Island Presents: Lovers Rock - 30 Romantic Reggae Classics

Crying Over You - The Heptones
To Be A Lover (Have Mercy) - George Faith
It's Hard To Be A Lover - Alton Ellis
Easy - Jimmy Lindsay
Closer Together - Junior Murvin
Stop Breaking My Heart - Inner Circle
Tonight For Me - Third World
Married Woman - Vivian Weathers
Two Time Loser - Sugar Minott
Once Upon A Time - Jacob Miller
Caught You Dancing - Steel Pulse
Sweet Maureen - Tony Tuff
Spinning Around - Junior Tucker
The Bed's Too Big Without You - Sheila Hylton
Only A Smile Copy - The Paragons
And I Love Her - Alton Ellis
Sexual Healing - Jimmy Riley
We're In This Love Together - George Nooks
Peek A Boo - Derrick Lara
You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine) - Tony Tuff
Hey Love - Jimmy Riley
Night Nurse - Gregory Isaacs
Break Your Promise - Barry Biggs
Go Away Dream - The Tamlins
Show & Tell - Ken Boothe
Gave You My Love - Aswad
My Baby - Struggle
Long Lost Lover - Ruddy Thomas
Ooo Baby Baby - Kotch
Oh Me Oh My - Karen Smith

The first Reggae-based genre black Britons truly claimed as their own Lovers Rock emerged around the mid-seventies, when London's sound system operators followed in the footsteps of their Jamaican counterparts some twenty years before by enlisting local talent to record music in a style most favoured by their audiences. For while the music emerging from the home of Reggae became increasingly dominated by the strident sound of Roots, British listeners yearned for something of a more romantic nature.

But just who produced the very first tune in the style is a bone of contention, although Count Shelley's exemplary 'Tenderness' by Ginger Williams from 1974 is often cited being the spark that lit the Lovers Rock fuse. The single was followed a year later by a version of Robert Parker's 'Caught You In A Lie', performed by a teenage songstress, Louisa Mark, and Matumbi's 'After Tonight', which was produced for Lloydie  Coxsone's sound system.

This emerging demand for romantic Reggae led Dennis Harris to open Eve recording studios in Brockley Rise, South East London and recruit Dennis Bovell and John Kpiaye as the nucleus of his session band. There soon followed hits for local performers, Cassandra ('I'll Never Let You Go') and the legendary Brown Sugar that featured Soul II Soul vocalist Carol Wheeler ('I'm In Love With A Dreadlocks' and 'Hello Stranger'). As is often the case with a Reggae distributor, the Eve empire branched out with further labels, including DIP, Rama and, more significantly, the Lovers Rock imprint, with the latter reputedly inspired by the Augustus Pablo Dub, 'Lovers Rock', the flipside of the melodica player's 'Lover's Mood' for producer Leonard Chin. Harris' label ultimately led to the title being used to describe the new style of romantic Reggae as a whole, in much the same way that in the early '60s, Ska in Britain became widely known as 'Blue Beat'.

Meanwhile, other British music makers continued to produce fine discs in the Lovers style, with one of the most notable examples being Lloydie Coxsone, who produced Jimmy Lindsay's breath-taking version of the Commodores' 'Easy'. but while the UK-based artists reaped the rewards of the upsurge in the genre's popularity, some of the best romantic Reggae originated from Jamaica, as evidenced by the music on this collection.

The first example of Ja Lovers featured here is the Heptones' 'Crying Over You'. a song the group had originally recorded in 1966 for Ken Lack, but which was given a new lease of life ten years later, courtesy of Lee Perry's chilled out production and the exceptional musicianship of the producer's Upsetters band.

Perry continued to demonstrate his romantic side with his production of Earle George Faith's sublime reworking of the Bee Gee's 'I Forgot To Be Your Lover', retitled 'To Be A Lover (Have Mercy)', a sure-fire hit that featured on his album of the same name. Spurred on by the success of George's awe-inspiring remake, Junior Murvin cut a medley of 'Grow Close Together' and 'Gypsy Woman', the original versions of which featured on the Impressions' eponymous debut album that inspired numerous Reggae covers and led to Curtis Mayfield, the R&B group's lead singer-songwriter, being hailed as the Godfather of Reggae.

The man widely acknowledged as the Godfather of Rock Steady is Alton Ellis O.D., who began his recording career in 1959 and feature here performing discomixes of the original, 'It's Hard To Be A Lover' and the Beatles' ballad 'And I Love Her'. While Alton is revered for his contribution to Jamaican music, he also helped launch the career of British songstress, Janet Kay, who since tasting major international success with 'Silly Games' has made a number of fine Lovers-styled collections for Sony Japan, where the genre continues to have a strong following.

Back in Jamaica, numerous artists were finding success on both sides of the Atlantic, with the Inner Circle among the most popular. Managed by Tommy Cowan, formerly of the Jamaicans vocal trio, and fronted by the larger than life Jacob 'Killer' miller, the group were snapped up by Capitol Records in the mid-seventies, prior to signing with Island. The group's first album for their new company, 'Everything Is Great', included their first UK Pop hit, a version of the Gaylads' 'Stop Making Love', reworked as 'Stop Breaking My Heart'. Further hits followed, but soon after cutting their outstanding version of Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells Motown hit, 'Once Upon A Time', tragedy struck when their increasingly popular lead vocalist was involved in a fatal car crash.

Another of the major acts to emerge in Jamaica in the seventies was Third World, whose formation in 1973 had followed the break-up of the original Inner Circle band. The group's 1979 hit 'Tonight For Me' was lifted from their fourth long-player, 'The Story's Been Told' and has since proved a firm favourite among lovers. Also enjoying significant success around this time was Lincoln 'Sugar' Minott, whose version of Michael Jackson's 'Good Thing Going' made charts around the world in 1981. The singer, who began his musical career performing alongside Derrick Howard and Winston Morris in the African Brothers before going it alone, cut a host of Lovers tunes, including the self-produced 'Two Time Loser' which saw issue the year before his international breakthrough.

