[In which we go to Vietnam by way of Kingston…]
Desmond Dekker’s catalog is mostly filled with sunny-sounding ska tracks; even when the lyrics have a social message the music is typically uplifting and the lyrics tend to hit on redemption, biblical or otherwise. You would expect this from someone’s whose first single was “Honour Your Mother and Father.” But with “Warlock” Dekker went darker and moodier, with spiderwebbed guitars that add an atmosphere of caution or suspense, and a voice hitting a catlike scream on a couple of occasions. Even when he sings “This is the freedom train/So get on board” it sounds like it could be mocking or sinister, or both. At about the 2:10 mark, after a brief scream, an organ appears and conjures another dimension of moodiness to the track: the kind of moodiness that would fit well in a movie scene to heighten suspense.
Music by itself is a powerful force once a song you like enters your mind. It not only sticks around in your head as something that can be revisited by repetitive playback, but a song or an album can act as a landmark in a person’s life too, as a way of remembering years or friends or events from the past (a song that reminds you of a boyfriend or girlfriend, or of a particular year in high school or college, etc.). Music also evokes a feeling on film with the use of soundtracks. Most of the time the feeling comes with something that we have seen, but sometimes there are songs that paint the picture for us in a movie that is unseen by anyone else. Driving in your car with a song blaring can make on feel like they are in a movie (“Bohemian Rhapsody” being an obvious example). “Warlock” to me creates a scene in which a guy—a cop, a hitman, someone wronged—finally finds the bad guy he’s after in a public place. This song has such a tension to it while having a fluid rhythm; the perfect music to play during a central conflict playing out at a club or a bar.
The notion that music can act as a soundtrack in an imaginary sense or as a soundtrack for life will be an overriding theme for this site going forward as one of my favorite movies of all time is Fantasia, a movie that aimed to give visuals to music in unprecedented ways, then or since. “Warlock” is a terrific ska/reggae song on its own accord, performed by the first Jamaican artist to hit it on international charts. But the moodiness and the atmosphere of the track elevate it beyond a simple song when listened to while driving at night, or hearing it in a small bar, or while sitting on a Caribbean beach hearing it from a nearby cabana—wherever music connects with you in different ways and create new landmarks in your mind.