmistakable percussion intro that makes the song a sampler’s or mash-up act’s dream, and the massive chorus – seized on out of context by Sky Sports for an effect darkly comic enough that I’m sure the band enjoy it greatly. Even here, though, the cynicism runs deep. The song, light reggae which slides skilfully from awkward bounce to clammy paranoia, is an inversion of the lyrics’ theme: if you want to be a tourist, it says, stick to the studio and you can happily steal stuff from them. “Dreadlock Holiday” is in some ways the unpleasant opposite of 1978’s other reggae-related #1, “Uptown Top Ranking” – a wiser, crueller denial of its open celebration. Impressive work in its way, but it leaves a nasty taste.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    Erithian on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Apparently this is about an incident when Graham Gouldman was on holiday with Justin Hayward out of the Moody Blues – but Hayward had been threatened, not mugged, and it was in Barbados, not Jamaica…

  2. 62
    mike on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Dammit, I was offered an interview with Justin Hayward last week but turned it down. I could have asked him!

  3. 63
    DJ Punctum on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Was this why he went off summer and wished it was “Forever Autumn”?

    *tumbling tumbleweeds, getting of coat, &c.*

  4. 64
    Waldo on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Mike – Why did you turn Justin down? Were you offered Frank Ifield instead?

  5. 65
    mike on 11 Aug 2008 #

    No, I was actually offered the ALL NEW FOR 2008! version of The Drifters, none of whose members were in the group before this year. And some WWF dude whose name I have already forgotten. I went instead with a young man who won’t be troubling Popular for many years to come. (But not wishing to tweak any whiskers, I shall, um, exit this instant…)

  6. 66
    vinylscot on 11 Aug 2008 #

    I think I’d have gone for Justin!

  7. 67
    Billy Smart on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Thanks Will and Mike – I think that the Clash certainly win the ‘songs about being mugged in Jamaica’ battle!

  8. 68
    Lena on 11 Aug 2008 #

    “Summer Night City,” “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” and “Hong Kong Garden” are all also on this chart – besides the big US songs they are practically the only ones I recognize! I looked up another song (anticipating its appearing on the charts in about three months’ time) only to find out it wasn’t a single in the UK at all, which I find baffling, as it was a US R&B #1! Same ocean, different shores, etc. etc…

  9. 69
    Mark G on 11 Aug 2008 #

    .. which means you have bunny clearance…

  10. 70
    DJ Punctum on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Re. Smiley Culture – I remember Simon Bates playing “Police Officer” on his show one morning, and a few minutes later reading out a message from a listener who told him to “stop playing this monkey music.” He didn’t comment. That was the kind of audience Radio 1 attracted in the Derek Chinnery days.

    Judge Dread? Big mate of Prince Buster, Lee Perry, Bob Marley and others; also pretty big in Jamaica. Went a bit Sid James in Dub Conference for my liking later on but “Big Six” and “Big Seven” still stand up pretty well.

  11. 71
    Lena on 11 Aug 2008 #

    HEE!

    “Got To Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn, which I was hoping to transcribe and then say Billy M heard it, but I don’t know if he ever did.

    The beginning of Smash Hits is just around the corner, as well.

  12. 72
    DJ Punctum on 11 Aug 2008 #

    First Billboard R&B number one of ’79 as it happens and looking at that year’s list it really IS the beginning of everything (as with everything else in that exceptional year but enough for now, let’s wait until we get there)…

  13. 73
    Erithian on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Lena #71 – and didn’t Smash Hits begin with a pretty unlikely cover star for a magazine which wanted to build an audience? – Plastic Bertrand, whose unforgettable one-and-only hit entered the chart in the same week as John and Livvy IIRC. Plastic was one of the two giants of Belgian chanson alongside Jacques Brel (as I used to say to a Belgian friend mainly to wind her up) and went on to be the producer of Belgian Idol.

  14. 74
    DJ Punctum on 11 Aug 2008 #

    They won in the end, though, didn’t they?

    Furthermore you’re being disingenuous – that issue was a test issue (I mean, a Sham 69 centre spread?) and the first issue proper had Blondie on the front.

  15. 75
    vinylscot on 11 Aug 2008 #

    The Cheryl Lynn track was/is brilliant – one of my favourite 12″s from around this time! I hadn’t realised it had missed the charts altogether.

    I see it did briefly visit the lower reaches twice in 1996, as one side of two double a-side singles which came out then. They reached the dizzying heights of #117 and #191. I’ve no idea if these were remixes, but unfortunately they probably were.

  16. 76
    mike on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Those very early issues of Smash Hits weren’t great, it has to be said (I was vaguely embarrassed about buying them) – but it didn’t take very long for the mag to hit its stride, either. (Ooh, I’m straining at the leash!)

