Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | August 23, 2009
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STORY OF THE SONG - Gender jibes on 'Bigger Boss'

Dwight Pinkney

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

Men and women, represented by the voices of Dwight Pinkney and Shirley McLean, respectively, jibe in two senses of the word on the 1986 hit Bigger Boss.

They spar verbally throughout the Pinkney-penned song, alternating lines as they claim dominance and, in the end, they seem to agree (although it is unstated) that a balance is necessary for both to thrive.

Pinkney, who also played rhythm guitar on the track, sings "man is the bigger boss, bigger, bigger boss", McLean countering "woman is the bigger boss, bigger bigger, bigger boss". In the early stages, Pinkney sings "who was the first one on creation?", to which McLean replies "Eve had him eating out of her hand".

And, coming up to the end, Pinkney goes for the big day, asking "whose name has to change on the wedding day?" And McLean relies on matters of procreation, demanding "I want you tell me who gives birth to the baby" before they chorus merrily "I am the bigger boss".

Empowering women

Pinkney, who wrote the entire song, says he approached McLean because "she is one of the artistes I admire when it comes to female matters". In a separate interview with The Sunday Gleaner, McLean points out that she had a number of top 10 songs, such as Nuh Scrub Nuh Floor, empowering women. So Bigger Boss "was right in line with what I was writing at the time". Pinkney had hit previously with Nenge Nenge.

The music was recorded at Channel One, downtown Kingston, and the vocals laid at the then Aquarius Studio in Half-Way Tree. Musicians included Scully on percussions, Stanley Bray on drums, Danny 'Axeman' Thompson (bass), Glendon Anderson and Mallory Williams (keyboards), Lascelles Hewitt (rhythm guitar) and Pinkney (lead guitar), the Midnight Riders doing harmony vocals.

Pinkney says he knew Bigger Boss was a hit, based on the reaction of people at the studios. While that is not always a sure indication, it does provide a springboard behind the song. He says "musically it was solid, the storyline was solid and you could relate to it, both genres".

"As a writer, you try to find something that is commercial. You going to find a slot where you don't have a bunch of that storyline out there," he told The Sunday Gleaner about the songwriting process. "You did not have many male-female duets going on at that time and none of that storyline. That's the process I used and it worked."

Bigger Boss caught on immediately and hit the top spot on the JBC radio charts, Pinkney remembering it peaking at about number two on RJR's. McLean recalls that it was awarded Song of the Year at the Rockers Awards and by both radio stations.

Pinkney says what put Bigger Boss in another realm was its music video. Unlike other videos of the day where mostly studio shots of the performers using headphones were used, "we did a mini-movie almost. That helped propel it".

There was a side effect, as Pinkney says the video made him a mini-superstar at his daughter's school, Wolmer's Prep. "I had to be hiding when I went to pick her up. The children would swarm me. I had to park somewhere away and get a message to her. Those were children. I can only imagine adults," Pinkney said.

'Biggest song to date'

He says he did not perform much in those days, leaning more to recording, and there was one particular singer who literally took over the song. One performance that does stand out, though, is at McLean's wedding, where she joined him onstage in her wedding gown.

McLean says Pinkney had altered the words for the occasion and "I don't know what got into me. I said I had to do it with him. I just said no man. In my wedding dress, I just go up there and sing it". She also remembers outstanding performances on Sunsplash and a Sly and Robbie concert held at Cinema 2 in New Kingston.

"It is my biggest song to date," McLean said. And Pinkney sums up "it was really fun".

  • Men, women battle over 'Legal Rights', 'Sweetheart'

    It is perhaps inevitable that the sometimes 'battle of the sexes' finds its way into song, male and female performers sparring verbally as they seek the upper hand for their respective genders.

    All in good fun, of course.

    Jamaican music has had a few songs where male-female duets work out issues of gender equality verbally.

    1. Legal Rights. The 1983 dancehall song from the lyrical marathon man and his protégé on Creation sound system from Spanish Town declared (the two singing the lines together) "man have a right, woman have a right too, if you don't hurt me, me nah go hurt you". (This is after, in the beginning, Papa San muses "me have my legal right" and Lady G replies "me have my legal right too" and Papa San observes "di two a wi even".) The hurt comes up soon enough, as after labelling Lady G his "sugar plum-plum", Papa San warns "if u eva cheat pon me, try gimme bun, de mount a lick yu get yu body come dung". And Lady G retorts "when yu ready fi come, anytime yu lick me, yu days woulda done, me have a police cousin weh live a Kingston". And so they continue, waxing lyrical on matters of infidelity (at one point Lady G demands "gimme way mek mi pass, mi ago phone fi mi man a New York") and breaking up before Lady G jokes "look how you a sweat" and saying "a joke me a mek".

    The pair also had Round-table Talk, with Lady G ordering Papa San around his household chores and requesting that he stop wearing her clothes.

    2. Bim and Clover's 1975 Sweetheart is anything but sweet nothings between a pair of lovers. Bim tells Clover "I would like you and my sweetheart to be friends", proposing that she get chummy with the person whom in Jamaica some years later would be called her 'matie'. He suggests "that's the only way your jealousy will end". Clover replies "the wife and sweetheart should never be friends", but later in the song she turns the tables on Bim and, after a jolly laugh, says "I would like you and my sweetheart to be friends". An angry Bim retorts "never dare to use those words to me again!" Clover quickly says "I was only making fun" and a still angry Bim answers "that's one joke I don't run!"

    - Mel Cooke

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