1976 – UK Reggae Number One Albums

The first UK Reggae LPs chart appeared in Black Echoes on February 14th 1976. During the year, 114 albums made the charts – which, from the very beginning, included reggae albums imported from Jamaica or the United States. Of those 114 albums, 10 were by DJ artists, 20 were by bands and vocal groups, 27 were by male vocalists – with only 1 by a female vocalist. The rest were dub albums and compilations. More albums reached No.1 by DJ artists than any other – but the biggest album of the year – by a long chalk – was by a group. Big albums of the year that didn’t reach the No.1 slot include Legalize It by Peter Tosh (No.2), Life Of Contradiction by Joe Higgs (No.4), On The Rock by The Cimarons (No.2), Kick Boy Face by Prince Jazzbo (No.4), Chalis Blaze by Jah Woosh (also No.4) Man In The Hills by Burning Spear (No. 3), Columbia Colly by Jah Lion (also No.3), Trenchtown Mix-Up by The Gladiators (No.4), Satta Massagana by The Abbysinians (No.2). Night Food by The Heptones (also No.2) and 2000 Volts Of Holt by John Holt (No.3). Big-selling dub albums included Gun Court Dub, Rass Claat Dub, African Dub Chapter 2, King Tubby Surrounded By The Dreads At The National Arena and Rasta Dub ’76. Apart from the special No.1 sampler listed below, the other big compilation of the year was Strictly Rockers In A Dread Land. Just 13 albums managed to reach the highly coveted No.1 position in the UK Reggae LPs chart. As always, non-consecutive weeks at No.1 are indicated by an asterisk.

NATTY CULTURAL DREAD | Big Youth | Trojan 2 wks

In the Top 25 Reggae Albums of 1976, this chart-topping album ended up in 8th position. It was the first ever No.1 reggae album in the UK Reggae LPs chart and remained in the Top 10 for eleven weeks. It stayed on the charts for a total of 24 weeks – nearly half a year. The album contains a mix of singles (both released and unreleased in the UK) and provided Big Youth with a very successful follow-up to his previous album – Dread Locks Dread. Side One of the album contained no less than five singles – four of which had never been released on the UK. The opening track Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing was the exception, having been released – like the album – on Trojan, albeit a different cut to the ’45 released in Jamaica. Natty Cultural Dread had been one of Youth’s best singles (released on his own Agustus Buchanan label in JA) – it remains a deep and heavy roots classic. Hell Is For Heroes had been released in Jamaica on Youth’s Negusa Nagast label and utilises the same track as his chart-topping Hit The Road Jack. Big Youth had previously utilised the now legendary Stalag 17 ridim to great effect on 1974’s All Nations Bow. He revisited it for the single Jim Screechy (another Negusa Nagast ’45) mis-named on the album Jim Squashey. His rendering of Diana Ross’ ’73 Motown smash Touch Me In The Morning in ’75 is one of his regrettable singing records – made less painful by the accompaniment of singer Dennis Brown. Side Two begins with another of his forays into singing – a version of Boris Gardiner’s Every Nigger Is A Star (covered in the States by the same group who did a great cover of In The Bottle – Brother To Brother). The addition of The I-Threes on backing vocals helps ease the pain of his vocals. His slaughtering of Betty Wright’s I Love The Way You Love and Leon Haywood’s The Day I Laid Eyes On You are just execrable. However, normality resumes with the single Keep Your Dread (released in Jamaica on Sunshot) and the closing track, the rootsy I Light And I Salvation. The toasting tracks are all amazing – the singing cuts considerably less so. Still, one of Big Youth’s better albums.

DREAD IN A BABYLON | U. Roy | Virgin 4 wks

Originally released in 1975 on Jamaica’s TR International label, this album was produced by Prince Tony – who had actually scored a huge success earlier in that year, producing Big Youth’s phenomenal Dread Locks Dread album. This LP actually uses some of the same backing tracks that are on Big Youth’s album – vocals are supplied by Barrington Spence (in the main), Gregory Isaacs and Lloyd Parks. Ths single Runaway Girl (using Barrington Spence’s lick of Just Another Girl and released in JA on TR Groovemaster 7”) was a big hit in ’76, reaching No.5 on the UK Reggae 20. The JA single Dread Locks Dread (not to be confused with the Big Youth LP!) was another Barrington Spence version – Getti Getti No Want It. Chalice In The Palace (also a big single in Jamaica) – a cut to Queen Majesty – was also a popular tune. This album was the top DJ set of 1976. It was on the charts for 25 weeks – 17 in the Top 10.

