The Top 25 Reggae Singles of 1977

Part of the focus of Celebrate Good Times will be on supplying an overview of each year in a section dedicated entirely to Annual Analysis. This has various strands including a chronological yearly retrospective on subjects including trends, music styles, innovations, outstanding gigs, news stories and obituaries. In addition, there will also be a listing of Top 25s of the year in relation to reggae and soul albums and singles. Using a specially devised inverted points system, these listings of the Top 25 records of the year will provide a snapshot of the most successful records of the year – which are not always the No.1 tunes. Any records which overlap two years are listed in the year with most weeks on the chart – or, if that is equal, the year of its highest chart position. There were 189 new entries on to the reggae singles chart during 1977 – using the unique points system, here are the Top 25 of the year. Highest chart positions are in brackets.

1. Man In Me | Matumbi | Matumbi Music Corp. (1) 838 points

In 1976 this British reggae band had attained tremendous success with their chart-topping proto-lovers rock single ‘After Tonight’. This follow-up was issued on their own label at the tail end of ’76 and entered the UK Reggae 20 on January 1st at No.10. It was a Bob Dylan song originally recorded by him and included on his 1970 album ‘New Morning’ – but had been covered by acapella soul group The Persuasions on their classic ‘Street Corner Symphony’ album in 1972. With a strong lead vocal by Bevin Fagan (also known as Bagga) and the group’s distinctive harmonics, the track boasted a heavy bass which really helped rock the beat. By February the track was at No.1. Reggae fans totally fell in love with this tune. It remained on the charts for an incredible 23 weeks until the beginning of June. But that wasn’t the end of the story…

2. Move Up Starsky | The Mexicano | Pioneer (1) 821 points

The Mexicano was Eddy Grant’s brother Rudy. He’d first made ripples with a tune called ‘Cut Throat’ on the Klik subsidiary Angen in early 1976. By the end of the year, this DJ version of a UK re-cut of Delroy Wilson’s ‘I’m Still Waiting’ was rocketing up the charts. In January of ’77 it hit No.1, spending seven weeks there in addition to a further three weeks at No.2. The record’s success was phenomenal and really caught on. It was later picked up by the Baal label (distributed nationally by Pye Records) but it never took off. The record had its detractors (myself included) who thought it an inferior and rather weak retread of Delroy’s in-demand song. But its popularity cannot be denied. It stayed on the chart for 21 weeks and even prompted an answer-record ‘Move Up Hutch’ by Superstar.

3. We Play Reggae | In Crowd | Cactus (1) 768 points

The In Crowd were a popular Jamaican reggae band led by guitarist Fil Callender. Their first appearance on the UK Reggae 20 had been during the previous year when their big hit ‘Mango Walk’ (released on Tropical Sound Tracs) reached No.3. on the 1976 charts. In ’77, their roots tune ‘His Majesty Is Coming’ had been a very popular import and reached No.11 in the charts when released on Cactus. The follow-up was also successful, another ‘message’ tune called ‘Born In Ethiopia’ which climbed to No.12. During the summer of ’77, ‘We Play Reggae’ appeared on the imported Jamaican label Evolution and was placed for three consecutive weeks at No.1 on the Pre-Release chart. After its swift UK issue in August, the track had reached No.1 by its third week – it stayed in the Top 10 for four months, mostly in the upper echelons of the charts, seven of those at pole position. It was still in the charts at the end of the year – making it a total of 20 weeks on the chart for 1977. If ever a record cried out to cross-over, this was it. Sadly, it never did. An essential slice of reggae history.

4. I’ve Been In Love | Delroy Wilson | Tops (2) 646 points

This cut first appeared as a Jamaican import ’45 on TR-Groovemaster. It sold by the truckload and when eventually released by Brixton’s own Tops label went on to become his biggest UK hit of the year. He’d already had success during ’77 with ‘Mother Nature’ (No.15) and his inferior Bunny Lee-produced remake of ‘I’m Still Waiting’ (No.3). This song was on the charts for 19 solid weeks and became what is now recognised as a ravers classic.

