Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sheila Hylton Covers The Police's "The Bed's Too Big Without You" And Scores A Hit!

“Lived through the days, but late at night….”

In contrast to the spiky experimental sounds recorded by The Slits (who were produced by Dennis Bovell) and the heavy dub of The Clash (produced by Mikey Dread), The Police took inspiration from Bob Marley, whose accessible pop had established itself widely by the late 70s. It was this reggae influence that The Police synthesized into their sound that set them apart from many of their contemporaries. The band melded Andy Summer's rock guitar to Sting and Stewart Copeland's reggae-styled riddims to create some of the most accessible and catchy reggae influenced music of the late 70's and early 80's.

According to Sting, reggae became a part of the bands DNA during the recording of "Reggatta De Blanc" album in 1979.  "That was where it all clicked. There was so much happening in my writing and singing, Stewart's and Andy's playing, and suddenly it all meshed together. We had reggae influences in our vocabulary and they became synthesised into our infrastructure until it was utterly part of our sound and you couldn't really call it reggae anymore. It was just the way we played. That's the great thing about rock'n'roll. It bastardises everything, and I much prefer mongrels over pure races. As a musician, you learn your craft and emulate and copy people, and suddenly there's a moment in your development when you grow up and finally become yourself. I think 'Reggatta' was that moment for us. Then we got caught up in the whole business of becoming a "successful rock group" and almost lost it. We calmed down after that, but we had to work hard to get back into that serendipitous state again."

Though bands like The Police and The Clash took much of their inspiration from Jamaican music and culture, it was a two way street of respect and influence as Jamaican artists of the late 70's were inspired by the energy of punk and ska and its counterculture anti-establishment stance. You don't need to look any further than Bob Marley and his reggae anthem "Punky Reggae Party" to see the link between UK ska and punk bands and JA reggae artists. The lyrics to the song name check leading UK punk bands and pick up Johnny Rotten's rant against corporate rock and roll. And so, with The Police successfully performing reggae pop music that catapulted them up the charts, Jamaican artists, took notice.

Sheila Hylton was juggling careers as a flight attendant and reggae singer in 1980 when she stepped into a London record store and bought a copy  Reggatta de Blanc, which included the song "The Bed's Too Big Without You." Hylton was so taken with the song's reggae grooves she decided to record her own version on her return to Jamaica. According to Hylton, "One of the first things I said to myself was, 'It would be great to get Sly and Robbie on this song'." 

Hylton was British-born but moved back to Jamaica as a young girl.  According to her Trojan Records profile:
Five years after her birth in London, Sheila Hylton was living in Kingston with her grandparents, whose influence on the musical development of the child proved profound. Her grandfather, a keen Jazz enthusiast, exposed the youngster the sounds of such luminaries as Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, while the developing sound of Ska was never too far away.
Sheila went on to attend the Jamaica Commercial Institute, which ultimately led to a secretarial position with Tony Laing at Total Sounds Records. Although the job served to further inspire her musical aspirations, she decided instead to train as a flight attendant with Air Jamaica, due to her grandfather's involvement in aviation with Pan American Airlines. She did not altogether abandon her hopes of making a career in music, however, and through her association with Total Sounds, she concurrently embarked on her musical career with respected producer, Harry Johnson. Her initial recording was a version of the Ebony's 'Life In The Country', although it was her popular version of the Emotions' 'Don't Ask My Neighbour' that led to a series of successful sessions at Harry J's Kingston studio.
In the early '70s, Harry Johnson had issued a hugely successful version of the Dusty Springfield / Baby Washington hit, 'Breakfast In Bed' by Lorna Bennett and with Sheila's voice the perfect vehicle for a reworking of the song, the producer had her re-cut the song in the latest style. This new version even managed to surpass Lorna's interpretation when it entered the British Pop chart in 1979, so inspiring UK-based Popsters UB40 and Chrissie Hind to record it nine years on - their version scoring a Top Ten hit in 1988.
In 1980, Hylton recorded an adaptation of `The Bed's Too Big Without You' with Jamaica's Riddim Twins, Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare working alongside Johnson. The recording proved an instant favourite and marked her second foray into the UK Pop charts.

Check out side by side versions of the track. Which one do you prefer?

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