On the day I met the young woman who was lucky enough to become my wife she had just spent some of the wages from her Saturday job on a new 7″ single. “The Return Of Django” (inspired by the same spaghetti western that has just unchained Quentin T) was by The Upsetters, the house band for producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. It was released in the UK on the Trojan label, an imprint set up by Island records for the fine music emerging from Jamaica. In 1969 reggae was becoming more audible in Britain, “The Israelites” by Desmond Dekker & the Aces became the first reggae song to reach #1 in the UK charts. Skinheads were working-class youth who used to be Mods. Their style & attitude tipped a pork-pie hat to the Jamaican rude boy, ska & reggae was their music. They heard the tunes in the clubs, bought the records which made the charts and were played on the one pop radio station in the country. This woman was not only very attractive but had excellent taste. A fact confirmed when she accepted my request for an assignation at any time of her choice. The rest, dear reader, is her story.
So reggae was always around in the early 1970s, adding a Caribbean spice to the salmagundi of the British music scene with its Glitter, Glam, Soul & Gilbert O’Sullivan. There was always space for at least one tune to break into the charts. Sometimes there was a touch of novelty about these hits & sometimes they were just great records.
“I am the magnificent. I am backed by the shack of a soul boss most turnin’ stormin’ sound o’ soul. I am double u o,o,o & I’m still up here again”. In April 1971 “Double Barrel” by Dave & Ansell Collins was #1 in the UK for 2 weeks between “Hot Love” by T Rex and “Knock Three Times” by Dawn. Ansell Collins wrote and produced while Dave Barker yelped this proto-dub rap. Digital recording my butt, 40 years on this still sounds strange & fresh & gets men of a certain age creakily skanking across the room. The duo followed the hit with “Monkey Spanner”, another fine tune. Dave Barker had earlier hits with Lee Perry (“Prisoner Of Love” “Shocks A Mighty”) and is still around. His personal vocal style is instantly recognisable if you are lucky enough to bump into his music.
Trojan knew their market at this time. They began to customise the titles of their releases by adding “Skinhead” to any rhythm. As the image calcified the boots, braces & “aggro” became a bigger part of the scene. It became less safe for people with hair over their ears to enjoy a good night at their clubs. No matter, the Trojan collections of reggae from this time are a smile in vinyl…good stuff.
There is no finer example of the breadth of British music taste than this 1974 Top 10 hit. “Ire Feelings” by Rupie Edwards came from outta space with this dub of a Johnny Clarke tune. My friend Carl was recalling his youth club nights, how strange and wonderful this sounded &, of course, what a great dance tune it was. Rupie Edwards rode this riddim to another hit, “Leggo Skanga” , appearances on Top Of The Pops & an LP of slight variations. 4 years later the Dub classic “King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown” from Augustus Pablo was on everyone’s turntable. We knew how good Dub Reggae could be because of Rupie Edwards…Skanga ! Skanga !
There are so many great reggae hits from this time. The music was becoming more conscious, the artists more likely to be singing the praises of Jah or of oppression in the world. Bob Marley’s “Live” LP was on everybody’s Xmas list in 1975, the roots reggae of the Rasta was to carry the swing for some time now. It was the quality of the work of John Holt, Ken Booth, Bob & Marcia & many others who were less successful on the charts who prepared the way for this popularity. Man, I am going to have to come back to these times. Wheel & come again !
Before the 12″ singles of disco & the synth bands of the 1980s reggae pioneered the extended mix of a song. A successful rhythm was re-cycled almost endlessly. The hit of 1976 was another Lee Perry masterwork, “Police & Thieves” by Junior Murvin, I am still finding songs by Murvin that are exactly the same tune. Producers were inspired to wilder dub experimentation, pioneers of sampling and drum and bass. Dee-jays/toasters added their own vocals over the hits of the day. In 1976 Punk trashed much of music’s immediate past. Dreadlock reggae, Marley & those who followed, got an approving nod. In clubs at this time you would hear Dillinger & Culture alongside The Clash and the Pistols.
Dennis Brown, a singer with a facility to handle militancy & romanticism equally well, was called “the Crown Prince Of Reggae” by “King” Bob. “Money In My Pocket” was recorded in 1973 by Niney the Observer for the Joe Gibbs organization with a version from Big Youth. In 1978 this re-working was a UK hit. This record has the lot. A good song by an outstanding singer, a rocking dub and Prince Mohammed’s “Cool Runnings” toast keeping it bubbling. This original release sold out its first pressing and deservedly so. It is one of the best examples of how reggae was maturing, innovating and proving to be some of the most vital music around. Dennis Brown made some very good music in his time, this is such a classic that I keep returning to it to check for how it should be done.