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Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  445 ratings  ·  43 reviews
'Jamaican music at last has the book it deserves' Prince Buster, from his Foreword

'The first comprehensive history of every aspect of reggae (and) it could be the last that talked to those who were there at stage one...Bradley leaves no stone unturned in a coruscating rollercoaster ride through murder, major label gripes, ganja paranoia and racism, ending with Luciano hopi
Paperback, 608 pages
Published September 4th 2001 by Penguin Books Ltd. (first published August 2000)
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No Woman No Cry by Rita MarleyBass Culture by Lloyd BradleySongbirds by Heather AugustynThis is Reggae Music by Lloyd BradleyReggae Scrapbook by Roger Steffens
Books on Reggae
38 books — 2 voters
Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael AzerradClothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv AlbertineWhite Bicycles by Joe  BoydMiles by Miles DavisPsychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs
Music Books
109 books — 18 voters

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Steve Porter
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is not only a comprehensive examination of Jamaican music but a well-written and informative tome on subjects as varied as Rastafarianism, Jamaican independence and politics, as well as emigration, particularly of Jamaicans to the UK.

Musically, it starts with the Sound Systems of 1950’s Kingston and delves deeply into 60’s Ska and Rocksteady before moving into Reggae’s golden age of the 1970’s. Fans will know that, contrary to much conventional wisdom, it doesn’t all sound the same and with
Nenad Pekez
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is what you call a book about musical genre. Simply put, this is PhD in reggae. There are so many beautiful insights from legends such as Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff, Sly Dunbar, Dennis Bovell and others. Above all, it takes you behind the scene, revealing the connection between music and economy, society, religion and other important factors. Its all about the facts. This book certainly changed the way I look at the reggae and I am now appreciatte it even more (even though I have been hardc ...more
Stevie Dunbar
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you're interested enough in Reggae and Jamaica to read 500+ pages, this book is everything and anything you'll want. Meticulous attention to detail without sacrificing any of the excitement and turmoil that came out of the birth of Jamaica as an independent nation and reggae as one of its greatest exports.

If that's not your thing uhhhhhh dont read it
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
Could be the best reggae history available. I have a couple more on the shelf, but this one is a very strong contender.
Jon Tran
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Bass Culture is an extensive history of reggae and the genres that preceded it - ska, rock-steady, and dub. Bass Culture covers reggae's roots in Jamaica as well as its history in the US and UK, hitting on all the major players - Lee "Scratch" Perry, Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff, and of course Bob Marley - along the way. Beyond the musical history of reggae, Bass Culture catalogs the cultural, religious (chiefly via Rastafarianism), and societal impacts reggae has had on Jamaica and the world. I w ...more
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Enjoying this authoritative but readable account of Jamaican music, starting with the sound systems of the late 1950's ; full of insight and it will drive me back to the music.Have just got to the point in the narrative pre-Marley,where ska morphs into rocksteady,and how the music gradually shook off its American R&B forms,and begins to find its authentic voice. The number of great recordings referenced is already outstripping my ability to keep up on Spotify with them all.:-) Lovely stuff. ...more
Ali Miremadi
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very good cultural history of ska-rocksteady-reggae-digitalJamaicanstuffuptothenineties. Wonderfully positive ethos - the artists Bradley admires get plenty of room; the ones he despises just get a brief mention or are omitted. Would much rather read someone who has committed views like Bradley than a fence-sitter. I’d like it if he updated it to expand on UK dub reggae and I’m sure many would like more on Marley but it is a terrific music book regardless.
Juanchu Chu
The best music book I've ever read, it's a extremely well written story of Jamaica's musical and sociopolitical history since right before independence up to the end of last century. At no point the book gets boring thanks to the narration and the eloquent interviewees.

If I was forced to point something I didn't like: In the last chapters, dissing gansta rap as 'art' with quotation marks struck me as a bit narrow-minded, and also I missed having a bit more of closure on the current status of th
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very detailed history of the development of reggae from the early soundsystem days in the 1950s to Ska, rocksteady, roots reggae and dancehall. Also, excellent on the social history of Jamaica, Rastafari, the black diaspora and the development of the UK reggae scene. Particularly enjoyed how links were made with the political and social context and its direct influence on the music. I'm left with so many ideas of amazing music to check out. Essential resource for all music heads!
Damon Rycroft
Sometimes this book is great and filled with interesting information but more often than not it’s just paragraphs after paragraph filled with names, just lists of names, the same names you read in a previous chapter, there is only so many times each name needs to be said
Mickey McIntosh
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding book. The most in depth look on Reggae music. From its roots in Jamaica to its conquest of the UK and the USA, this tells the story about the whole genre and it's impact on society and culture. Music fans will want to read this.
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I haven't had time to read this. I ordered it from out of state to be transferred to my library. It is so good. I just keep randomly reading content. Every page I open, I hit a paragraph that is GOLD!
MUST OWN. Ordering a copy now.
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The essential history of reggae!
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, music
Comprehensive, insightful, educational history of a unique art form. I’ve listened to lots of reggae for years and still learned tons from this book. Brilliant.
Piers Haslam
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: caribbean
One must give this book the greatest respect for being the most passionate, inclusive, and comprehensive history of reggae music there is. Bradley traces Jamaican popular music from the early soundsystems of the 1950s to the conscious dancehall movement in the mid 1990s. Not only this, he also weaves in an excellent political narrative – keeping in theme with the largely socio-political content of roots reggae music. However, he is also keen to look to the music’s influence and evolution abroad ...more
Mar 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is by far the best history of Jamaican music I've read. Personally, I prefer music histories that reference the concurrent cultural and political events of the time and this book delivers. I particularly liked the astute contributions by three of my favorite reggae artists, Prince Buster, Derrick Harriott and Dennis Bovell. If you are a casual fan of ska, rock steady and roots reggae, there may be too much information here. I enjoyed reading about how the music business interacted with Jama ...more
Jul 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: dj's, reggae fans, people with an interest in recent jamaican history
Shelves: non-fiction
Astonishingly comprehensive history of Jamaican popular music from the early 1950s through the end of the century. Strong analysis makes connections between Jamaica's tumultuous post-colonial development and the emergence of a remarkably unique cultural economy. Best of all, the text is littered with specific references to tracks, artists, and labels for the curious record collector, DJ, or music fanatic to use in a mad reggae scavenger hunt.

