Monday, 6 January 2020

Reggae Compilations

The Treasure Isle Story

This is a truly wonderful 115 track compilation from the legendary Arthur "Duke" Reid’s Treasure Isle label, covering various initial reggae sub-genres such as Ska, Mento, Rock Steady, Bluebeat and early reggae. There are also several rarities from the vaults, such as What Have I Done by The Versatiles and There She Goes by Hopeton Lewis and I have to say as well that the sound is absolutely outstanding, considering that early reggae recordings are often pretty lo-fi. The remastering of many of the tracks is clear, sharp, warm and bassy. Check out the bass and percussion on Tyrone EvansCry Little Girl, Cry or on Don't Run For A Hiding Place by The Silvertones. It is really impressive for reggae from this period.

The highlights are too many to mention individually, unfortunately, but here are a few.

Boys And Girls Reggae by Phyllis Dillon is magnificently lively, deep and thumping (as also is her groovy Don’t Stay Away). Try keeping your feet still to it. It uses the Brown Girl In The Ring vocal refrain in places along with some Dave & Ansil Collins-style organ breaks. Her cover of Marlena's Shaw's Woman Of The Ghetto is superb too.

Ken Parker’s I Can Hide is similarly fast, melodic and uplifting. Proper rock-steady skanking. Some Rasta-style chanting is included on the beat to Margarita’s Woman A ComeThe Melodians’ I Will Get Along Without You was covered by soul singer Viola Wills in 1979. UB40 have also covered it.

The infectious tones of ska are all over the set in numbers like The Skatalites’ Latin Goes Ska and Eastern Standard Time. Check out the infectious groove of Stranger Cole’s Yeah Yeah Baby or the bass on Alton Ellis's cover of Blood, Sweat & TearsYou Make Me So Very HappyEllis's Rock Steady has now become an iconic number.

Early roots is there with Justin Hinds & The Dominoes’ Sinners (Where Are You Gonna Hide) and early Lovers Rock in Joya Landis's Moonlight Lover. The latter, however, suffers a little from slightly inferior sound, compared to some of the other songs. Justin Hinds also contributes the addictive Save A Bread with its The Tide Is High beatHis early but enthusiastic Rub Up Push Up is pretty irresistible too

Treasure Isle as a label sometimes gets overlooked by its parent label TrojanIsland and latterly Virgin's Front Line releases which should never be allowed to happen as there was some seriously good material released during the formative years of reggae. The foundations of so much later reggae can be found here. A listen to this excellent collection is always an uplifting experience.

Dancing Down Orange Street (1969)

Originally released by Trojan Records early in 1969, Dancing Down Orange Street is today widely regarded as one of the finest and most sought after albums from the classic “boss reggae” era. This was the era when the early reggae sub-genres of ska, bluebeat and rock steady began to morph into what was known as either “early reggae”, “classic reggae” and sometimes, depending on the pace and the beat, “boss reggae” or “skinhead reggae”. Most of the stuff on here falls very much into the latter category, of the style that typified the Tighten Up era.

The original album, showcasing a dozen of the most popular late rock steady and early reggae productions of legendary Jamaican producer Sonia Pottinger, is presented here in its entirety for the first time on CD, with the original twelve track selection bolstered by a further thirteen bonus tracks from the period.

The sound on the album is variable, as is often the case on these old reggae compilations. Some tracks are well remastered, some cannot be improved, no matter how skilled the remastering. Most of them are pretty good, however, with a nice, full bassy sound. Once you start listening to the album and you realise that it is not 100% perfect hi-fi you accept it and enjoy it for what it is. As I said, it is more than acceptable anyway.

Delano Stewart’s That’s Life and the deliciously bassy Tell Me Baby are highlights. Heartaches by The Melodians is a harmonious and lively upbeat number. Ken Boothe’s Somewhere is thoroughly infectious and catchy. It has a nice, warm sound to it too plus Boothe's trademark highly-enunciated vocals. His Lady With The Starlight is a little cheesy, however. The instrumental of Delroy Wilson's It Hurts is as infectious as all the material, despite its lack of vocals. Look Pon You by The Conquerors is an upbeat skank but it introduces patois-based roots lyrics that would be even more prevalent as we moved into the seventies. Ken Boothe's Live Good has a really nice deep bass thump to it. The AfrotonesAll For One (If I'm In A Corner) is a lively, organ-driven tune typical of late sixties reggae. The MelodiansLonely has a few pointers towards the melodious material groups such as The Abyssinians, The Mighty Diamonds and The Gladiators would put out in the mid-seventies. Delroy Wilson ("The Cool Operator") ends the original album with a nice soulful number in I'm The One Who Loves You.

