DENNIS BROWN - PRETEND



















A: Dennis Brown - Pretend

B: Joe Gibbs & Professionals - Botswana Skank


When Ralph Marterie sat his orchestra down in the studio in 1953 to record a song called 'Pretend', I am pretty sure he knew what he was aiming for. Being the leader of an orchestra who were the first to cover and record a rock and roll song, Ralph knew a good song from a bad one. Thus, he recorded 'Pretend' for Mercury Records and proudly entered the charts with it. Although that was nothing new at the time, since the bandleader scored hit after hit with his mainstream 'pop' sound. Quite possibly his success with 'Pretend' benefitted greatly from the Nat King Cole version, which was the bigger hit of the two, released on Capitol Records and orchestrated by Dan Belloc. If anything, both versions are proof that a truly great song can even stand the horror that is early fifties orchestrated pop music. And 'Pretend' is exactly that: a great song.

Written by Lew Douglas, Cliff Parman and Frank Levere, 'Pretend' has quite a share of versions. Even in the fifties, when it was still fresh, the song was recorded by a great variety of artists. You had Nat Cole, Ralph Marterie, Henri Rene, The Rockin' Strings Chorus & Orchestra and Carl Mann. Then, when the sixties gave way to the fifties there was Brenda Lee, Jim Reeves, Red Hewitt and The Buccaneers, The Tielman Brothers, Freddie and The Heartaches, Gerry and the Pacemakers... and so forth and so on, well into the new decade and far beyond...

Although Dennis Brown was not born yet when 'Pretend' first did its rounds in the local dancehalls, and despite the fact he was only 17 when he recorded his cut, he managed to nail it perfectly. Of course, as stated before, the song itself is powerful enough to handle just about anything, but Dennis' take is so strong and boasts so much energy and skill, it is almost eerie. Of course, the talent of the young Kingston youth was discovered and acknowledged well before 1973 - recording for Coxsone Dodd, Derrick Harriott and all - but it still baffles me that a youth so young can put so much confidence in a song and sound so experienced - both in skill as well as in life. It's almost like he wrote the song himself, he owns it. A talent he also displayed in full effect on his superb first album for Joe Gibbs, on which 'Pretend' is also included.



The dub, however, is not. Nor is it included on the fabled "Dub Serial' album, although it would not have been out of place on there. On the contrary, I'd say. Because Botswana Skank, despite the superb Dennis Brown vocal on the flip, is the real killer here. It's a magnificent piece of proto-dub, so heavily pounding on the drum and bass it's almost beyond believe. The horns sound soothing and nice - reflecting on the orchestrated days of old - but the rest of the dub is so rough it really is to no avail. The bass and the drums prevail and are delivered in harsh and brutal stabs. And then there's the guitar, chugging like mad and engineered to attack with force, sharp like a razor.  Although King Tubby was to become famous for it, every channel on Botswana Skank gets its own treatment. The guitar, the bass, the horns.... Everything is faded in and out of the mix, begging your attention. The only constant factor is the pounding drums, that seems to sound even heavier than on the vocal side. No echoes or sound effects are added yet, but the way Errol Thompson plays with the song structure, the sounds and the mixing board is excitement enough.

Speaking of ET, the matrix of the A side credits both Errol Thompson, then still working at Randy's, and a certain DT, which I believe to be Dennis Thompson. If I am not mistaking, this legendary engineer was also working at Randy's at the time. Perhaps Dennis Thompson mastered the recording and did nothing else, but taking in account the producer/engineer he became later on - working with Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Culture, Alicia Keys, Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller and many more - it wouldn't surprise me if he had a hand in this early dub experiment. Perhaps I should ask him..

I can't ask Douglas, Parman and Levere any more, but I don't think they could have imagined this kind of version when they wrote their song. But somehow, seeing it went through a couple of decades of restyling and reinterpretations, I think they would've liked what Errol Thompson did with it. After all, Botswana Skank is a complete new view on their strong, original composition. As true artists, I'm sure they would recognize and appreciate a piece of art like this. 

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Label: Joe Gibbs Record Globe (Ja)
Release date: 1973
Riddim: Pretend
Matrix: JG 2215 A.R.R.S. DT & ET / F9- 7949