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Trojan Presents: Original Reggae - 40 Original Tighten Up Hits

CD1
Do The Reggay - The Maytals
No More Heartaches - The Beltones
Tighten Up - The Inspirations
Wet Dream - Max Romeo
Bangarang - Stranger Cole & Lester Sterling
Cuss Cuss - Lloyd Robinson
Everything Crash - The Ethiopians
Everybody Needs Love - Slim Smith
One Thousand Tons Of Megaton - Roland Alphonso
Fatty Fatty - Clancy Eccles
Mama Look Deh - The Reggae Boys
Pressure Drop - The Maytals
Come Into My Life - Jimmy Cliff
Clint Eastwood - The Upsetters
Sweet Sensation - The Melodians
Samfie Man - The Pioneers
Kingston Town - Lord Creator
Dynamic Pressure - The Music Specialists
Satisfaction - Carl Dawkins
Freedom Street - Ken Boothe
CD2
Love Of The Common People - Nicky Thomas
Duppy Conqueror - Bob Marley & The Wailers
Herbsman - King Stitt & Andy Capp
Johnny Too Bad - The Slickers
Blood And Fire - Niney
Cherry Oh Baby - Eric Donaldson
Let The Power Fall - Max Romeo
Better Must Come - Delroy Wilson
A Little Love - Jimmy London
Shaft - The Chosen Few
Maga Dog - Peter Tosh
Stick By Me - John Holt
Beat Down Babylon - Junior Byles
Money In My Pocket - Dennis Brown
Breakfast In Bed - Lorna Bennett
Have A Little Faith - Nicky Thomas
Book Of Rules - The Heptones
Java - Augustus Pablo
All I Have Is Love - Gregory Isaacs
Westbound Train - Dennis Brown

This collection should be packaged in a tin, because the contents do exactly what the title claims. Classic Reggae sounds from first to last, these tunes are guaranteed to put a dip in your hips and skank in your socks. There are chart hits, rude gems, skinhead sounds, much-covered gems and powerful roots cries from Reggae legends. You'll hear tracks from Reggae's first stirring in 1968 to the Skank era of 1973. In between there are more variations on Reggae than many people would believe. Fools used to say, 'It all sounds the same mate'. The music's fans knew better, savouring every sweet nuance of Jamaica's gift to the world of rhythm, and 'Classic Reggae' is the proof that they were right. if there's not plenty here to touch your soul and make you feel just that little bit nicer, you really do have the Reggae chromosome missing from your genetic code. And believe me, that is one critical pleasure deficiency...

Let's go back to the start of Reggae's story. In the beginning there was Ska. Well, actually. there was Mento, folk music and ring tunes, Pocomania music, Blues, Jazz, R&B and Gospel before that, but in terms of Reggae's direct ancestors, Ska was the daddy. Ska emerged circa 1960, had its peak from 1962-66, and hung on in there hoping not to suffer relegation from the big league for another year. It was fast, it was fun, it was furious. but it was not often subtle, and Jamaica's people eventually tired of old man Ska always giving it the big 'un about how great a dancer he was and how pound for pound he was ruder than you. So in 1966 Rock Steady turned up; it was relaxed, it was romantic and well... just that bit sexier. it didn't just blow in your ear and cop a handful of your pleasure centres, it would sidle up in its best clothes, say something sweet, look into your eyes and dance elegantly with you, with hardly a hair out of place even when the action got hot. But something so perfect had to have its shortcomings, and that was exactly the problem. It came, but only lasted a short while. Once Jamaica's music realised it could change, just as it had with Ska, so it could hardly resist a second transformation. The elegant lilt of Rock Steady became the more robust rhythm of Reggae in 1968, and this second new style in as many years was built to last.

What was different about it? While Rock Steady made sweet overtures, Reggae was a shade less polished. Its earliest efforts carried echoes of Calypso, such as 'Mama Look Deh' by the Reggae Boys. It was a bit brasher, a bit faster, but not as limited in its outlook as Ska. It was fun, sometimes a little lewd, great to dance to even without a partner, and it quickly developed a following in England, where the white rude boys with cropped hair and red boots took it to their hard hearts - many of them still called this sound 'Ska', a misnomer that lingers today for some. Best of all, it was adaptable. It could support the naughtiest of lyrics, such as Max Romeo's 'Wet Dream', or threaten to cause a revolution, as in Junior Byles' fierce 'Beat Down Babylon', and both worked equally well in Reggae's steadily evolving groove. This is precisely why the new style of Jamaican music has staying power - although it's worth pointing out that it also remained popular because people liked it, it never got boring, and whenever you heard it, it lifted your spirits. What more could a music fan want.