The quality continues into the bonus tracks with Delroy Wilson's It Hurts and Delano Stewart's pulsating, vibrant Rocking Sensation getting things off to a fine start. The pace slows ever so slightly for the soulful tones of Patsy's We Were Lovers. A groovy bit of South African-style flute dominates the jaunty instrumental Round Seven from The Soul Rhythms. It ends suddenly as so many tracks did from this genre/period. Their other instrumental, National Lottery, is practically the same. Again, it ends abruptly. The rest of the tracks keep up the same standard and style, to be honest, so I won't describe every single one, other than say that the "album" of bonus tracks is possibly the superior collection to the original released album.

In The Spirit Of 69: Boss Reggae Collections


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 UpsettersSoul 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 TemptationsYou're My Everything by The TechniquesErnest 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 PeopleGreyhound'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.

Miscellaneous Boss Reggae Collections 

Trojan Suedehead


This is one of the now increasingly defunct three CD box sets from Trojan that were around in the late nineties/early 2000s. There is some good stuff on it and the sound quality is excellent. It covers the period around 1972 when skinheads had grown their hair and become suedeheads.

Dennis Brown’s Silhouette is a mid-pace, intuitive romantic bassy skank. The Three Tops’ Take Time Out is a great slow stomper in praise of reggae music in the This Is Reggae Music style. It also has an excellent cover of The Drifters At The Club by Sydney CrooksBig Youth’s Dock Of The Bay is an early example of toasting, delivered over a big, throbbing dubby bass. Glen Brown’s Boat To Progress is a deliciously rich and warm number.

No More Heartaches/What Am I To Do


This is a double album release of two classic Trojan compilations from the skinhead/boss reggae era.

No More Heartaches (1969)

No More Heartaches
 by The Beltones is very catchy, backed by some excellent brass riffs and featuring a winning vocal. King Cannon’s Soul Special is an infectious instrumental powered by some high-pitched saxophone and that similarly shrill fairground-style organ. The Beltones’ Home Without You uses that very South African-style flute so popular with reggae artists in the sixties. King Cannon’s Soul Scorcher has some more fine saxophone on display. Lloyd Robinson’s Cuss Cuss is a well-known boss reggae cult classic, one that appears on a lot of compilations. Its vocal has a roots vibe to it. There is some nice Rasta-style percussion too.

Glen Brown’s Lucky Boy is a big bassy pounder of a song with a catchy, brassy chorus. Check out his Rich In Love (Version 2) as well on What Am I To DoVersion 1 is on this album.

Herbie Carter’s Happy Time is a pleasing, almost lovers rock type groove. The popular spaghetti western theme can be found on the theme tune instrumental Hang ‘Em High by Richard AceHugh Black & George Ferris’ Candy Lady is a seductive, melodic skank. The Jay Boys’ Easy Sounds is a lively instrumental.

What Am I To Do (1970)


What Am I To Do
 by Tony Scott uses the instrumental track to The Liquidator to great effect. It is a good song. Eric Fatter’s Since You’ve Been Gone is a catchy, brassy soulful groove of a skank that suffers a bit from hissy sound. I still like it a lot, however. Early In The Morning by The Jamaicans sounds quite dated for 1970, like something from the mid sixties. Winston Hinds’ Cool Down is another quite lovers rock-sounding number. Harry J’s All Stars’ Wha’ppen has its roots very much in the ska era.

Kid Gungo’s Hold The Pussy is one of those saucy Max Romeo-style songs popular in the early seventies. The Tony Scott cuts Darling If You Love Me and Saturday Night also both sound a bit out of date for 1970. The Woodpeckers’ Zumbelly doesn’t have a great sound and the tune is a bit calypso-ish. Tony Scott’s Bring Back That Smile is ok but The Jamaicans’ Mr. Lonely is another that sounds a bit behind the times.

Out of these two compilations, I prefer No More Heartaches as it it does not contain as much dated material. I feel, however, that neither of these are as good as, say, Tighten Up Volume 2The Upsetters’ Clint EastwoodReturn Of Django or Trojan’s Do The ReggaeBoss Reggae or Sock It To Me collections. All of these are better representations of the more raw, earthy, credible skinhead/boss reggae era.

Tighten Up Volume One


The original Tighten Up collection obviously has a position of cultural importance  but, for me, it has always suffered from poor sound, something that has now been comparatively rectified on Volume Two. Highlights are Derrick Morgan’s Fat ManByron Lee & The Dragonaires’ Soul Limbo and Joya Landis’s sonically ropey but appealing Kansas City. Some of the material on here is very much of the sixties, such as Val Bennett’s Spanish Harlem. The true skinhead/boss sound has yet to truly kick in. It still has an early days appeal though. This was an album of foundations. For many, it was the first reggae album they ever owned.

Tighten Up Volume Two


This is a hugely expanded version of Volume Two of the iconic early seventies compilation series, increasing from the original twelve to a massive forty-eight tracks. The emphasis is once again on skinhead/boss reggae from the early seventies. The more commercial string-enhanced chart hits of the period are absent, it is boss reggae stomping all the way. I remember this album always suffering from pretty ropey sound on some of the tracks but this deluxe edition is the best remastering of the tracks that I have heard. Obviously, original sound limitations are still there but there is a nice warm bass sound and a general cleaning up of the sound, as far as possible anyway. The cuts are in mono, as they always were, but it is a powerful, warm mono.

