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Trojan Presents: Lovers Rock - 40 Romantic Reggae Classics

CD1
I'm Still Waiting - Delroy Wilson
You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine - John Holt
Lovin' You - Janet Kay
Easy - Jimmy Lindsay
After Tonight - Matumbi
I Can't Give You Anything (But My Love) - The J Sisters
Feel Like Makin' Love - Elizabeth Archer & The Equators
Tell Me A Lie - Candy McKenzie
I'm Still In Love With You - Marcia Aitken
Groovy Situation - Keith Rowe
Don't Ask My Neighbour - Sheila Hylton
Once Upon A Time - The Main Attractions
Loving Pauper - Ruddy Thomas
Getting Cozy - Fil Callender
Just A Game - Vivian Weathers
Sit Down And Cry Over You - Errol Dunkley
Keep It Like It Is - Louisa Marks
Walk Away - Marie Pierre
Some Guys Have All The Luck - Junior Tucker
I Can't Give You My Love Alone - Gregory Isaacs
CD2
Just When I Needed You Most - Barbara Jones
Can't Go Through With Life - Marie Pierre
One Of The Poorest People - Junior Tucker
Lovers Rock, Ja. Style - Freddie McGregor
Wide Awake In A Dream - Barry Biggs
The Bed's Too Big Without You - Sheila Hylton
Sunday Morning - Gregory Isaacs
You Know How To Make Me Feel Good - Ruddy Thomas, Susan Cadogan
My Woman's Love - Jimmy Riley
Love Has Found Its Way - Dennis Brown
Dim The Light - Jackie Mittoo, Winston Reedy
Reflections Of My Life - Ruddy Thomas
What One Dance Can Do - Beres Hammond
Someone Loves You Honey - JC Lodge
You're Everything To Me - Boris Gardiner
She Loves Me - Carlton Hines
Fever - Marcia Griffiths
Silly Wasn't I - Ebony
Wonderful Tonight - Kotch
Paradise - Karen Smith

Who said romance is dead? It's alive and kissing in Reggae music. Lovers Rock put intimacy on the agenda in the mid-70s, prompting any amount of hip-to-hip action on the dancefloor ever since. As rhythmically powerful as any other form of Reggae, with lashings of boy-meets-girl, drives-boy-wild, lyrics on top, there has never been a music that made its listeners get it on like Lovers Rock. Bold, soulful, proud and black, it gave a voice to a particular breed of Reggae fan, one that had never been specifically catered for before it came along.

Lovers started in Britain, or at least it was defined there. Although innumerable Reggae singers - in fact probably all of them - had crooned a love song from time to time, there was no specific genre devoted to romance, although Rock Steady, the short-lived mid-60s style of the music, was mostly occupied by Cupid's preoccupation. In fact in the early 1970s, as the boom in roots lyrics in Reggae took hold, love songs were in a minority. But not everyone who enjoyed Reggae necessarily identified with Roots music. And during that era, American Soul music was enjoying a golden period, with both Philadelphia and Chicago producing brilliant work from the likes of the O'Jays, Stylistics, Curtis Mayfield and the Chi-Lites. Reggae artists had always included some Soul songs in their repertoire, and acts like the pioneers would cover Temptations songs on stage, playing them dead straight without even a hint of skank. But there were also those who sought to meld Reggae's sultry one-drop style with soul's sweetness in one tender package, and from their efforts, Lovers Rock emerged.

The difference between Reggae singers covering love songs and lovers Rock itself is not that easy to define, but it was partly a question of attitude. this was not just about impersonating American Soul, it was love served up Reggae-style. It wasn't about dabbling in mushiness to 'make a song for the ladies', it was a commitment to tenderness. And it was a recognition that no matter how much the Reggae audience might enjoy a sweet soul record, they'd still sooner hear a similar subject in a Reggae song. Lover's singers didn't offer 'reality lyrics', but love was their primary reality.

The main audience for Lovers Rock was indeed female and so were many of its artists, many of whom could not get a break in the male-dominated world of Roots reggae. In Jamaica, singers like Barbara Jones ('Just When I Needed You Most') and Sheila Hylton ('The Bed's Too Big Without You') proved themselves able to create records that were every bit as popular as those made by men, and they connected with a sisterhood wherever Reggae was played abroad. Male artists like Ruddy Thomas ('Loving Pauper') and Barry Biggs ('Wide Awake In A Dream') also decided to specialise in the style and unlocked success that they'd never previously experienced. In the UK, a female listenership lapped up this new music, and the popularity of Lovers soon spread beyond a black audience; the same English teens tickled by Barry White and Al Green were delighted to hear Jimmy Lindsay's unfussy version of the Commodores' 'Easy'. But don't go thinking men were excluded from this romantic club; the same Caribbean males who liked their Soul sounds smooth rather than funky were also seduced by this sensuous new style of skank. And in the 1970s, many male Roots stars were just as comfortable with Lovers songs, such as Dennis Brown ('Love Has Found A Way') and Gregory Isaacs (his elegant version of Bunny Wailer's 'Sunday Morning').