5. Three Piece Suit | Trinity | Lightning (1) 639 points

1977 was the year that Wade Brammer really began to make his mark in reggae music. Being one of the most exciting and original toasters on the scene certainly helped – and under the guise of Trinity, notched up seven hits on the sales charts during the year. These included ‘Tribal War’, ‘Natty On De Banking’, a cut of The Itals’ ‘In A Dis Ya Time’ called ‘Ready Done’, ‘Harvest Day’ and ‘Show Me Your Company’.  He also appeared on the very first 12” reggae single to make the chart – ‘Babylon Kingdom Fall’, a record he made alongside Vivian Jackson, aka Yabby You. ‘Three Piece Suit’ originally appeared on the Belmont label out of Jamaica and was a DJ version of one of the year’s biggest sellers – Marcia Aitken’s remake of the Alton Ellis song ‘I’m Still In Love With You’. After its UK issue, it crept up the charts for a couple of months, reaching the No.1 slot in October. At the end of the year it was still in the chart – making a total of 20 weeks for the year. An album of the same title was released in Jamaica on the Joe Gibbs label but it was never officially released in the UK. Amazingly, the later version of the ridim by Althia & Donna topped the UK pop charts – ‘Up Town Top Ranking’.

6. Sticks Man | Black Slate | Slate (1) 631 points

In 1977 I was responsible for reviewing the reggae singles every week. When I nabbed my review copy, I dedicated my entire column to just this one record! I had so much to rave about it. I had initially heard it as a dubplate when listening to the Fat Man sound-system play Phebes nightclub in Clapton. The record was the brainchild of bassist Elroy Bailey (Bassie) and Anthony Brightly. As a British production, it was one of the heaviest and most amazing reggae records I’d heard that year. Using dub effects and a raw, bass-heavy mix with tight drumming, when it hit the shops, it flew up to No.1 – going down and back up to that position a further two times. It spent 17 weeks on the chart in all. I went absolutely crazy for it and didn’t feel no way about making such a big deal about the tune. It remains a landmark record for British reggae. Although not strictly a Black Slate record – it didn’t feature all members of the band – it certainly lifted the group’s reputation. The group had originally released the gorgeous ‘Mixed Up Man’ in 1976 but that was a total flop. Of course, the group went on to have great crossover success in 1980 with ‘Amigo’.

7. After Tonight/Man In Me | Matumbi | Trojan (3) 606 points

This double-sided reissue of the group’s two biggest hits so far entered the chart on July 23rd and stayed in the charts for 19 weeks. This makes a total of 41 weeks on the chart for ‘After Tonight’ and 42 weeks on the chart for ‘Man In Me’ during this period. Classics both.

8. I’m In Love With A Dreadlocks | Brown Sugar | Lovers Rock (1) 603 points

When this record first appeared as a fake ‘pre’ on the Rama label (a UK-pressed disc with a jukebox hole punched out, selling at an extorted import price) no one could have predicted its massive impact on the UK reggae scene. In spite of its hiked-up price, the track completely sold out, becoming a swift sound-system favourite in the process. It was eventually issued on a new label called Lovers Rock, a subsidiary of the DIP record company in South London. The track entered the UK Reggae 20 on July 2nd and reached No.1 when the chart finally expanded into the UK Reggae 30 on July 30th. It stayed on the charts for 20 weeks. Brown Sugar comprised three teenage girls –Pauline Catlin (who sang lead on the track), Carol Simms and Caron Wheeler. Under the aegis of John Kpiaye and Dennis Bovell, the song was the first of a stream of hits for the trio. Such was the success of this and subsequent records, the term Lovers Rock became the nomenclature that described this kind of British romantic-styled reggae music. Within the space of six months, the label itself amassed 9 hits in 1977.

9. Let’s Make A Baby | Ruddy Thomas | Trench Town (1) 575 points

Ruddy’s reggae cover of Billy Paul’s Philly smoocher was his third hit on the chart. In the previous year he had scored with ‘It Hurt My Heart’ and the ravers classic ‘Time To Leave Daddy’. By the time of its release in the UK at the beginning of the year, ‘Let’s Make A Baby’ had already been a very successful import on Town-N-Country, one of Joe Gibbs’ labels in Jamaica. It was already a party, club and dance hall favourite – and once released shot to the top of the charts. When I visited Jamaica in 1979, I spent many happy hours with Ruddy during my month there. In addition to being a brilliant melodic singer, Ruddy was also an accomplished percussionist and part of The Professionals, a studio session band. He was also an adept sound engineer too and from the 80s was in demand in various recording studios in Jamaica, particularly Dynamic. Ruddy eventually built a strong reputation in the UK for releasing excellent records in the lovers rock style. In the 70s he also recorded under the name Flick Wilson.