There is no definitive answer to the question of what the first real Reggae record was; nobody was taking notes at the time. The Beltones' 'No More Heartaches', from 1968, was among the first. That same year, Toots Hibbert, lead singer of the Maytals, gave the sound a name with a tough dance tune 'Do The Reggay'. It was said that the word was a corruption of the word 'streggae' which meant a 'loose' woman, and some even claimed that the dance it triggered resembled the slack walk of such a female - a likely story. Whatever the truth, pretty soon every musician in Jamaica was on the case. The Inspirations' 'Tighten Up' - credited to The Untouchables for reasons that remain unknown - supplied the name for a series of budget-priced compilations in Britain that became must-have items for Reggae fans. The Upsetters put Jamaica's strong instrumental tradition centre stage with some brilliant tunes like the bizarre stuttering rhythm of 'Clint Eastwood'. the level of competition was amazing, and what drove it was a new generation of producers, all bursting with ideas and desperate to make their mark.

Ska and Rock Steady had been dominated by comparatively few producers. Byron lee and Ronnie Nasralla; Coxsone Dodd at Studio One; Duke Reid at Treasure Isle, Leslie Kong at Beverley's; these were among the main figures. They weren't record producers in the pop sense; some spent little time in the studio, instead employing others to do the arranging and find a hit sound. What they had in common was ownership of the record companies, making the decisions and taking any cash that happened to result. Beneath these powerful figures, a slew of individuals hustled for a place at the top table. they included Bunny Lee, a brilliant dancer with a genius for spotting a hit and a talent for making things happen one way or another; Lee Perry, a tiny chap who made up for his lack of stature by having a giant personality allied to a low boredom threshold, which drove him to be  musically innovative; Joe Gibbs, less of an outgoing personality, but a man who steadily accrued an impressive roster of talent for his Amalgamated label; and Derrick Harriott, a soulful singer whose Crystal and Move & Groove labels had existed since the early 1960s and they were about to come into their own. It may have been a coincidence, but all these characters were ready to take advantage of their growing experience in the music business just as Rock Steady died. The older producers also appeared to take their eye off the main chance for once and did not adapt to the Reggae sound rapidly enough; Duke Reid in particular. these new producers were not afraid to try something new - in fact anything new - to get ahead, and while Reid, a former policeman, had qualms about allowing his artists to croon about social injustice, the likes of Lee Perry and Joe Gibbs were all too happy to let their charges sing about any topic they wanted. the result was a more diverse and considerably wilder form of Jamaican music that reflected a society truly shaking off the shadow of the British Empire.

The initial burst of activity in this new music did not burn out. The rough, tough sounds of '68-69 went through subtle changes in the next few years and vocal groups like the Heptones and the Ethiopians began to focus on more 'cultural' subjects. this was partly due to the influence of Soul music from America, which was pioneering a similar path of social consciousness - and you can hear just how strong a pull it had in the Chosen Few's cover of 'Shaft' - but it was also down to a growing awareness of Rastafarianism in Jamaica. The religion had always held some sway over the island's music, but it was starting to gain a stronger grip. Some artists declared themselves Rastas, the most notable being Bob Marley & The Wailers, whose singles with producer Lee Perry such as 'Duppy Conqueror' took on an increasingly ghetto-orientated, stoned outsider approach. Peter Tosh, a member of the group, found this new style suited his uncompromising attitude to lyrics.

While the Wailers had been stars since the Ska era, a new generation of solo artists emerged with the new decade, such as Johnny Osbourne, Gregory Isaacs, and Dennis Brown, the latter still in his early teens. These new talents were comfortable singing both Roots music and the more romantic material, and Reggae didn't forget its sexy side, which raised its erotic head on the version of 'Breakfast In Bed' by Lorna Bennett, released in the UK by Trojan Records former partner Island.

By 1973 the music was changing again, with talking artists like Big Youth and I-Roy carrying the swing and dub sounds that began taking a grip, but this time the generic title of Jamaican music did not change as it had in the past: Reggae remained the name, and it still ruled. It's not hard to understand why, when you hear these classic tunes... but don't blame us if your socks go skanky.

Ian McCann - Editor of Record Collector magazine
 
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