Its title derived not from Buddy Holly but from the Book of Psalms, “Fade Away” is a masterpiece of conscious roots music, the devotional style of reggae that became predominant in the mid-1970s. A veteran of the rocksteady-era band The Versatiles, Kerrie “Junior” Byles sings with gentle determination about the follies of vanity and avarice – “One who’s always acting smart, and don’t carry no love in his heart, shall fade away” – over an arrangement of almost monastic sparseness.

The song was one of the first classics to come out of Channel One, the Kingston studio run by Chinese Jamaican brothers Joseph and Ernest Hookim, whose house band was notable for bringing together the duo that became the finest rhythm section in the history of reggae. Here, future mixing-desk supremos Sly Dunbar (drums) and Robbie Shakespeare (bass) deliver a characteristic heavy groove under the prominent piano chords of Theophilus Beckford (whose pioneering 1959 hit “Easy Snappin’” is credited as the very first ska single). Byles’s voice is serene and warm, a lone Franciscan in a genre that generally tended towards Old Testament wrath.

Sadly, it proved to be Byles, rather than the vain and avaricious, who faded away. A devout Rastafarian, he was broken by the news of Haile Selassie’s death in 1975, which appeared to contradict the Ethiopian emperor’s status as a living god. Byles had a nervous breakdown and even attempted suicide. By 1987, Jamaica’s Gleaner newspaper reported that he had been spotted, destitute, foraging for rotting fruit in the bins outside the country’s top recording studios, the very site of his triumphs a decade earlier.

<< Influenced by: None Shall Escape The Judgement, Johnny Clarke (1974)

>> Influence on: Rich Ah Getting Richer, Rebel MC (1991)

|| Covered by: New Age Steppers (1980)

This piece is an omitted entry from the book 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die (Cassell) – consider it song no. 1005.

Fade Away | Junior Byles (1975)

Writer: Junior Byles
Producer: Jo Jo Hookim
Label: Well Charge
Album: n/a

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