Meanwhile, Minott's former singing partner, Winston Morris, had also continued to keep his finger on the musical pulse after assuming the stage name of Tony Tuff. by the late seventies, Tuff was considered one of Jamaica's leading singers, scoring with numerous high quality releases, including a sublime cover of Lou Rawls' 'You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)' and the self-penned 'Sweet Maureen'. The latter had been produced by King sounds for Grove Music Records, a joint venture with Michael Reuben Campbell, who also managed and produced top London-based Reggae band, Aswad. originally a quintet, Aswad had first burst onto the local music scene in the mid-seventies, but despite signing for Island, it wasn't until the line-up had been paired down to a trio that they first tasted international success. Among the best of their works from this latter period is excellent 'Gave You My Love', which originally saw issue in 1984 as the alternate side of 'Chasing For The Breeze' - the first of their UK Pop charts.

The British connection continues here with Vivian 'Bad' Weathers, a singer who first made his mark with Linton Kwesi Johnson as Poet & The Roots. After recording for Virgin Front Line, both performers had moved to Island, but while Johnson went on to bigger things, Weathers, faded, with his album for the company scheduled, but not released. Island did, however, release some of the material intended for the collection, including the strangely haunting 'Married Woman', which featured on the flip-side of the singer's sole single for the label, 'Just A Game' (featured on the 'Trojan Presents Lovers Rock' set in this series). By way of contrast, Steel Pulse are among the most renowned of the British skankers, with the best of their work cut for Chris Blackwell's celebrated Island imprint. Among their best-known singles from their time with Island is 'Caught You Dancing', the disco-mix of which features on this set.

While relatively new Reggae acts, such as Steel Pulse, found success with romantically styled releases, Lovers Rock also opened the way for many of those whose Rock Steady recordings of the late sixties had proved so inspirational to the sound. Of these originators, few were more influential than the Paragons, whose original version of 'The Tide Is High' was reworked to great success in 1980 by Pop group, Blondie. The hit, allied to the obvious demand for soulful and melodic Reggae ultimately spurred the original trio of John Holt. Howard Barrett and Garth (Tyrone) Evans to reform and record an entire collection of Lovers-styled versions of their sixties' hits under the direction of producer, Lister Hewn-Lowe. Among the tracks featured on the eponymously titled 1981 album that followed was a fine remake of their enduring classic 'Only A Smile', the quality of which led Island to issue the track in an extended form on a 12" single.

Throughout this era, a number of American and British acts, such as the aforementioned Blondie and the Police, were clearly influenced by the sounds of Jamaica, and in 1980, celebrated Kingston-based producer, Harry Johnson returned the compliment when he had Sheila Hylton record the latter's recent hit, 'The Bed's Too Big Without You', with the resulting recording subsequently providing the London-born songstress with a top 40 hit.

One of the youngest Reggae hit-makers of the early eighties was child star, Junior Tucker, aka Jamaica's Michael Jackson, whose Ska-influenced 'Which Side Of The Coin Spinning Around' was lifted from his debut album, 'Take A Message'. Tucker went on to enjoy a successful singing career as an adult, with his version of 'Some Guys Have All The Luck' (also featured on the accompanying 'Trojan Presents Lovers Rock' set) among his best-known works, although he later gave up secular music after becoming a born-again Christian.

The second disc of this collection is dominated by the productions of Jamaica's celebrated Riddim Twins, Lowell 'Sly' Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, whose affection for US Soul is reflected in their productions on this collection. Among their contributions hare are superior Reggae cuts of Marvin Gaye's 'Sexual Healing', the Stylistics' 'Peek A Boo', the Delfonics' 'Break Your Promise', the Chi Lites' 'Go Away Dream', Al Wilson's 'Show And Tell' and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles' 'Oo Baby Baby', performed by Jimmy Riley, Derrick Lara, Barry Biggs, the Tamlins, Ken Boothe and Kotch (nee Psalms), respectively. The first of this sextet of artists, Jimmy Riley, further illustrates his Lovers Rock credentials with the self-penned, 'Hey Love', while the remaining three Sly & Robbie tracks here comprise the outstanding 'My Baby' by short-lived group Struggle, 'Long Lost Lover' by the greatly underrated Ruddy Thomas and Karen Smith, whose typically stylish rendering of the Petula Clark hit 'Oh Me Oh My' was culled from her romantically themed album, 'Reflections Of Love'.

This tribute to the romantic Reggae sounds of the seventies and eighties is completed by two of the most popular Reggae hits of 1982. The first of these is George Nooks' popular version of the Al Jarreau R&B hit, 'We're In This Love Together', recorded for Donovan Germaine's Penthouse Records, which sold strongly in the UK without managing to break into the charts. Surprisingly, the same is true of the remaining track, 'Night Nurse' by the Cool Ruler himself, the late great, Gregory Isaacs, arguably the most celebrated exponent of Lovers sound in Jamaica.

Today, the sound lives on, with the genre celebrated by various CD collections and Menilik Shabazz's 2011 movie, 'The Story Of Lovers Rock', in which leading Lovers Rock singer, Sylvia Tella, said of the genre; "It is a music that speaks to the heart, the soul and the mind; it is a language, it's a way of life, it's a culture". Listen to and enjoy the 30 tracks featured herein and, if you're not already a committed fan, you may just come to understand and appreciate exactly what she means.

Stephen Nye
With thanks to Laurence Cane Honeysett
All material © Trojan Records