Although it was the afore-mentioned chart hits that really saw the public catch on to reggae at the time, including my thirteen year-old self, in many ways this is the authentic sound of early seventies reggae. This was the stuff the real aficionados were listening to - Don Letts, Keith Richards, Mick Jones, the Campbell brothers, The Specials, Madness and many more.

This extended release is just a pure joy from beginning to end. As well as the boss cuts there is an early example of lovers rock in Joya Landis’s Moonlight Lover and some saucy slackness in The Soul Sisters’ Wreck A Buddy and The Versatiles’ Push It In. There is some contemporary ska from Rico & The Rudies’ Jumping The GunRico Rodriguez would, of course, go on to join The Specials and the song here features his classic trombone sound. There is also Delroy Wilson’s fine cover of the Motown number Put Yourself In My Place. If you don’t want to listen to all the tracks, just try the first twelve, the original album that found its way into so many collections back in the early seventies. Oh and I forgot to mention the cover...

Monkey Business: The Definitive Skinhead Reggae Collection

The skinhead fascination with reggae in the 1968-1972 period (particularly the sixties years) was an odd thing. It was completely authentic, however, along with cherry red boots with however many lace holes were required and grandad shirts with braces went a musical taste for the stomping, regular beat of Jamaica rock steady that was morphing into "reggae". The phrase was coined in 1968 and the Trojan label in particular released some absolutely classic singles. They were the Motown of Jamaica - a veritable conveyor belt of two-three minute hit singles. Lots of them are contained on this estimable compilation, as well as a lot of the lesser-known numbers that now have a "cult" appeal. Stuff that was played in the skinhead pubs in the late sixties before they went off for a "ruck" before the "'Ammers" match. Of course, there were endless negative aspects to the skinhead culture that don't even need emphasising, but there was something strangely fascinating about this bizarre fusion of a delinquescent youth culture and the youth music from an island whose inhabitants they supposedly hated and didn't want in the UK. All pretty incomprehensible. One of music's more perplexing genres. Highly recommended though.

More Monkey Business

This is the follow up to the compilation of "skinhead reggae" from the late sixties/early seventies, also known as "boss reggae" or sometimes "original reggae". As I said in the review of Monkey Business, the relationship between the white working class, often violent and racist skinhead culture and the sound of Jamaica was a perplexing one. Taken away from its sometimes unsavoury context, though, it was a thoroughly exciting, vibrant thing and one worthy of celebration, strangely. You simply can't argue with the music, its vitality and its atmosphere.

The sound, as on its sibling release, is varied from track to track, something that cannot be avoided - if the original track was recorded in a shack with a couple of cheap microphones then not too much can be done about it.

Highlights are the prototype roots of John Holt's Ali BabaTheo Beckford's catchy Easy Snappin' (which was covered by UB40); Toots & The MaytalsDo The Reggay (often credited as the first reggae track); The EthiopiansTrain To SkavilleJackpot by The Pioneers (covered by The Beat); the early dub rhythms of The UpsettersFor A Few Dollars More; the embryonic "toasting" from King Stitt on Vigerton 2; the wonderful, singalong Sweet Sensation from The Melodians (also covered by UB40); the equally uplifting gospelly tones of Toots & The MaytalsSweet & DandyDesmond Dekker's skanking It Mek and Derrick Harriott's thumping, boot stomping Moon Hop.

It is also good to have tracks from often unheralded, but impressive artists such as Delano StewartPat KellySlim Smith and Dave Barker (of Dave & Ansil Collins fame).

There are 56 tracks in all, many of them are, as you would expect, skinhead stompers, but there are also the early shots of dub, roots, toasting, dub and dancehall to be found on here.

Club Reggae (1971)

Holly Holy - The Fabulous Flames/54-46 Was My Number - Toots And the Maytals/Double Barrel - Dave and Ansel Collins/Groovy Situation - Derrick Harriott/Take A Letter Maria - Dandy Livingstone/Wear You To The Ball - John Holt & U-Roy/Rivers Of Babylon - The Melodians/The Law - Andy Capp/Hitchin' A Ride - Al T. Joe/I Need Your Sweet Inspiration - The Pioneers/Mo' Bay - Selwyn Baptiste/Boom Shacka Lacka - Hopeton Lewis

This was the first reggae album I bought, in 1972. These days, it seems a pretty short compilation, only twelve tracks, so it doesn't last too long, but back then that was the way things were, it was all you could get hold of.

