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Tuesday, 26 November 2019
Trojan: In The Spirit of 69 - Boss Reggae Compilations
These three compilations releases from Trojan Records cover the 1968-1970 period of "skinhead"/"boss" reggae typified by its stomping beat and fairground organ backing, enhanced often by a punchy brass sound. The music, incongruously, became the music of choice of the white, working class British skinhead sub-culture. The skinheads liked the music of the black teenagers in their area, despite not liking the kids themselves, something that was always very odd. The stomping nature of the music also was ideally suited to the big, clumping Doc Martens boots of the skinheads.
Basically, the tempo never slows on this material, offering a steady "skank" rhythm to dance that jerky dance that Madness appropriated in the late seventies/early eighties. It is fast, uptempo reggae that ensures you can't keep still and it invariably lifts your spirits by its sheer vibrancy.
As with all the reggae recorded during this era, the sound quality can be questionable on some of the cuts and it varies from track to track. Many of them were recorded in rudimentary conditions and are also considerable rarities, available only on relatively imperfect vinyl singles. These collections are full of rarities, you will find no Israelites or Young, Gifted And Black here. Not even The Liquidator. So, the sound is ok on some, not quite so on others. Mostly it is ok, however, and indeed it is the rough and ready sound that is part of the appeal of this stuff.
Some fine stomping skankers are the ska-influenced Woman Capture by The Ethiopians; the instrumental beat of The Upsetters' Soul Stew; the solid, steady skank of Ease Up by The Bleechers; the South African-influenced instrumental Soul Pipe by Karl "King Cannon" Bryan; the contemporarily-relevant Biafra by The Crystalites (Biafra was a war-torn area of Nigeria, affected by civil war and consequent famine in 1970); Mr. DJ by The Conquerors and Johnny Osbourne's The Warrior. Another topical number is Decimal Currency (introduced in the UK in 1971) by The Blenders.
Some lyrical, saucy "slackness" is to be found in songs like Hopeton Lewis's Sexy Woman and its references to a "big fat man" "wrecking a pum-pum". Charming. Another in the same vein is Kid Gungo's Hold The Pussy.
There are also some numbers influenced by, or covers of, easy listening standards, such as You Belong To My Heart by The Demons and Diana by Alton Ellis. Motown is also covered, such as The Temptations' You're My Everything by The Techniques. Ernest Wilson also covers William Bell & Judy Clay's Private Number and Anonymously Yours do The Isley Brothers' It's Your Thing.
An odd couple of links from the boss reggae era were those with the "spaghetti western" films - included here on tracks like A Taste Of Killing and Return Of The Ugly by The Upsetters and The Ugly One (Lee Van Cleef) by King Stitt - and the 1969 moon landings, of which there is a whole album here. The most famous tracks are Moon Hop by Derrick Morgan and, of course, Skinhead Moonstop by Symarip. Quite a few of the moon-inspired tracks are instrumentals, like Ansel Collins' organ-driven Moon Dust.
As the new decade opened, it became de rigeur for many reggae producers to add conventional pop strings to the skanking sound to secure play and popularity on chart-targeted radio. Things like Nicky Thomas's Love Of The Common People, Greyhound's Let Your Yeah Be Yeah and Bob & Marcia's Young, Gifted And Black are classic examples of this. They duly became big hits and reggae "crossed over" to become part of the mainstream chart scene in a way that boss reggae never had. This delightfully raw sub-genre suddenly became left behind as the skinhead cult faded too, By 1972 it was all chart reggae, longer hair, flared trousers and round ended collars. It was a great three years or so and these three excellent compilations sum it up perfectly.
- November 26, 2019