Shinehead – Jamaican in New York

Release Date: Apr 93
Chart Position: 30

This for me is a fantastic example of what Neggae is all about. Its experimental, it draws from various influences and produces something original, fresh, pleasing on the ear and also very amusing.
Personally I’m a big fan of Englishman in New York, I think its among Sting’s finest work as a solo artist. Written about English gay icon Quentin Crisp, the lyrics used to project the differences in social etiquette between the “English Gent” and the “Native New Yorker” are astoundingly clever. Pure Poetry. That kind of sharp eloquence seems to be a lost art form when glancing over the modern day dross pumped out by the likes of Flo Rida, Neo, Will I Am or A N Other talent show production line schmuck.
On top of this, the backing score of strings and saxophone were a far cry from the commercial acclaim of the Police. A somewhat left field move from reggae influenced Rock to Jazz, it was initially received badly on both sides of the water, charting outside the top 50 in both the UK and the States. Only after some more percussive reproduction tweaks were introduced was this song welcomed by the music listening public. All in all I consider the finished article to be a timeless piece of artistry from Sting.
So, to then take take this song , replace the British ethics and morals and replace them with Jamaican humour is hugely risky, right? To give Shine head his dues, he pulls it off amazingly.
From the outset, Stings string section is replaced by an off beat Reggae piano. There’s a faint yet cheeky electric guitar riff, some scratching and Shinehead teeing himself up for a big entry. A chunky break and heavy bass line ensue and then we’re treated to Shinehead taking a classic and making it his own. Talking about Drinking roots after a morning ride and niceing up the party.
The song doesn’t trail off either, there’s a bonus rap on the bridge which is neither over-done nor eggy, ensuring that the entire 4 minutes and 12 seconds of Neggae gold tie together seamlessly. This is a cracking piece of Neggae History. Fantastic.
Score: Definitely the rude boy of the day. 8 out of 10.

Ok, we’re going to neggaefy a Sting song, what shall we use? ‘So Lonely’ and ‘Can’t stand losing you’ are both tunes, have neggae potential, this could be a winner. No, he’s chosen the coffee table jazz monotony of ‘An Englishman in New York’ about the travails of dealing with the huge cultural differences between America and Britain as experienced by a multi-millionaire, ‘I don’t  drink coffee I drink tea my dear’, well buy some tea bags and stop whinging, you’re loaded.
Anyway back to the matter in hand, Shinehead lazily makes this song by substituting the English references for Jamaican ones, ‘I don’t drink coffee I drink roots my dear’, does that even make sense, does he mean Lilt? The lyrics are so poor I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d found a discarded sketch in Lenny Henry’s bin for this character (in fact this song is better) and used the whole thing.
Production’s a bit formulaic, token scratching, the piano sound so beloved of the Ace of Bass, daily mail sax sample from the original, meh mon. The video is more innovative as it invented parcour and Shinehead went onto make a fortune by marketing these. He doesn’t seem to have mastered putting on a Punch and Judy show though, we’re supposed to see the puppets Shinehead, not you! As the final act he decides to go into the NY sewers to visit the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and search out the lair of Vincent from Beauty and the Beast.
Score: 4/10 – Lazy, uninspiring, like being served a warm can of Red Stripe and paying £4 for the privilege.

Little known fact; Shinehead knocked off a whole LP of songs that swapped in Jamaican culture for English. Here’s the sleeve:
An incredibly rare record but one worth hunting for.
As for the song in question; lovely stuff. Nice chunky beats, decent reggae keys. Shinehead has a great voice too, and he treats the song with the dignity it deserves. Like Sting, he found himself relocated to New York and missed his homeland culture. The fact that he was born in Kent is neither here nor there.
As we know, covers/versions/samples are core to Reggae music. There is no shame in recycling existing art to create something new – everything is a remix. It is a cheeky, bold and ultimately healthy way to approach pop culture. And this is a fine example of it.
Score: 8/10

Now I know I should like this. I like the original and I like neggae, put it together and it should be great? But I think it’s crud! I think it is a cheap, easy and lazy effort to make some money with little to no creative thought. I know I could say the same of any cover, but for some reason this one annoys me. There is literally nothing I can say about the song, it is exactly how you would imagine a neggaed up English Man in New York cover. The one positive is the growling ‘Eh yeah’ that pipes up a few times to break it up. I find myself humming the tune, but that is only as enjoy the original and not this piss.
I can’t even recall any fond memories of this song; I’m not sure what i was up to when it was released in 1993? I assume I turned the radio over whenever I heard it.
The video also annoys me; they haven’t even bothered to give the studio a New York feel, not even a mock Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty or Hot Dog vendor…nothing. Surely the whole essence of the song is about being in New York? So I think they could have made a little effort.
I am surprised this even got to number 30 in the UK, a waste of time and a disappointing slump following the last few weeks gems.
Score: 1/10 from me

Well well, we have an interesting and neggaeish version of Sting’s Englishman in New York. The ironic thing about Shinehead is that he was born in Kent. I guess he is more proud of his Jamaican heritage. There’s a lot to like about this song, he puts a nice island twist on this classic. It’s a fairly chilled and low key song that has a strong emphasis on vocals.
I’m not too sure about the video, it’s a bit of a hodge-podge. We do have the obligatory scantily clad ladies with their traditional island thrust working throughout. I get the fact that he’s proud of his roots and is unashamedly Jamaican but the video has a rather touristy/amateur feel to it, almost low budget. It has an “I know, let’s use whatever we have in the cupboard as props” type feel to it. Spinning sunglasses, punch and judy scale stage with his head on a platter when the curtain is raised, another dodgy mask/sunglasses set that appears to be made out of some sort of bush or shrub and last but not least the sunflower. Bizarre.
Score: Put me down for 6.5/10 a bit of low key neg sung well, loses points for the video not flowing and coming off as a school variety show.



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