The classic cuts on here are Toots And The Maytals54-46 Was My NumberThe Melodians' uplifting Rivers Of Babylon and, of course, Dave And Ansel Collins' number one from the summer of 1971, the skinhead stomper Double BarrelUB40 fans will recognise Neil Diamond's Holly Holy and John Holt And U-Roy's quirky, early example of "toasting" in Wear You To The Ball as tracks they covered on Labour Of Love III and II respectively.

Dandy Livingstone's Take A Letter Maria is a cover of Jimmy Ruffin's Motown number, while Mo' Bay is an appealing reggae/steel band instrumental version of Freddie Notes and The RudiesMontego BayHopeton Lewis's infectious Boom Shacka Lacka was a favourite of mine back then. It was adapted in later years by Apache Indian and also done by UB40 on Labour Of Love IV.

Now for the (comparative) rarities. Derrick Harriott's Groovy Situation is a delicious, lovers-style skank. Andy Capp's almost instrumental The Law is a classic piece of thumping skinhead reggae. Hitchin' A Ride is a cover of the poppy sixties hit by Vanity Fare, it is done here by the otherwise little known Al T. Joe. Its sound quality is not great, but that somehow verifies its rarity. The PioneersI Need Your Sweet Inspiration is almost like a Northern Soul floor shaker. It is no surprise, therefore, to see that it has been covered by Diana Ross & The Supremes with The Temptations. However, a similarly-titled song by Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon is a different number.

This was a thirteen year-old boy's first reggae album. A lifetime of enjoyment followed on from these actually quite humble beginnings. Of course, nowadays there are far better reggae compilations around but I enjoy listening to this one for purely nostalgic reasons.

The Harder They Come (1973)

You Can Get It If You Really Want - Desmond Dekker/Draw Your Brakes - Scotty/Rivers Of Babylon - The Melodians/Many Rivers To Cross - Jimmy Cliff/Sweet And Dandy - Toots & The Maytals/The Harder They Come - Jimmy Cliff/Johnny Too Bad - The Slickers/007 (Shanty Town) - Desmond Dekker/Pressure Drop - Toots & The Maytals/Sitting In Limbo - Jimmy Cliff/You Can Get It If You Really Want (Instrumental) - Jimmy Cliff/The Harder They Come (short version) - Jimmy Cliff

Reggae had really not been considered a credible music genre before 1973, despite the many late sixties/early seventies chart hits (particularly in the UK). The release of Bob Marley & The WailersCatch A Fire changed that and in the same year came this iconic soundtrack release. The movie of the same name was a low budget, often incomprehensible (a lot of the speech was in Jamaican patois) but highly atmospheric one and the music used that appears on this album was truly outstanding.

The tracks that had already been hit singles are the ones that always catch the eye for most people - Desmond Dekker's catchy and poppy You Can Get It If You Really Want, his 007 (Shanty Town) and Jimmy Cliff's The Harder They Come. However, it is some of the lesser-known tracks that contain some of the album's most authentic reggae. There is the patois-drenched early roots of Scotty's Draw Your Brakes, the melodious but admonishing Johnny Too Bad from The Slickers and two wonderful cuts from the ebullient Toots & The Maytals - the marvellously lively Sweet And Dandy (a tale of a Jamaican wedding) and Pressure Drop, one of my favourite reggae tracks of all time. There is also the original Rivers Of Babylon by The Melodians, which is far more roots than the Boney M version everyone knows. Strangely two of the album's most evocative numbers do not contain any reggae rhythms. Jimmy Cliff's Sitting In Limbo is a soulful, gentle number, while the truly iconic Many Rivers To Cross is a plaintive, organ-backed ballad.

It is only a short album, and, to be honest, there are many fuller, more complete compilations around, (Trojan Presents: Classic Reggae or Monkey Business: The Definitive Skinhead Reggae Collection to name but two), but the material included on here provides a great bite-sized sample of the irresistible glory of early seventies reggae.

The Trojan Records Story


This is a wonderful box set that encompasses the remarkable output of the legendary Trojan label, that, in many ways WAS reggae. Of course, that would do a disservice to Island and Virgin/Front line, but certainly Trojan was the label that laid the foundations and was responsible for so much great Jamaican reggae music, particularly that material that was became so successful in the UK from the late sixties onwards.

There are five CDs included in this set and this is how they basically pan out.


This CD includes a lot of the "usual suspects" - big, commercial hits that really put reggae on the map in the UK. Red Red Wine by Tony TribeYoung, Gifted And Black by Bob And Marcia, Nicky Thomas's Love Of The Common People, Desmond Dekker's You Can Get It If You Really Want, Double Barrel by Dave & Ansil Collins and Moon River by Greyhound. These were all tracks that I listened to as a twelve-thirteen year-old and they inspired a lifetime's love of reggae. I always loved John Holt's brassy, melodic cover of Help Me Make It Through The Night too.


That is the end of the well-known material, though. Now we get some rarities, often from familiar artists, such as Jimmy Cliff's A Little Bit Of Soap and Desmond Dekker's Sentimental Reasons. We are also introduced to "conscious" roots reggae too in U-Roy's Black Heart and DJ "toasting" in Big Youth's Natty No Jester. Also, dub appears in the shape of Augustus Pablo's (pictured) The Great Pablo.


