Broadway Jungle by Toots and The Maytals is exactly the sort of incessant, insistent ska for this mid summer’s day. Clanging in on a bar of wonky barroom piano and a clatter of dustbin lid drums, it quickly starts on the front foot, gets on the good foot and never lets up for two and a half yelping, head nodding and chin jutting minutes. It’s the sort of tassled loafers ‘n suedehead knees-up that could bring a grinning smile to a jaggy-elbowed cadaver. If y’don’t like this, y’don’t like music, etc etc
Toots and The Maytals – Broadway Jungle
Information on this particular Toots recording from 1964 is scant, but here’s the scoop: the young Toots Hibbert recorded his early stuff with Studio One, Coxsone Dodd’s hit-making factory in Kingston.
A never-ending production line of classic ska, dub and reggae tumbled forth; alongside Studio One big hitters such as The Skatalites’ Guns Of Navarone, Horace Andy’s Skylarking and Bob Marley’s early ska-inflected tunes, Toots and his band released Six And Seven Books Of Moses, Pressure Drop, Monkey Man and Do The Reggay – the track that gave their genre of music an international name.
An inevitable fall-out arose over royalties, leading to Toots and his Maytals leaving the label to sign for arch rival Prince Buster. Things got confusing. Promoters, in the pocket of Studio One, ceased to bill the band as Toots and The Maytals. Prince Buster, in an attempt to starve Studio One of contract-fulfilling royalities, subcontracted the release to Island, who, unaware of the ongoing beef between Studio One and Prince Buster, released Toots’ Broadway Jungle under the moniker of brand-new group The Flames.
To stay one quickstep away from the lawyers and money-chasers, further re-releases saw the record released on Prince Buster’s own label, the name of the song changed to Dog War.
To further muddy the trail, the band name changed too. At one point, music fans could go to gigs and watch The Vikings play Jamaica Ska, confusingly aware that they were actually watching Toots and The Maytals play Broadway Jungle. D’you follow?!
Regardless of the name of the band or the title of the song, Toots’ (or The Vikings’. Or The Flames’) Broadway Jungle (or Dog War. Or Jamaica Ska) is nothing short of essential listening. It’s a tune about breaking free from the jungle – a metaphor perhaps for their Studio One contract – and hitting the bright lights of the big time, a prescient thought given that the Maytals’ most succesful years were still to come.
Political, danceable, joyful and as rhythmic as a steam train going full pelt, Broadway Jungle should be available on prescription. It’ll cure all ailments. Take as often as necessary and repeat.