Uptown Babies Don’t Cry is from the Max Romeo album War Ina Babylon. This album was produced by the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry. This is one of those songs that has been in my head nonstop since I’ve heard it. You have been warned.
I love the serious message song wrapped in upbeat music. I have always loved that juxtaposition. In this song lyrics about poverty, in particular childhood poverty and the difference between how rich and poor children, are accompanied by a sunny melody and music that sounds like melting cotton candy.
I don’t know why this kind of juxtaposition has always appealed to me. I love great pop melodies and I am interested in ideas, so perhaps it is just a combination, where I get two things that interest me in one dose. However, I also think anytime one speaks the truth is a cause for joy. I think this is especially true in this day and age, when misinformation run rampant.
Another way to view a song like this, that has that juxtaposition of light music with heavy themes, is to think of the writer as coming to clarity. The writer might be trying to express something, either something they know but have not been able to put in the form of song, or something that maybe they know intuitively and have finally found a way to express it. Maybe the writer is elated to find a way to express something they believe in and then they write the music featuring the elation at that clarity of purpose.
Also, comedy is a place where the truth can be spoken in a way that is acceptable. There is something about songs that have that combination of lyrics and music as being akin to comedy. Not that the song is a joke song, but that it opens the way to an idea in a way that might reach people where a depressive downer of a song might not. (And don’t get me wrong, I love depressive downer songs as well.) There is also a certain gallows humor in it. The way a soldier might laugh in a trench in order to deal with a less than ideal reality.
Is there also not joy in struggle? “We know what is really going on, but we are still not going to let you beat us.” This song, and others like it, is not only getting something across to an audience, but also features positive vibrations so that someone might actually be moved to do something.
I have no idea what was going on when this song was written. These are all just theories, questions more than answers. At the end of the day something about this song just fills me with joy, despite its subject matter. I want to laugh and dance to it, and the melody of the chorus, the exclamation point of the message, is now with me more times than i can count.
“Uptown babies don’t cry, they don’t know what hunger is like…”