10. Black Skin Boy | 15 16 17 | Morpheus (1) 535 points

Protégés of British record producer Castro Brown, 15 16 17 were another teenager vocal trio who made their mark on the British reggae scene singing in the lovers rock style. The gimmick behind their name was that the girls were all at those ages when the group formed. Their first record ‘If You Love Me Smile’ was not a huge success – but this follow up smashed it. The song held the No.1 position for five straight weeks in a row. Their success continued when their records were released through Dennis Brown’s record label DEB Music.

11. Movin’ On | Tradition | Venture (2) 532 points

Tradition were a reggae band based in Harlesden and recorded under the auspices of progressive and experimental Jamaican producer D. Tyrone. This first official single release became an immediate ravers smash and almost reached the top of the chart at the tail end of 1976. They had also released a version of the the Porgy And Bess standard Summertime which was my first ever record of the week in the singles review column – but it was released at import ‘pre’ price and only pressed in a limited quantity. This rocking British classic also has a fantastic dub-side. They did reach No.1 eventually but it was to take a couple of years.

12. Solider And Police War | Jah Lion | Island (1) 492 points

This track entered the chart at the tail end of 1976 and was a DJ version of the biggest hit of the year – the Lee Perry-produced Police And Thieves by Junior Murvin. Originally appearing as a Jamaican import on the Orchid label, it featured long-time DJ Jah Lloyd under a different name. The UK copy issued by Island Records had a saxophone instrumental instead of the JA dub. The track certainly resurrected an interest in the DJ who also recorded a popular album called Columbia Colley.

13. Wolf And Leopard / Sister Maggie Breast | Dennis Brown / I. Roy | Third World (1) 488 points

Dennis Emanuel Brown (1957-1999) had already racked up six hits during the first year of the UK Reggae 20. By the end of ’77 his hit tally had reached ten. Ace record producer Winston ‘Niney’ Hollness had long been associated with Dennis, having already recorded a stream of hits with him earlier in the decade – including ‘Cassandra’, ‘No More Will I Roam’, ‘Some Like It Hot’, ‘Conqueror’, ‘Yaga Yaga’, ‘Westbound Train’, ‘So Long Rastafari’, ‘Travelling Man’, ‘Voice Of My Father’, ‘Go Now’, ‘Tribulation’, ‘Give A Helping Hand’, ‘God Bless My Soul’ and ‘African’. In ’77, all of Dennis’ chart entries were produced by Niney. ‘Wolf And Leopard’ had initially been a massive ‘pre’ hit – as had its DJ toasting version by I. Roy very shortly afterwards. Released back-to-back by Stoke Newington reggae company Third World, the double-sider was at No.1 within four weeks. It remained on the charts for a healthy 15 weeks.

14. Here I Come | Dennis Brown | Morpheus (2) 477 points

When this record first appeared on pre-release in 1976 on the Observer label, I was desperate to grab a copy – but everywhere I went it was sold out! After weeks of anxious searching, Daddy Kool finally got copies back in and I was able to pass over my cash and grab a copy. It is without doubt one of the greatest records Dennis ever made – its heavier-than-lead bassline and languorous ridim aided by a terrific Lee Perry mix and a superb vocal by The Guv’nor. Ironically, it was held off the No.1 slot by label stablemates 15 16 17. I. Roy’s toasting version ‘Jah Come Here’ also stalled at No.2. ‘Take A Trip’ (a clever reinvention of The Drifters’ ‘On Broadway’) and ‘Have No Fear’ were also decent hits that year.