While Jamaica took the lead, from 1974 onwards in the backstreet studios of the UK, a genre-defining sound was being mixed. British producers realised the sufferers' concerns that were the subject matter of many Jamaican Reggae records did not necessarily resonate with the music's fans in London, Birmingham, Nottingham or Cardiff. There was a huge audience for romantic Reggae that was only half-heartedly catered for, so these new producers decided to try a t'ing for themselves. Some attempted to make music that sounded Jamaican, but most didn't bother, instead creating a British urban Reggae that took advantage of excellent British musicians and mixing facilities that - when they could afford to use them - were often superior to those available in Jamaica. As for their artists, it wasn't that hard to find them; many of the producers ran Reggae shops or promoted dances and both offered a ready supply of aspirant singers who felt that they could sing as well as their American and Jamaican counterparts.

Some really could; Janet Kay's astonishing voice was inspired by that of soul star Minnie Riperton, and Janet's first 45, produced by Reggae legend Alton Ellis, was a Reggaed-up version of Minnie's 'Loving You'. It was a tine with an array of high notes that few singers dared attempt, but Janet was more than up to the task and quickly developed a strong following. Another singer of considerable brilliance was Louisa Mark, a Londoner who made her first records at the tender age of 14. Her 'Keep It Like It Is' was just one of a string of roots hits that deserved wider exposure. And Marie Pierre's 'Can't Go Through Life Without You', produced by the maestro of the genre, Dennis Bovell, reveals the polish and attention to detail lavished on the best of his music.

Not everyone could see the joy of Lovers. If any of it ever landed on the desks of Britain's music critics, it was trounced. There were complaints about untutored tuneless singers, soppy lyrics and a failure to address the burning issues of the day. But they said much the same about Philly Soul and time has proved them wrong on both counts. It was true that there were some caterwauling kids on the Lovers circuit, and it was said that in 1976 every school in South London had its own trio  wannabe lover's stars droning in unison to the latest hit. But were all the dodgy punk bands who released 45s at the time any more worthy? Dennis Bovell was also the producer of poetical radical Linton Kwesi Johnson, and the pioneer of British dub, as well as the writer and bassplayer of Matumbi, whose 'After Tonight' is an undying Lovers classic. Would an artist of his calibre really have been involved in producing rubbish? Besides which, Lovers had a big problem when it came to be taken seriously: young working-class women liked it, which invariably prompts a pasting from professional pundits. At its best - and there are a surprising number of Lovers tunes that hit an incredibly high standard - Lovers Rock is a truly uplifting listen. It's no surprise that it triggered any amount of dirty dancing - and yes, that's really dirty dancing, not the tepid stuff from the movie.

There's no doubt that Lovers Rock influenced Jamaican sounds too. the producers in Reggae's heartland witnessed the rise of the music and began to seek some of its success too. Lee Perry's 1977 production of singer Keith Rowe for 'Groovy Situation' became one of the biggest underground hits when it was released on Island's Black Swan label in the UK. Joe Gibbs signed the striking June 'JC' Lodge and had a huge hit in 1981 with 'Someone Loves You Honey'.

Lloyd Chalmers refreshed Delroy Wilson's career with a delightful version of Bob Marley's ballad 'I'm Still Waiting' in 1976. Nobody really called this Jamaican blend Lovers as such; it was more likely to gain the tag 'rub-a-dub'. But there's no doubt it was aimed at the same market.

One of the most interesting aspects of this style of music is that it has never gone out of fashion (perhaps helped by the fact that it's never been fashionable as such). There's always a place for Lovers Rock. Sly & Robbie produced Kotch in the late 1980s and made a dent in the Reggae charts; veteran session bassist Boris Gardiner enjoyed a British No.1 with 'I Want To Wake With You' in 1986; Winston Reedy, lead singer with the Cimarons and one of the greatest British Reggae voices, spent nine weeks topping the UK Reggae charts with 1983's 'Dim The Light'. There's romantic Lovers (the In Crowd's 'Getting Cozy'), rub-a-dub (Jimmy Riley's 'My Woman's Love') dancehall (Beres Hammond's offerings)... one way or another, whatever the style of the time, there's always room for the sexy side of Reggae music, because who doesn't like to feel cherished once in a while? Romance can't be dead. otherwise none of us will be here.

So let's celebrate the sounds that put so many of us on the planet. It's great music that so many people know nothing about, a truly underground scene without any of the trendy nonsense that usually goes with such movements. And once you're a Lovers lover, you'll never want to be without it.

Ian McCann - Editor of Record Collector magazine
 
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