This CD starts with a fair bit of early ska and rock steady lively material and early skanking cuts from later roots artists like Niney's Skankey Baby. There are also inventive tracks like Joe White's Expression In Dub and Ken Boothe's funky-ish Got To Get Away.


This is also pretty much a rock steady/early roots disc and features quite a lot of rarities like Bongo Jah by The ImmortalsBlack Panther by Sir Collins & The Black Diamonds and She Caught The Train by Roy Martell & Joe's All-Stars (later covered by UB40 on 1983's Labour Of Love album).


There are some real rarities on here, including several female vocalists such as the underrated Candy McKenzie with the sensual Sky At Night and Nora Dean's (pictured) Mama. There is also a CD SIX available to download via a link included in the box. This also contains even rarer stuff, like Amapola by The Islanders and Wreck It Up by JJ All-Stars.

Overall, this is an excellent set, with rarities liberally included and covering an awful lot of reggae and its sub-genres that Trojan released. I do feel a bit more dub and roots could have been included and also DJ/toaster artists like Prince Far I, I-Roy and Big Youth could have been better represented. By the way, I do not have a problem with the intentionally "shabby chic" artwork of the outer box and inner booklet. I actually quite like it. Anyway, for me, it is always about the music, man - and that is great.

Freedom Sounds


This is a box set released by the Trojan record label in 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of Jamaican  independence and covers a lot of the development of reggae music and its numerous sub-genres, highlighting just what an incredible contribution to music this one (comparatively) small Caribbean island has made.

The five CDS in the box mainly follow these lines:-


This CD mainly concentrates on the devout and the militant, political side of reggae music, with several notable "roots" cuts from artists like CultureBurning SpearThe Heptones and Black Uhuru. There are also several songs concerning "freedom" and pride, such as (This Is) My Country by Cornell CampbellThird World's Freedom Song and Judy Mowatt's My My People. A song worthy of mention is The Heptones' roots cover of Bob Dylan's I Shall Be Released, which showed that reggae could successfully cover music from other genres. Also, Lloyd Charmers' cover of Curtis Mayfield's (We The People Who Are) Darker Than Blue.


This CD includes some of Jamaica's biggest hits over the years. Yes, there are several of the "usual suspects" here, such as Desmond Dekker's iconic IsraelitesJimmy Cliff's The Harder They Come, roots cuts like Culture's Two Sevens Clash and Gregory Isaacs' sensual groove in Night Nurse. There are also a few lesser-known gems, however, like Dennis Brown's (pictured) Your Love's Gotta Hold On MeMarcia GriffithsSteppin' Out Of Babylon and Justin Hinds & The DominoesCarry Go Bring Come. Some have questioned the need for Trojan to include this "hits" CD, but I disagree, some of these huge tracks simply can't be ignored in what is a celebration of Jamaican music, and it is not all full-on hits anyway. Many big hits are not included at the expense of less popular cuts.


This includes quite a lot of rock steady material such as Ken Boothe's Love And Unity  and the early Bob Marley & The Wailers cut, Bus Dem Shut. There is some of the reggae that struck big in the UK charts in the early seventies - "skinhead reggae" like Nicky ThomasLove Of The Common People (included here in its Jamaican mix without strings) and Tye Tye (Fatty Fatty) by The Chuckles. Also present is some deep, heavy roots stuff in the crucial Blood And Fire by Niney & Big Youth and Freedom Train from The Gladiators.


This CD gets seriously roots. Johnny Clarke's (pictured) devout None Shall Escape The JudgementThe Heptones' BrothersWeep And Mourn by Israel Vibration and Dillinger's Bionic Dread provide excellent examples of "conscious" reggae, while The Mighty DiamondsYour Heart's Desire exemplifies how a roots "riddim" could be combined with a romantic feel and lighter, harmonious vocals. It is a cool, laid-back, beautiful track. Dub makes an appearance in Augustus Pablo's Last Of The Jestering.


This CD contains mainly rare and unreleased stuff, a lot of which wasn't familiar even to me. Quite a bit of ska and rock steady, plus some early seventies gems like the original Jamaican mix of The PioneersLet Your Yeah Be Yeah and Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) from Toots & The Maytals. More rarities can be found on CD SIX, which can be downloaded via link contained in the box.

Overall, it is an excellent and often interesting box set. There are a lot of rarities included. The sound quality is really good. Personally, I feel it could have included some dub from the likes of King TubbyLee "Scratch" Perry and Peter Tosh are sadly missing (of course, Tosh didn't record on Trojan!). These are minor things though, and should not remotely put anyone off getting hold of this treasure trove.

