Doing some of my usual wandering through Billboard Hot 100 charts and videos at YouTube this morning, I found myself sifting through several reggae versions of the same Neil Diamond song. I started here:
The 1970 cover by Jr. Walker & The All Stars of Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy” – a No. 6 hit from 1969 – got only as high as No. 75 in the Hot 100. In fact, that’s where the record was sitting forty-two years ago today: No. 75. (It went to No. 33 on the R&B chart.) Even though I was a dedicated Top 40 listener back in those days, I don’t recall hearing the Walker cover, which is not at all surprising. At Oldiesloon, a quick scan of surveys from the Twin Cities’ stations KDWB and WDGY around the time 1970 turned into 1971 showed no sign of the Walker version. (The highest Walker’s cover of “Holly Holy” got in any survey listed at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive is No. 14, at KASR in Astoria, Oregon, which is surreal even for 1971.)
I wondered, as I often do, about other covers, so I took a quick look at Second Hand Songs. Now, I imagine that I’ve dug into titles at that website more than a hundred times over the past few years, and on occasion, I’ll find a listing for a reggae cover of a specific tune. But four reggae covers of the same song? Never.
I don’t know much about reggae, being at best a casual listener. There are some LPs in the stacks, mostly Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and Ziggy Marley. I recognize Marley’s stuff when it comes on the radio on WXYG. But beyond that, the data banks are pretty clean. So I did not recognize the three solo performers listed at Second Hand Songs as having recorded covers of “Holly Holy.”
The 1970 cover by John Holt, which sounds to me a little like reggae light for some reason, was released as a single on the Bamboo label. Also in 1970, Jackie Mittoo recorded “Holly Holy,” releasing it on his album, Now. Four years later, Willie Lindo included the song on his album Far & Distant. Of the three, I think I prefer the Lindo version, but Mittoo’s is okay. (There are entries on both Holt and Mittoo at Wikipedia. Information on Lindo is a little sketchier, but there are a few pages out there with some stuff.)
The fourth reggae version listed at Second Hand Songs was by a more familiar group: UB40. The group from Birmingham, England, included the tune on their 1998 album, Labor of Love III, and it’s pretty good: