Bumbaklat Hits: Pop's 10 Most Unforgivable Reggae Misappropriations

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Can you feel it yet? Don't let all this rain fool you -- Summer is on its way. Sure, that means triple-digit temperatures, mutant mosquitos and Astros-fan apathy, but it also means live music outdoors. And where there's live music outdoors, there is always reggae. It's some kind of rule.

Personally, I and I are looking forward to the Ja-Ga Reggae Fest next month in downtown Galveston, and iFest is set to bring accomplished reggae artists like Steel Pulse from around the world to Houston the weekend after.

Jamaica may boast fewer than three million inhabitants, but anyone with even a passing interest in music knows that it's the home of reggae. The popularity of artists once unique to the island like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh has carried reggae across the world's oceans in the last 50 years.

Frankly, it hasn't always worked out for the best. One of pop music's most powerful strains, reggae is prone to being appropriated by musical clowns and stripped of its righteousness in the service of mass appeal. The result has been some of the silliest and worst chart offenses imaginable. Here are 10 that we love to hate.

10. Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy":We're happy to give Bobby McFerrin props for being the only guy in history to score a worldwide smash with an a cappella reggae tune, just as long as we never have to hear it again. This saccharine novelty ditty and its insipid music video became inescapable in the fall of 1988, committing the twin crimes of encouraging public whistling and giving Robin Williams regular MTV airtime.

We haven't done any formal research, but we're willing to wager that less ganja has been smoked to this song than anything else remotely resembling reggae.


9. Culture Club, "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me":How thin can reggae possibly be watered down? This thin. Culture Club's first big hit was an incredibly gentle affair featuring possibly the softest, weakest approximation of reggae ever set to wax. Bonus frown points for the bizarre jury of blackface minstrels in the nonsensical music video.


8. Sublime, "Pawn Shop":Mea culpa: Our issues with this song are personal. In college, one of our close friends had a Sublime CD-R jammed in his car stereo. He had the only ride available, and if you wanted music, Sublime was it. Inside that Nissan 240SX, we heard "Pawn Shop" approximately 90 trillion times, and we weren't even baked.

Why does it suck? A semi-cover of The Wailing Souls' "War Deh Round a John Shop," "Pawn Shop" clocks in at an interminable six minutes. The phrase "Down there at the pawn shop" is repeated 18 times -- I didn't have to look that up. The song goes nowhere and never ends. It's a monotonous earworm scientifically engineered to remain stuck in your head for days at a time, and we hate it.



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2 comments
Sbdons4ever
Sbdons4ever

You should have called Big Mountain a bunch Beaners and Niggers, cuz they ain't white perkerwoods as you refer...surely the tune deserves your consideration..but do some homework first before you start making slurs that don't fit. Viva La Raza

Pabloassab
Pabloassab

So what? They're awful. It speaks to the power of reggae. The problem is that reggae as it is now, is doing itself more of a disservice than any fake immitation ever did. At least the Fakers tried in their own way to give credit to the music. You're giving props to Steel Pulse (a favorite of mine) who have'nt recorded a new or good song in fifteen years.

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