Certain Songs #805: John Holt – “Ali Baba”

Album: Greatest Hits
Year: 1969

So, back in the early part of this millennium, I still used to buy music magazines at a pretty alarming rate. And at some point — probably after I moved to LA and probably because of Tim — I started buying the U.K. rock history mags, Mojo and Uncut.

One of the cool things about buying either Mojo or Uncut from the newsstands was that they always had a free CD, usually keyed to whatever the theme of the magazine was that month.

Sometimes these CDs were cool, sometimes they were crap — or didn’t offer me anything I hadn’t already heard — but sometimes they were spot-on, like Mojo’s awesome collection of primeval reggae, Trojan Explosion!, where the main discovery was John Holt’s primal piece of groove “Ali Baba.”

John Holt is probably best known as the co-writer of Blondie’s “The Tide is High,” as performed with his group The Paragons (which I don’t think I’ve ever heard.)

In any event, “Ali Baba” is driven by a horn line and flute line playing circles around each other, with Holt’s lyrics featuring a jumble of mythos and boasting.

My dream last night was about Ali Baba
With the forty thieves
Tom, Tom, the piper’s son, he was there with me
I rode through the valley with the princess by my side
I did a reggae reggae reggae last night
With the princess by my side

And sure, it doesn’t make any sense, but who cares, because every single downstroke of the guitar and every single swoop of the organ and every single syllable that came out of Holt’s mouth was pure and utter riddim, even though he undersings it the entire time

But that singing is part of why “Ali Baba” works for me. Any other way but “here’s my dream, make of it what you will,” wouldn’t work, because it would undercut the key feature of “Ali Baba:” the insistent, sensual vibe that made the ludicrous seem so sensible.

“Ali Baba”

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2 Responses to “Certain Songs #805: John Holt – “Ali Baba””

  1. IOB says:

    The Paragons’ “Tide is High” definitely merits a spin. The vocals are so sublime that I’ve never been able to regard the Blondie version as much more than OK.

  2. Jim Connelly says:

    Yeah. I feel like I need to go back and dig up his Paragons work.