War Ina Babylon: Island Reggae Anthology

This is a superb compilation covering the offerings from Chris Blackwell's Island Records, which along with Trojan, did so much to bring reggae skanking from Jamaica to the UK and US mainstreams. The elephant in the room on this set, of course, is the non-appearance of Bob Marley & The Wailers. He was Island's multi-million selling artist. it is not clear why he doesn't appear, but personally, it is not a problem. I am familiar with all his work and own it all. This set gives me a chance to play it on "random" and listen all sorts of reggae sub-genres - ska, bluebeat, mod ska, rock steady,  skinhead reggae, classic pop reggae, roots, dub, DJ toasting, lovers rock, dancehall and ragga.  They are all represented here and the remastered sound is exceptionally good, considering quite a lot of reggae was pretty rudimentarily recorded. I love listening to this every now and again. it is thoroughly uplifting. It is slightly light on the early seventies commercial, string orchestrated Young, Gifted And Black/Suzanne Beware Of The Devil style material, as most of that type of material was released on the Trojan label. Pictured below are Zap Pow, famous for This Is Reggae Music.

Here are some of my highlights:-

Boogie In My Bones - Laurel Aitken
Bonanza Ska - Carlos Malcolm & His Afro-Jamaican Rhythms
My Boy Lollipop - Millie Small
Rock Steady - Alton Ellis & The Flames
Stop That Train - Keith & Tex
The Harder They Come - Jimmy Cliff
Breakfast In Bed - Lorna Bennett
This Is Reggae Music - Zap Pow
Book Of Rules - The Heptones
Marcus Garvey - The Heptones
King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown - Augustus Pablo
Reggae Got Soul - Toots & The Maytals"
Party Time - The Heptones
Police & Thieves - Junior Murvin
Soldier & Police War - Jah Lion
War Ina Babylon - Max Romeo
Roast Fish & Cornbread - Lee "Scratch" Perry & The Upsetters
96 Degrees In The Shade - Third World
Prodigal Son - Steel Pulse
Guess Who's Coming To Dinner - Black Uhuru
Warrior Charge - Aswad
This Bed's Too Big Without You - Stella Hylton
Night Nurse - Gregory Isaacs
Pass The Kouchie - The Mighty Diamonds
Back To Africa - Aswad
Don't Turn Around - Aswad
Revolution - Dennis Brown
Boom Shack A Lack - Apache Indian

Virgin Front Line: Sounds Of Reality


The Virgin label had a somewhat brief flirtation with “roots” reggae in the mid-late 1970s. The “frontline” arm  of the label put out some very credible roots reggae recordings in that period. This excellent box set collects together the best part of one hundred tracks and the sound quality, is, on the whole, excellent, which is not always the case with seventies reggae.

The reggae included on here is very much part of the “punk meets dread” fusion between punk rock and roots reggae that was very much the thing in the 1977-1979 years. Anyone who was into that whole scene back then, as I was, will love this cornucopia of crucial cuts.

CD ONE features several of the early “toasters” (DJs who spoke/growled/croaked often incomprehensible Jamaican patois lyrics over existing backing tracks, often stripped down to a huge, booming bass and drum “dub” sound. Artists such as U-Roy and I-Roy are fine examples. There are also the early rootsy vocal groups represented here such as The Gladiators and The Mighty Diamonds (pictured), along with solo roots singers  like Johnny Clarke and Keith Hudson.

CD TWO moves very much into the “rocker and the ras” punky reggae party time, with cuts from the growling Prince Far IAlthea & Donna (no, not Uptown Top Ranking, either), Big YouthCulture and Tappa Zukie.

CD THREE sees the arrival of melodious artists like Gregory Isaacs and The Abyssinians (pictured), who added an almost proto-lovers’ rock sweetness of delivery to their still rasta-conscious devotional music.

CD FOUR sees reggae getting into dancefloor grooves with several extended 12” mixes that were starting to crossover onto more regular “disco” playlists.

CD FIVE has dub rhythms (“riddims”) rear their bass-heavy, thumping head with some cuts typical of the sounds that would shake the speakers once darkness fell at Notting Hill Carnival.

There are far too many tracks to analyse and describe, needless to say that if you are a fan of mid-late seventies roots reggae of the sort that was so beloved of Don Letts, Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, Johnny Rotten, Jah Wobble and the like, then you will love putting this on and letting your sound system shake. Playing it digitally on “random” is a great experience too.