  17. 77
    mike on 11 Aug 2008 #

    #75 – it was a 12″ reissue of the original track, double A-sided with another classic whose name escapes me (but it might have been Nicole & Timmy Thomas “New York Eyes”). I shall root around in the attic this evening…

    Anyhow, it was part of a series of double A-sided classic 12″ re-issues, many of which I snapped up.

    EDIT: I am WRONG! The Old Gold reissues were 1991, but “New York Eyes” was teamed with Cheryl Lynn’s “Encore”. The 1996 version was indeed a remix package, including mixes from Todd Terry and dreary old workaday hacks Love To Infinity…

  18. 78
    Mark G on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Those early Smash hits were great, actually.

    The very idea that all this punk and new wave could actually be sold to the teenypop audience, was what kept one end of it alive! It all moved from that to the bright fluffy 80s pop we all remember on those TV shows if we’re famous enough, as a direct result of pic sleeves, which begat pop videos and an outpouring of creativity in many directions.

    The words to The Fall’s “New Face in Hell” in the alternative page, for blummin sake!

  19. 79
    mike on 11 Aug 2008 #

    #78: Mark, I’m talking about the first three or four issues only, which I think were still monthly at that stage. The cool specialist alternative coverage hadn’t started yet, and the mag was more like a glossied-up Disco 45.

  20. 80
    DJ Punctum on 11 Aug 2008 #

    “Got To Be Real” unfortunately was also the musical inspiration for Modern Romance’s 1982 #37 smash “Queen Of The Rapping Scene (Nothing Ever Goes The Way You Plan)” though I much preferred its use on “Dibidibidize (How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise?)” the same year by oh God what was their name again? Brother D and the Collective Effort, or similar…

  21. 81
    Mark G on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Yep to you both.

    Although, the pre-rap part of the song was one of the few ModRo songs I thought was OK. Perhaps because it was short.

  22. 82
    o sobek! on 11 Aug 2008 #

    “unfortunately”?????????????

  23. 83
    mike on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Brother D and the Collective Effort, yes! Thank you for unlocking that memory, as I’ve been trying to remember who sampled “Got To Be Real” for the past couple of hours or so, and the closest I could get was the original 1986 Source/Candi Staton version of “You Got The Love”, which didn’t.

    “Um the quinn, um the quinn, um the quinn of the reppin sin” was sort of great, really!

  24. 84
    Malice Cooper on 11 Aug 2008 #

    This even got a release in Jamaica and sold well so I don’t think they found it racist or offensive. It isn’t like anybody got shot in the song.

  25. 85
    wichita lineman on 11 Aug 2008 #

    I remember everyone straining at the leash to write about 1978 a few entries back… now look at us, thinking about the early Smash Hits heyday when they’d print the lyrics to New Face In Hell… what ’78 were people looking forward to? I am kurious.

    Malice, surely 10CC’s reputation was shot? No hits for Stewart or Gouldman after this apart from Bridge To Your Heart some years later. Even though Sunburn deserved better.

  26. 86
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #

    # 70 – Dread (Alex Hughes) had also been a minder/roadie to the Stones before his own career took off. He was indeed huge in Jamaica, in fact the first white artist to score a major hit there. He was simply enormous in my area where he was feted in the rasta community as practically one of their own. He cultivated close friendships with many of reggae’s great names and left this world (albeit far too early) as he surely would have wanted to, keeling over from a dodgy strawb having just walked off stage at the end of a show.

    I think I recall the “monkey music” incident but wouldn’t have remembered it was Simon Bates, who, let’s face it, had the personality of a roll of wall-paper. The listener must have conveyed this despicable comment over the phone. It’s not even worthy of comment and if Bates’ silence was deliberate, I feel that that was far better than going into one about how ignorant this bastard clearly was.

  27. 87
    Snif on 12 Aug 2008 #

    And Judge Dread’s name appears (in slightly different guise) to this day in every weekly issue of 2000AD, which had only just recently started at this stage…?

  28. 88
    DJ Punctum on 12 Aug 2008 #

    “Big Seven” also sampled on “Ludi” by the Dream Warriors.

  29. 89
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #

    “The Winkle Man” was blinding. You can see where Dread’s going with this without even having to hear the record, which you certainly would not have done on Radio One.

  30. 90
    DJ Punctum on 12 Aug 2008 #

    I always loved it when Jimmy Savile came across a Judge Dread disc on his Old Record Club: “and this guy geezer decided to be very rude and so it was banned and I SEE-NO-REEEEEEA-SONNNNN why we should play it and howzabout that then?”

    Dignified Don: “skrlrlgrglmrglkrnklskrlkmmngskrl Jim.”

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