–. Uptown Girl | Trinity | Conflict (2) 477 points

This is a toasting version of Johnny Clarke’s remake of Horace Andy’s ‘Girl I Love You’. Trinity’s fun ‘hiccup’ style is well to the fore. It first appeared on a Jackpot pre but was soon issued on a new UK label called Conflict – this was their first of five hits in ’77. The Horace Andy 1974 version was also issued back-to-back with a new toasting version by up-and-coming DJ Ranking Trevor called ‘Auntie Lulu’, peaking at No.9. That was released on the Chanan Jah label.

16. I Admire You | Roland & Carolyn | Lovers Rock (6) 474 points

A sweet lovers rock remake of Larry Marshall’s 1974 reggae smash. On the charts for 15 weeks, it featured the vocals of Carolyn Catlin – sister of Pauline from Brown Sugar. Carolyn also recorded under the name Sister CC – scoring with ‘Stop Hurting Me’, recorded alongside Natural Mystic. The duo’s follow-up was another cover – this time of Paul Anka’s pop hit ‘You’re Having’ My Baby’. This wasn’t anywhere near as successful – only reaching No.21 on the chart.

17  Waiting In Vain | Bob Marley & The Wailers | Island (1) 447 points

Bob Marley & The Wailers’ album ‘Exodus’ was one of the biggest of the year – holding the No.1 slot for 5 weeks in the UK Reggae LPs chart. As an LP track, ‘Waiting In Vain’ immediately found favour in the reggae clubs and dances and played very nicely alongside the growing number of ‘lovers rock’ releases. It prompted other versions by Leroy Smart, Johnny Clarke, Danny Ray, Tapper Zukie and Dillinger. The title track of the album had already reached No.2 on the chart and at the tail end of the year, the third track to be lifted from the album – ‘Jamming’ – was at No.1.

18. My Cecilia | Delroy Wilson | Caribbean (3) 446 points

Delroy’s other massive hit in ’77 was the Lloyd Charmers’ produced ‘My Cecilia’ – popular on pre-release on LTD. With its gentle ‘rockers’ ridim it was the kind-of-follow-up to the enormous ‘I’m Still Waiting’ which – in its original Charmers incarnation – had still never gained a proper UK release on ’45. Delroy’s remake of Ken Boothe’s ‘I Don’t Want To See You Cry’ – another Charmers production – was also hugely popular at this time, but also never saw a UK issue on ‘45. Delroy’s success during the year was certainly aided by his live shows in the UK where he wowed the crowds with his amazing vocal abilities and tender tunes.

19. Side Show | Barry Biggs | Dynamic (7) 445 points

Originally recorded by Philly soul group Blue Magic, this lush ballad was given a simple but effective reggae treatment by one of Jamaica’s ace romantic crooners – Barry Biggs. He had scored a massive hit in the Black Echoes chart the previous year with his own song Work All Day which had ranked No. 4 in the Top 15 Reggae Singles of 1976. His gentle falsetto and heartfelt delivery gave the tune crossover appeal and that is exactly what it did – reaching No.3 in the British pop charts.

20. Can’t Satisfy | Bagga Matumbi | Trojan Rockers (7) 443 points

Arranged and conducted by Johnny Pate, this Curtis Mayfield song was originally recorded by The Impressions in 1966. This UK rockers lick by Bevin Fagan (1953-2008), the lead singer of Matumbi, was a considerable hit. His previous ‘solo’ effort was ‘Daughter Of Zion’ (later revived by Winston Reedy in the 80s) – but this track was way more popular, remaining in the charts for 15 weeks.

21. Black Pride | Brown Sugar | Lovers Rock (1) 432 points

This was the third hit in a row for this harmonic trio. The song was a heartfelt expression of positive cultural identity which became something of an anthem for young black people in the UK, particularly women. It was still in the Top 10 at the end of the year. After their huge success, they fell out with their record company over lack of royalty payments. The company continued to release material, most of which was unfinished. This tune remains one of their very finest achievements. The song returned to No.1 some eleven years later when group member Carol (now recording as solo artist Kofi) re-recorded the song and had a hit with it all over again.