Dread Meets Punk Rockers Uptown

Bag A Wire Dub - King Tubby/Marcus Garvey - Big Youth/Fade Away - Junior Byles/M.P.L.A. Dub - Tappa Zukie/Black Harmony Killer - Jah Stitch/Fisherman - The Congos/Wear You To The Ball - U-Roy/Rush I Some Dub - Tappa Zukie/Pure Ranking - Horace Andy/I Need A Roof - The Mighty Diamonds/King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown - King Tubby & Augustus Pablo/Train To Zion - U Brown/Two Sevens Clash - Culture/Deuteronomy - Sylford Walker/Police And Thieves - Junior Murvin/The Tackro - Lee "Scratch" Perry & The Upsetters

This is an excellent compilation, curated by Don Letts, that presents some of most atmospheric roots/dub reggae numbers from the period 1975-1977 that were very much a part of the punk/roots reggae crossover that broke big in 1978. Punk band like the Clash, The Slits, The Ruts, Stiff Little Fingers, The Police and many more were influenced by the deep, bassy sounds of dub and roots reggae. The music is dripping with nostalgia for anyone, like myself, who was around, attending gigs during that incredibly exciting period. The p.a. systems before punk gigs regularly played this material non-stop. Before your favourite punk band took to the stage, there would often have been half an hour or more of solid roots/dub reggae blasting out of the venues speakers. Then, of course, there was Notting Hill carnival - cans of cold Red Stripe, plates of curry goat with rice and peas and enormous sound systems pumping out Big Youth, U-Roy, King Tubby and Culture.

It is a shame that the compilation couldn't be interspersed with some punky white reggae classics like The Clash's Armagideon Time or The Ruts' Jah Wars, but, then again, you can make a seriously good playlist yourself by doing just that, as I have. Otherwise, just play the sumptuous, ranking fare on offer here.

The stand out and well known classics on here are Junior Murvin's iconic Police And Thieves (also covered by The Clash), Culture's crucial groove Two Sevens Clash, King Tubby and Augustus Pablo's ground-breaking dub King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown and The Congos' melodic Fisherman.

There are also several examples of "toasting", the semi-spoken vocal accompaniment to a dubby beat in U-Roy's take on John Holt's Wear You To The Ball, Jah Stitch's beautifully bassy Black Harmony Killer and U Brown's Train To Zion. Dub is here with, amongst others, King Tubby's Bag A Wire Dub and Tappa Zukie's thumping M.P.L.A. Dub. The same artist's Rush I Some Dub is a pile-driving bassy dub too. Nice to hear the more melodious roots of The Mighty Diamonds' I Need A Roof.

The sound is pretty good, but some of the tracks still have that crackling sound that they always had. That just seems to add to the atmosphere. You would almost think Letts put them on there deliberately, as they are not on other issues of Two Sevens Clash, for example. Put this on, turn the bass up to full and imagine its 1978 again.

Trojan Reggae Series

Trojan Classic Reggae

First off, all these Trojan releases (of which there are many) are excellent in their sound quality. Nowhere is this more apparent on here, this wonderful double CD that shows just what a contribution the small island of Jamaica has made to music. From the early ska/rocksteady/bluebeat days of 007 (Shanty Town)Rudy, A Message To You, Train To Skaville and Liquidator these classics are remastered wonderfully - as good as I have ever heard them. Full and bassy, as reggae should be, but on many of the recordings, imperfections seem to have been ironed out.

The hits just go on and on, from Desmond Dekker's Israelites through Toots & The MaytalsMonkey Man and Symarip's Skinhead Moonstomp to Bob & Marcia's iconic, inspirational Young, Gifted & Black to the similarly so 54-46 Was My Number from Toots & The Maytals.


Then there is the "UK pop reggae" of Ken Boothe's Everything I Own and John Holt'Help Me Make It Through The Night and the rootsy Uptown Top Ranking from Althea & Donna and the dubby Ire Feelings from Rupie EdwardsDennis Brown's Money In My Pocket is another eminently singalong number. Also on here are some excellent late seventies/early eighties hits like Errol Dunkley's infectious OK FredJanet Kay's high-voice lovers rock hit Silly Games and the precocious Musical Youth's Pass The DutchieBoris Gardinder delivers a smoocher in I Want To Wake Up With You.

Reggae turns to Ragga by the end of this wonderful musical journey, but it still brought us some catchy hits such as Sophia George's irresistible Girlie Girlie and Chaka Demus & PliersTwist And ShoutApache Indian's Boom-Shacka-Lack is mildly irritating but addictive at the time. You can't help singing along to it. He was of British Indian heritage, though, not Jamaican, being pedantic!

Thanks, Jamaica. Irie!

Trojan Original Reggae

Just as all this Trojan series are, this album of 60s/70s reggae classics is wonderfully remastered, the songs are as good as I have heard them. Check out Sweet Sensation as proof.

This compilation takes over where Trojan Classic Reggae - The Sound Of Jamaica left off. (Although, strangely, Dennis Brown's Money In My Pocket appears on both - the only track that is duplicated). Many of the tracks I would have liked to have seen on that album are on here - every schoolboys' favourite Wet Dream by Max Romeo; the mighty Pressure Drop from Toots & The Maytals; the beautiful, uplifting Sweet Sensation by The MelodiansThe Slickers' excellent Johnny Too BadLord Creator's lovely Kingston TownNicky Thomas's inspirational Love Of The Common People; also the same artist's Have A Little FaithEric Donaldson's Cherry Oh Baby and The HeptonesBook Of Rules. All great stuff. 


