If Gregory Isaacs never did anything else, he would be remembered for ‘Night Nurse’, his slinky, seductive, sexy and salacious nocturnal emission of a song, released in 1982 and tickling fancies ever since. Isaacs has a cardiac emergency and only a particular medical professional can fix it. “I’m hurt, my love,” he purrs, turning his nose up at the offer of a doctor and medication, and watching something else go up over the starched ministrations of a fob-watch-wearing angel. Pulses also went up worldwide after he sang the song, though there’s nothing remotely lewd about the lyrics; the passionate power of ‘Night Nurse’ resides entirely in Gregory’s oh-so-certain delivery and that murmuring tone that made him one of reggae’s most arresting (and, sadly, arrested) voices. Self-produced, Night Nurse the album presents a supremely confident operator, singing over a just-enough rub-a-dub background delivered by the Roots Radics. It’s a crafty, Pavlov’s dog production strategy calculated to leave fans salivating.
Isaacs doesn’t fuss anywhere on Night Nurse. Nothing rises above a steamy simmer; even ‘Hot Stepper’ doesn’t boil – he can dance to a slow tune just as strongly, it seems. It’s almost a witticism that Isaacs sings ‘Cool Down The Pace’, because the tempo could hardly be more temperate throughout; he’s simply urging a partner to take it easy, though it’s unclear whether that refers to her steps or her love-a-dub style. You can take it either way, which is a Gregory trademark: any rudeness is purely in your mind, honest.
‘Material Man’ is even slower, a rare venture into cultural matters for Night Nurse, with the singer trying to calculate the reason for the exploitation he, and Rastas in general, have suffered; Gregory’s insight here is that the rich whose forefathers enacted slavery are still benefiting from the crime, even if they didn’t carry it out. ‘Stranger In Town’ uses the novelty of a fresh face to devastating sexual effect; ‘Give Me A Chance’ is an elegant version of a song he also recorded as ‘Make My Confession’. ‘Not The Way’ offers a paternalism that was lyrically dubious even in 1982, though it does reject abuse; ‘Sad To Know (You’re Leaving)’ is an inevitable way to close the album.
Gregory and what was then reggae’s ruling rhythm section made a perfect combination; both know how to pace themselves and make themselves perfectly clear. While a slew of loverman tunes might seem a little one-dimensional, Gregory doesn’t put a foot wrong, subtly delivering them with an artisan’s skill, as you might expect from a man tagged The Cool Ruler. He already had a reputation as the great seducer, despite being every bit as adept with a roots message; Night Nurse spread that reputation beyond the music’s usual borders. The girls who bought lover’s rock in mid-70s UK were now grown up, and Night Nurse met their listening – and perhaps, romantic – needs.
Gregory once made a record called Extra Classic, and that applies to this album too. Lovesick? The prescription is clear: send for the Night Nurse.
Night Nurse can be bought here.
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