As part of a new series of Bunny Striker Lee catalog projects, which launched with the early instrumental compilation Who Wants Some back in January, VP Records is reissuing Max Romeo’s obscure 1974 album Every Man Ought To Know for Record Store Day UK 2023. Rootfire is giving away a copy to one lucky winner and we will ship worldwide, courtesy of VP Records. The album is remastered from the original reel-to-reel tape and includes a rare Peter Simon photograph. Here are the liner notes from Every Man Ought To Know, courtesy of Carter Van Pelt and VP Records. Enter the giveaway here!
Max Romeo’s obscure LP Every Man Ought To Know is not often mentioned in the story of the influential singer’s career, now five decades and counting. The widely celebrated breakout single “Wet Dream,” produced by Bunny Lee in 1968, and the globally recognized LP War In A Babylon, produced by Lee Perry in 1976, are most often highlighted. The former represents reggae’s subversive and unlikely integration into the UK pop mainstream, while the latter is prominent in the music’s countercultural mythology and iconography.
Romeo explained that while he wasn’t eager to record slack songs at the time of “Wet Dream,” Lee was a towering figure in his life and career, essentially giving him no choice.
“I was a street kid. I left my parents’ home at the age of 14. As a drifter, I drifted amongst Bunny Lee. It was very important for me at the time to be with him. He’s the boss. He could get my record played. I was there when the first note was strike for reggae, when we made that transition from rocksteady over to reggae. I was in the studio when Bunny Lee was trying to attempt a change of beat, and we come up with a song ‘Bangarang’ with Lester Sterling. That was actually the launching of the whole change of beat from rocksteady. There are people who say otherwise, but I know better. I was there.”
Between “Wet Dream” and the War Ina Babylon LP, the singer made dozens (if not hundreds) of recordings, including albums Let The Power Fall On I (1972) and the acclaimed Revelation Time (1975). Every Man Ought To Know represents a bridge between his early success with slackness and his identity as a vessel for the message of Rastafari and black progress.
Romeo has acknowledged Bunny Lee’s creative role during their time together, beyond his strongman record plugger persona. “He’s very innovative. He give a lot of inspiration. He never write a complete song, but he comes with ideas that motivate a song … He don’t play no instrument, but he could hum a melody, and you catch it and make it reality.”
Originally compiled by Bunny Lee for UK soundman and label proprietor Count Shelly (Ephraim Barrett), largely from singles released between 1971-1973, Every Man Ought To Know was anchored by the hit title track, which celebrated the growing cultural awareness of Rastafari sweeping Jamaica. The singer had explored these themes with success in “Let The Power Fall On I,” “Black Equality,” and “Macabee Version” in 1971. “Rasta music keep reggae alive,” he succinctly stated years later. His solidly cultural catalog of more than 200 original songs over the last five decades is proof of this commitment.
Every man ought to know who Rastafari is…
Rasta is the lily of the valley
He’s as bright as morning stars
He is stronger than ten thousand
Every man ought to know
The song “Every Man Ought To Know” was originally attributed (on single) to ‘Romax & Keith.’ Keith was Keith Chin, the brother of Randy’s Records’ founder Vincent Chin and their brother Victor Chin. Victor ran the Chin-Randy’s record shop at 1342 St. John’s Place in Crown Heights, Brooklyn from the early 1960s, a hub of Jamaican music culture in New York for nearly three decades. Chin-Randy’s was a distinct business from Randy’s Records in Jamaica and predated VP Records in New York by more than a decade.
“Every Man Aught To Know [sic]” first appeared on Randy’s Giant label as a 7-inch single in 1973. As an LP, Every Man Ought To Know was released in the UK on the Count Shelly label in 1974, and then on the Impact! label through Chin-Randy’s. The original 7.5 i.p.s. reel-to-reel tape was sent from London to New York, where it remained in storage for the last five decades, passing from Victor Chin to his sister Molly (Chin) Feliciano, whose Musicland labels Hot Shot!, Big Hit!, and Leo are well known to record collectors and afficionados of the music Mecca that Utica Avenue in Brooklyn once was. This release represents the first physical reissue of Every Man Ought To Know since 1974 and was prompted by the rediscovery of the tape.
Of the album’s 14 tracks, all but two (“Just Out Of Reach” and “Stick By Me”) appeared on 7-inch 45 r.p.m. singles between 1971 and 1973. As noted, the album is a bridge and includes several slack songs in the vein of “Wet Dream,” such as “Big Twenty” (a.k.a. “Play With Your Pussy”) and “Pussy Watchman.” While these are tucked away at the end of the album sequence, it’s notable that the first track, a cover of the Partridge Family’s benign pop hit “I Woke Up In Love This Morning,” appeared on the LP sleeve as the more provocative “I Woke Up In Love Orgy,” presumably an inside joke from Bunny Lee or Count Shelly. For this release, the orgy was called off.
The track selection abounds with diverse covers and adaptations, including the aforementioned “I Woke Up In Love,” written by Lawrence Russell Brown and Irwin Levine; “Just Out Of Reach,” written by Virgil Stewart and popularized by Perry Como; “Walking Along,” recorded by doowop groups The Solitaires and then The Diamonds*; “Sometimes,” written and recorded by Gene Thomas; “Stick By Me,” originally by Shep & The Limelights (later a smash hit for John Holt); “Jailer Bring Me Water,” a Bobby Darin original; and “Shame And Scandal,” a calypso popularized by Sir Lancelot (Victor Penard) and Lord Melody (Fitzoy Alexander), and later recorded by The Wailers as a ska tune.
The album’s Jamaican originals include the title track, plus “Life Is Beautiful,” “Man In Your Life,” and “Big Twenty,” all by Maxwell Smith (a.k.a. Max Romeo); “Two Face People,” co-authored by Bunny Lee and Max Romeo; and “Pussy Watchman” and “Rent Crisis,” both co-authored by Max Romeo and Niney The Observer.
Truly, every man ought to know.
— Carter Van Pelt, December 2022
Quotes excerpted from interviews by Shrik Kotecha (DJ 745) for WorldAReggae, and Linton Hinds, Jr. for I Never Knew TV.
Photograph by Peter Simon, under license from the Peter Simon Estate.
*The Solitaires cut of “Walking Along” on Old Town Records in 1957 was originally credited to the five group members, Love-Willis-Baylor-Owens-Gaston, but has since rested with group member Winston Willis and Hy and/or Sam Weiss, founders of Old Town.
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Vinyl Giveaway: Max Romeo’s “Every Man Ought To Know”