THIRD WORLD | Third World | Island 4 wks

I first heard Third World on Capital Radio in 1975. One late Saturday night the station played the demo tapes which had got them their Island Records deal. I taped it on cassette (I still have it buried in the vaults somewhere) and it included a fantastic version of  War’s The World Is A Ghetto. The JA ’45 Don’t Cry On The Railroad Track (released on the Concept 2 label in 1975) was the first thing I had heard by the group – but the UK issue was a completely rerecorded version and nowhere near as good as the original, which I finally attained many years later from Joe Gibbs’ record shop in downtown Kingston, Jamaica. The demo also included an epic version of The Abbysinians’ Satta Massagana – a version of which opens this, their debut album. Apart from a cover of Burning Spear’s Slavery Days, the rest of the tracks are originals. There were no singles released from the album in the UK, which sold entirely on its own merits. Blending reggae with soul, jazz, folk, rock and other musical influences, their music has been called reggae fusion. It was not at all typical of music being created by Jamaican musicians – the nearest equivalent being Bob Marley & The Wailers. Major international success was to come a few years later…meantime, this groundbreaking debut album was something fresh and original.

RASTA PON TOP | Twinkle Brothers | Grounation 1 wk

Producer/singer/writer/arranger Norman Grant and his group The Twinkle Brothers had been releasing music in the UK since the early Seventies. This was their debut album and included recent Jamaican singles (released on the Twinkle label) such as Jah Jah Beat Them, Give Rasta Praise, Jah Jah Gonna Get You and Natty Dread Up Town. The latter had been the group’s first entry onto the UK Reggae 20 and was a take on Shirley & Company’s soul smash Shame, Shame, Shame. Their only other ’45 entry in ’76 was a great reggae version of The Independents’ soul hit Baby I’ve Been Missing You, which reached No.10. This wasn’t included on this album though. A great DJ version of the track Give Rasta Praise by Ili P. reached No.5 on the UK Reggae 20 and Sir Lee’s DJ cut of Jah Jah Beat Them called Whip Them No Skip Them went as high as No.3. This is a solid roots album.

RASTAMAN VIBRATION | Bob Marley & The Wailers | Island 10 wks*

This was – by far – the biggest reggae album of the year and the first studio album since the group’s hugely successful Live At The Lyceum album the previous year. Recorded at Harry J. & Joe Gibbs’ studios in Jamaica, it consolidated the group’s international success – but kept their core roots following. It contained two singles which reached the UK Reggae 20 – Johnny Was peaked at No.5, whilst Roots, Rock, Reggae stalled at No.7. Other big songs on the album include Crazy Baldhead, War, Rat Race and the brilliant Who The Cap Fit. The album entered the UK Reggae LPs chart on 1st May 1976 and stayed on the chart for the rest of the year! It re-entered the charts a few times the following year, amassing 37 weeks on the chart in all. In the Top 25 Reggae Albums of 1976, this was No.1.

RIGHT TIME | Mighty Diamonds | Virgin 5 wks*

This album originally appeared as a Jamaican import on Channel One’s Well Charge label, where it stayed on the charts for six weeks. Upon its eventual UK release some months later it finally made No.1 after halting at No.2 for some weeks. The UK issue on Virgin was in a gatefold sleeve with all the lyrics printed on the inside cover. The album featured five of their Channel One hits: the title-track (originally released in the UK on Birmingham’s Locks label) ; Shame And Pride (originally issued in JA and the UK on Jah Lloyd’s Teem label in ’74 and later reissued on Virgin) ; I Need A Roof had originally appeared on various labels from Jamaica (Giant, Channel 1, Well Charge) until being released in the UK on Black Wax; Have Mercy reached No.3 on the UK Reggae 20 in March 1976 (on Virgin); Africa (issued in JA on the Disco Mix and Well Charge labels) was released as the flipside of the aforementioned Have Mercy. The hits were interspersed with LP-only cuts like Why Me Black Brother Why, Gnashing Of Teeth, Them Never Love Poor Marcus, Go Seek Your Rights and Natural Natty. The album remained on the chart for 27 weeks. It remains one of the great reggae albums of the golden era.

C.B. 200 | Dillinger | Mango 1 wk

This album originally appeared as a US Mango pressing (an Island subsidiary) and was later pressed on the UK Black Swan label. (another Island subsidiary). This debut album proceeded a slew of popular import singles – which included Freshly (for Vivian Jackson), Melting Pot (a Stalag 17 cut for Winston Riley), Natty Kung Fu and Natty Ten To One (for Coxson Dodd at Studio 1), Regular Girl (for Bunny Lee) and Bump Skank (for Lloyd Campbell). This album collected some of his best records for Joe Joe Hookim at Channel One – CB200 (a lick of Gregory Isaacs’ Sunshine For Me), Plantation Heights (a cut to the Mighty Diamonds’ I Need A Roof) , The General (otherwise known as Natty Dread A The General and issued in Jamaica on Steady), Caymanas Park (re-titled Race Day). Surprisingly, the biggest hit wasn’t even released in Jamaica as a single: Cokane In My Brain (released on Island) reached No.4 on the UK Reggae 20. The song was also reissued on the Black Swan label the following year. As was more economical at the time, the LP was never released in Jamaica – copies were imported from the US and the UK.