Coverage of later developments in dancehall (digital,
Sep 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Very disappointed. There's clearly plenty of space for at least one book like this: a comprehensive history of reggae and its antecedents in Jamaican music. And it gets positive blurb; but of course all books do.

I am a more or less casual reggae fan: I know a bit more of it and a bit more about it than my mum, or possibly even a bit more than that, but not a lot, and I like much of what little I do know quite a lot, and I enjoy informative and lively books about music, so I was very much in the
Will Lashley
Aug 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A book of popular music criticism that hammer down the tent stakes across continents and diaspora & something akin to a return. This is as cogent an explanation as I have ever seen of how Black Nationalist Rastafarian convictions snuggled up to love songs and some hip shakin' riddims and for a brief period became the most emancipatory music in the world. Bradley's prose satisfies and elucidates on so many levels that I began re- reading it the moment I finished the last chapter, and hied to Spot ...more
Ian Pattinson
Dec 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
The only problem with this book is that it was published in 2000, so I'm at a loss over what's happened in the last fifteen years.

This is a fascinating wander through the roots of reggae, from the yard parties and sound systems most often playing blues and blues inspired local sounds, to the international reggae breakout of the seventies, and beyond.

It moves faster, and covers more ground per chapter, the nearer to (then) contemporary sounds it gets. The impression is that the author wasn't impr
Dec 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, music
Loved it. Not just a history of reggae, but of the social and political context which informed it. Nice to be able to realise the connections between artists I've only ever known about from their records. However the author obviously doesn't care for dancehall and that comes through loud and clear in the final chapter, which ends the book on a bit of a pessimistic note without the energy and attention to detail he's given earlier chapters.
Matthew Owen
Oct 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Fascinating read this ...

It illustrates really well how Reggae was/is influenced by the constant social and political turmoil in Jamaica and vice versa, meaning you don't have to know anything about Reggae (like me) to find it interesting.

If you are curious as to what sound system culture is, how the Rasta movement began, or to know what 'toasting' is then this is recommended.
Apr 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
At first this book might seem too detailed but give it time. This is a crucial text for anyone interested in the history of Jamaican music. As a fan, I've gleaned a fair amount of history over the years but this book brought the story together and provided many new discoveries, especially the history of reggae in England.
Dec 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in reggae.
Shelves: non-fiction, music
Certainly not perfect; Bradley loses interest around the rise of dancehall, but as a history of the pre-digital Jamaican music scene it's superb. Well researched with so much historical and cultural context as well as details about tons of key records.
Mar 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: musicians, cultural historians, and anyone who likes good dub
This is a wonderful history of reggae with emphasis not just on lyrics, the standard preoccupation of histories of music, but the sound of the music itself. Much of the information derives from the informal interviews Bradley conducted with the early sound system men.
Phil Overeem
Jul 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A strictly amazing history of reggae: fact-filled, broad in analysis, wryly humored, coherent--what more could one want? Plus, it passes my personal test of great music non-fiction: I know it will be putting a dent in my wallet.
Jun 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Utilises a mixture of social and cultural analysis aligned to verbatim quotes from many of the key players - this is a compelling read which has inspired me to dust off many an old vinyl classic and go and re-purchase (and investigate new avenues) from the golden age of reggae.
Jeremy Simms
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
For fans and non-fans of reggae alike, a comprehensive history of the influential musical form the political landscape with which it's inextricably intertwined. Lovingly researched, it just needs a companion CD set.
Rich Hill
Oct 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Utterly indispensable for anyone wanting to gain a greater insight into the story of Jamaican music. One of the finest music books I have read, Bradley's passion for the subject spills out of every page. Superb.
Jun 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
AS with the writers 100 years ... book I couldn't finish it as so much repetition. Which is a huge shame as he's done so much work and research on the topic but it makes hard reading to find the gold and remember points because it needs a hard out edit
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