22. Blood Ah Go Run | Dennis Matumbi | Serious Business (1) 425 points

Dennis Bovell was not only a member of UK reggae band Matumbi but also a freelance producer, writer, arranger, composer and artist. He had already released solo projects under the names African Stone (‘How Long Must I Wait’ and ‘Run Rasta Run’) and Dennis Curtis (‘Come With Me’). He was also behind the 4th Street Orchestra. His single ‘Raindrops’ – credited as Dennis Matumbi – had reached No.8 on the charts, released on the More Cut label. This track was the first of only a handful of records issued on the Serious Business label (via DIP) – whose design mimicked the current Atlantic label. His penchant for powerful harmonies and dub effects gave the single a truly individualistic sound and helped cement his reputation as one of the unique reggae talents of the era. The song was originally issued – like the Brown Sugar record previously mentioned – as an import-priced pre on Rama.

23. Point Blank | I. Roy | Third World (1) 416 points

With I. Roy’s hilarious cockney opening salvo having great appeal for British fans, this Niney-produced version of the song ‘Up Park Camp’ was an immediate UK smash. His other hits of the year included ‘Musical Air Raid’, ‘Zion Trip’ , ‘Roots Man’ (a different song to the same-titled hit of 1975) and ‘Natty Get Ready’. Of all the DJs popular at the time, I. Roy was certainly the most erudite, the most eloquent and the most humorous. His masterful displays of lyrical dexterity, cultural referencing, amazing rhymes and effervescent vocal delivery made his records a cut above the rest.

24. Hello Stranger | Brown Sugar | Lovers Rock (4) 412 points

This song was the follow-up to ‘I’m In Love With A Dreadlocks’ and a cover of the recent Yvonne Elliman hit, itself a revival of the song originally a hit for soul songstress Barbara Lewis in 1963. Another sure-fire party hit, it remains a popular ‘revive’ to this day.

25. I’m Still In Love With You | Hortense Ellis | Conflict (1) 390 points

As previously mentioned, the Alton Ellis song had been revived by Marcia Aitken. Such was the success of this revival, it prompted a considerable number of covers – including a re-recording by Alton Ellis himself which also reached the No.1 slot two weeks previously to this version. The Mighty Diamonds did a great take for Channel One – with a popular toasting cut by Ranking Trevor called ‘Three Piece Chicken And Chips’. Hortense was the sister of Alton Ellis and had been recording since the 60s. Her hits include ‘Why Birds Fly’, ‘To The Other Woman’, ‘Woman Of The Ghetto’, ‘With All My Heart’, ‘I Am In Love’, ‘Last Date’, ‘I Shall Sing’, ‘Have A Good Time’, ‘Piece Of My Heart’ (as Mahalia Saunders), and ‘Hell And Sorrow’. Hortense’s first appearance on the chart had been earlier in ’77 with her wicked rockers remake of Errol Dunkley’s ‘Movie Star’ called ‘Superstar’. This version of her brother’s song was massive. She also had a hit with her own toasting version of the Johnny Clarke cut of ‘I’m Still In Love With You’ as Queen Tiney – a tune called ‘Natty Dread Time’.

So, some truly seminal releases during 1977 – when the two sevens clashed. And the four sevens clashed. Matumbi’s record ‘Man In Me’ went on to win the ‘Best Single of 1977’ award at the very first Black Echoes British Reggae Awards Show, which was held at the Astra Cinema in Stoke Newington the following year.

Do you have any memories of listening to or enjoying any of the songs listed above? Your comments are very welcome.

3 Replies to “The Top 25 Reggae Singles of 1977”

  1. Obviously remember the 15,16,17 song but I was also a fan of Brown Sugar, who although theywere the opposition the were 3 very talented singers. I knew the members of Black Slate from when they were really young and spent many a happy evening at Phebes in Amhurst Road. What can one say about Dennis Brown that has not already been said; talent, pure talent. I do recognise all the tunes, so thank you Snoopy for the reminders. xxxx

  2. Thanks Cheri for your comment. As someone so deeply involved in the whole reggae scene at the time, it comes as no surprise that you remember all of those tunes. Indeed, we spent many happy hours together raving to them! There are many more nostalgic lists to come! Hold tight!

  3. ’77 my year! Know most of these tiunes so well, i swear i must have been raving (only 9 years old tho’)!!

    black skin boys is what all the older boys were singing,(my cousins uncles etc) so that always struck a chord with the feeling at the time. My mum loved i admire you, matumbi – just class, but the in crowd is my tune. they made so much good music.

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