NATTY REBEL | U. Roy | Virgin 3 wks

U. Roy is named No.1 DJ in Celebrate Good Times for the 1976 Top Ten DJs (Albums). That is because apart from his massive success with the previously mentioned  Dread In A Babylon, he also scored another No.1 this follow-up album. Once again produced by Prince Tony and released on Virgin, this one had no big hit single – though Go Deh Natty (a cut to Barrington Spence’s song of the same title) was popular, as was the title track (released as a ’45 in JA) featuring The Gladiators.

THE FRONT LINE | Various | Caroline 3 wks*

It was during 1975/76 that Virgin began to release a catalogue of reggae albums. This sampler collection compiled tracks from eight of Virgin’s recent reggae releases – including two-a-piece from the Mighty Diamonds, U. Roy and The Gladiators, plus one track each from Keith Hudson, I. Roy, Delroy Washington and Johnny Clarke. The fantastic appeal of the album was that the album sold for the price of a single – recommended retail price was just 69p! This kept the LP in the charts for 17 weeks – three at the coveted No.1 slot. Front Line later became the imprint for Virgin’s reggae label.

SUPER APE | Upsetters| Island  3 wks*

Many consider this album to be one of Lee Perry’s masterpieces. Alongside his awesome Blackboard Jungle, it ranks as being one of the best reggae albums ever recorded. Mixing dub and vocal cuts across two deep and heavy sides, its appeal was instant. The first three weeks on the chart (which totalled 24 in all by January ’77) were as an expensive import album on Scratch’s own Upsetter label. Island were quick to respond with a UK issue and by mid-September it was at No.1 in the UK Reggae LPs chart. Every track is brilliant but personal favourites include Prince Jazzbo’s stunning Croaking Lizard (also a hugely successful single, backed with Max Romeo’s Chase The Devil which uses the same ridim), Underground (featuring some great vocals from The I-Threes), Curly Dub (starring Lee Perry himself) and Zion’s Blood (featuring vocals from two-thirds of The Heptones). Essential in every way.

HIT THE ROAD JACK | Big Youth | Trojan 6 wks

After Big Youth’s very successful Natty Cultural Dread chart-topper came his second No.1 album of the year. Regrettably, this LP contained tracks which were top-heavy on the so-called “singing” side. And Big Youth wailing often horrendously out-of-tune is not something any discerning listener wants to repeat. Opening with a lamentable version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (which – amazingly! – reached as high as No.9 in the UK Reggae 20 when released as a single), it continues with the way better Hit The Road Jack – a huge No.1 hit at the beginning of 1976. His tackling of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes Wake Up Everybody is not as dire as his version of It’s Not Unusual (from his Reggae Phenomenon album) but is almost. The stand-out track is the Jamaican-released version of Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing – renamed here as The Way Of The Light. His Ten Against One (a recut of The Mad Lads’ Ten To One) is more of a DJ-cut than a singing one and another good ’45. Most of the rest is diabolical.

BLACKHEART MAN | Bunny Wailer | Island 1 wk

In 1975, one of the very first Jamaican imports I ever bought was Bunny Wailer’s release on Solomonic – Battering Down Sentence. A version of that great single appears on this album under the title Fighting Against Conviction. Other singles on the album include the magnificent Bide Up, his version of The El Tempos’ Vee Jay classic My Dream Island (known on the reggae scene as Dreamland) which was a big UK hit (reaching No.6) and Armagideon (released on 12-inch). It’s a true roots album which entered the chart in September 1976 and remained for an initial run of 30 weeks.

M.P.L.A. | Tapper Zukie | Klik 6 wks*

Tapper’s album spent some 30 weeks on the chart during ’76 and ’77 – six of those perched at the No.1 slot. It contains a selection of superb ridims –  mostly from the vaults of Bunny Lee and Channel One. The title track was a massive No.1 hit in 1976 and used the Revolutionaries’ Channel One instrumental re-lick of Roy Richards’ Studio 1 classic Freedom Blues. Pick Up The Rockers reached No.3 and used the Ossie Hibbert ridim used for Dennis Brown’s Whip Them Jah. The single Don’t Get Crazy (a version of Tony Brevett’s Don’t Get Weary) wasn’t issued in the UK on ’45 so was a welcome inclusion as an album track. Other stand-outs are Chalice To Chalice (a brilliant version of Johnny Clarke’s Please Don’t Go – which was also versioned by U. Brown); a cut to Errol Dunkley’s Stop The Gunshooting (using the Skylarking ridim); a superb version of Cornell Campbell’s Please Be True called Go De Natty and a great cut to Johnny Clarke’s version of Burning Spear’s Creation Rebel called Ital Pot. A superb DJ album and very popular indeed. After the demise of Klik it was reissued on Virgin’s Front Line label.

So, those were the first albums to reach the pinnacle of the UK Reggae LPs chart throughout 1976. Stand-outs for me are the Super Ape extravaganza, the Mighty Diamonds LP and the Tapper Zukie collection. What are yours? Comments below if you want to share.

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