Lesser known but still killer cuts are the skanking Bangarang by Stranger ColeCuss Cuss by Lloyd Robinson and the soulful Everybody Needs Love by Slim SmithKen Boothe's Freedom Street is also a favourite of mine and there is also Bob Marley's original cut of Duppy ConquerorLorna Bennett's "Lovers Rock" groove of Breakfast In Bed is excellent, too.

There is also some crucial roots present in Niney's iconic Blood And Fire and King Stitt/Andy Capp's HerbsmanPeter Tosh also makes an appearance with Maga DogJohn Holt's Stick By Me will be familiar to many as it was covered by UB40 on Labour Of Love II

Many more, of course, are present, from the ska/bluebeat/rocksteady years to the commercial pop reggae of the 1970s. A pretty essential compilation. If you want some more from the same era, but slightly more obscure, try Trojan's Boss Reggae compilation.

Trojan Boss Reggae

This is a companion to Trojan's Classic Reggae and Original Reggae compilations. It is full of lively, upbeat "skinhead" reggae dating from the first years after the term "reggae" was coined - 1968 to 1972. Lots of rock steady style beats made even faster with that trademark organ sound. The tracks on here contain far more rarities than the other two. Indeed, going from Classic Reggae downwards to this one is to travel from the most commercially popular to the most obscure. This is largely not "chart hits" reggae. It is skinhead pub reggae from the late sixties/early seventies. It is full of vitality and vigour, though, and makes an ideal summer party soundtrack if you want to go down the credible old school reggae road.

Trojan Presents Ragga

Ragga was a largely electronically-instrumented, often digitally-programmed sub-style of dancehall reggae dating from the mid-eighties, but largely dominating the nineties and a lot of its influence carrying on into the 2000s. Its beat is largely deep, bassy and metronomic and its vocal style is a variation of the "toasting" style of reggae/rap - DJs speaking, gruffly growling lyrics over the beat. As opposed to the roots toasting of the late seventies, popularised by such as Prince Far I, U-Roy and Big Youth the lyrics were not those of righteous Rastafarian devotion, but of "slackness" (full of sexual references). However, many of the carried considerable social comment, such as Ini Kamoze's Call The Police from this compilation. There is still praise of marijuana  as well, as in Sugar Minott's catchy Herbman Hustling.

As I have mentioned in other reviews, ragga is not my favourite reggae sub-genre, I prefer classic reggae, roots, dub, lovers rock, skinhead ("boss"), ska and rock steady over ragga, but, that said, I find this a far more accessible collection that I may have initially imagined. The sound quality is excellent, particularly considering the thumping, bass-heavy nature of the material. It is a full, warm sound, but not a completely speaker-vibrating one. The music, as I said earlier, is driven by big, programmed beats but often it still finds time for horn breaks, such as on the captivating groove of Culture's Capture Rasta, which sees the legendary, iconic roots band from the late seventies trying their hand at the new style. Yes, the beat is that of the ragga genre, but Culture's great vocals and musical innovation enhances the track further. Dennis Brown with The Exit and Black Uhuru's Fit You Haffi Fit are two other examples of artists from the roots period adapting their music accordingly. Admittedly, Black Uhuru had always tinkered with these sort of rhythms in the early eighties.

Mr. Consular is a highly addictive and wry number about getting visas from Home T-4 & Yellowman. Ragga is not about pounding beats and incomprehensible lyrics. A lot of the instinctive melody from lovers rock and dancehall has found its way here, such as on the Dennis Brown track. Artists who had recorded lovers rock material like Barrington Levy contribute here too, with the light and breezy Don't Throw It all Away.


Old timers like Tinga Stewart and Junior Delgado, who cut their teeth in the mid-seventies appear here with their semi-cover of The DriftersSave The Last Dance For Me and the hard-hitting, rootsy Hanging Tree and the sumptuous political vibe of Ragga-Muffin Year respectively. Sophia George, best known for her Girlie Girlie hit single, gives us the rapping of Lazy Body and the groovy Tenement YardAdmiral Bailey's Big Belly Man surely influenced a lot of Big Audio Dynamite's output from the same period, particularly The Battle Of All Saints RoadTenor Saw's Pumpkin Belly is vibrant and bassy. Sanchez's Baby Can I Hold You Tonight is a cover of the Tracy Chapman song. 

There are many highlights in this excellent addition to Trojan's series showcasing the different sub-genres of reggae. I have had this CD for years and initially, I probably didn't give it the attention it deserved, as I was taking my time getting into ragga, sticking to my roots and the like. However, as the years have progressed and the ragga genre has become deeper and more hardcore, these earlier examples of of the genre (from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties) are actually very appealing. Just listen to Nitty Gritty's poppy Sweet Reggae Music and Half Pint's light, summery Night Life Lady as examples of what I mean. This collection is a refreshing, lively listen. Recommended.

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