1987 – UK Reggae Number Ones

The advent of dancehall, digital and ragga really shook things up on the reggae scene during the Eighties. However, this didn’t halt the proliferation of home-grown talent which specialized in producing lovers rock for the masses. The year was bookended by two of what have since become masterpieces of the genre. In between, the chart was dominated by dancehall tracks, a couple of soul covers, straight-ahead Jamaican reggae and a leftfield Big People’s anthem. Only eleven records hit the top spot during 1987. As usual, an asterisk denotes non-consecutive weeks at No.1.

LATELY | The Natural-Ites | Realistics 6 wks

The Natural-Ites hailed from Nottingham and had first made an impression with Close To Me. Their rootsy Picture On The Wall was a massive hit in 1983. Black Roses was another popular tune in 1984. Lately was in the lovers-rock style and features a wicked rub-a-dub ridim with blazing horns and heartfelt vocals with great harmonies. For me – and no doubt many others – their greatest song.

AGONY | Pinchers | Live & Love 7 wks

Appearing early in 1987 from Jamaica on Jammy’s, this digital dancehall classic was swiftly released in the UK on Third World’s Live & Love subsidiary on 12-inch and shot to the top of the charts. Pinchers (Delroy Thompson) is one of the greatest and unique dancehall singers and this was his biggest smash of the 80s. As one of the biggest and brightest stars of 1987 he produced a voluminous amount of tunes during the year – including Sit Down Pon It, Don Is Don, Hackle Me Body, Young Fresh And Green, Crazy, Grammy, Here I Come Again, People Of My Country, Gummy Gummy, Me Love Me Like Me Enjoyment, Increase My Knowledge and Imitation Santa.

CAN’T BE WITH YOU TONIGHT | Judy Boucher | Orbitone 4 wks*

Originally from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in the southern part of the Windward Islands, Judy moved to High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire when she was 15 years old. Singing various styles of music, she had a big hit on the reggae charts in 1985 with Dreaming Of A Little Island. In the following year she recorded an album consisting of sentimental easy-listening (Adults/Big People music) – the title track (Can’t Be With You Tonight) was issued as a single the following year and by April was No.1 in the reggae charts, in spite of it not being a reggae record at all. The tune also crossed over into the pop charts in the UK reaching No.2 and was in fact an international smash all around the world.

PROMISE ME | Ernest Wilson | Techniques 1 wk

As a founding member of reggae vocal group The Clarendonians, Ernest Wilson enjoyed initial success with Sixties ska and rock-steady hits like Shoo-Be-Doo-Be (I Love You), Can’t Keep A Good Man Down, Rudie Bam Bam, Rudie Gone A Jail, You Can’t Be Happy, I’ll Never Change, Musical Train and their great cover of The Beatles’ You Won’t See Me. Ernest ‘Soul’ Wilson became an instant solo success in the late Sixties with smashes like Undying Love, Storybook Children and I Know Myself. Promise Me was something of a return to form under the guidance of producer Winston Riley.

NO TOUCH THE STYLE | Joseph Cotton | Fashion 7 wks

DJ Joseph Cotton (real name Silbert) first recorded in the Seventies under the name Jah Walton, recording for producers such as Carl Patterson, Joe Gibbs & Errol Thompson, Phil Pratt, Derrick Harriott, Sonia Pottinger, Harry Mudie and Herman Ramharrack. From the mid-Eighties he began recording under the name Joseph Cotton and scored his first big smash No Touch The Style for Fashion Records, recorded at their Forest Hill based A-Class Studio. The humorous track equalled Pinchers’ Agony by staying at the top for an impressive 7 weeks.

HOL A FRESH | Red Dragon | Techniques 1 wk

Leroy May initially recorded under the name of Redman but had his first big success under the name of Red Dragon with this dancehall tune for Winston Riley. Recommending a regime of personal hygiene and freshness to attract the ‘fresh’ ladies, this fun tune was perfect digital fodder. He continued to be successful and relevant artist throughout the rest of the Eighties and most of the Nineties. Towards the end of that decade, his popularity was not so hot. But his big hits – Yuh Body Good, Stop It, Explode Gal, etc. – including this one notch up to make an exciting run of ragga rumpus. Courtney Melody had a hit on the same ridim with Beautiful Woman.

JUST DON’T WANT TO BE LONELY | Freddie McGregor | Germain 7 wks

One of the tunes I absolutely loved when I first seriously got into reggae in the mid-Seventies was the Lloyd Charmers-produced version of Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely by Marcia Griffiths. Originally a soul smash for The Main Ingredient, this riding revive by Freddie McGregor was the third year in a row that he’d had a No.1 hit. I’d bought my first Freddie McGregor record at the age of 15 when I purchased his incredible version of George Soule’s ’73 hit Get Involved. Over the next few years I bought and absolutely adored some of his Studio One singles – the roots anthem I Man A Rasta – plus two fantastic soul covers, his brilliant version of The Detroit Spinners’ Ghetto Child and his excellent rendition of one of my favourite Johnny Mathis sides: Sweet Child. His No.1 run continued in 1988. But he would have to wait until 1996 for his biggest No.1 success yet…

HALF SLIM | Joseph Cotton | Body Music 2 wks

Joseph Cotton was the only artist in 1987 to have two number one singles. Half Slim was produced by Lloyd Charmers and originally released in Jamaica on Derrick Harriott’s Crystal imprint. His storytelling style in Jamaican patois connected with the UK audience and the record – no doubt fuelled by the success of No Touch The Style – saw it reach the pinnacle of the reggae chart in September.

SARA | Frankie Paul | Live & Love 8 wks

A Prince Jammy production with Stealie & Cleavie adding their arrangement magic. This was issued in Jamaica on the Jammy’s label and was a huge local hit. Its success in the UK followed on from the success of tunes like Them A Talk Bout, the chart-topping double-sided smash Pass The Tu-Sheng-Peng/War Is In The Dance (in 1984), Tidal Wave and Shub In. Sara was included in the album of the same name.

SOME GUYS HAVE ALL THE LUCK | Maxi Priest | Ten 5 wks

Cousin of the late Jamaican singer Jacob Miller, Maxi Priest’s musical apprenticeship was with the Saxon Studio International sound-system where he sang alongside MCs like Papa Levi, Tippa Irie and Smiley Culture. When he began recording music he was an immediate success – with records like Sensi, Throw Me Corn (No.1 in 1984) and Should I (Put My Trust In You) (also No.1 in ’84) proving absolutely massive on the reggae scene. His success, personal charisma and undisputable talent led to a deal with UK national label Ten Records. In 1986,  Strollin’ On (a reggae No.1), In The Springtime and Crazy Love/Pretty Little Girl (another reggae No.1) all crossed over into the pop charts. Let Me Know (another crossover hit) followed in ’87, with Woman In You hot on its heels. His version of The Persuaders’ 1973 soul hit Some Guys Have All The Luck provided the singer with his first UK Top 20 single (reaching No.12).

IF I GAVE MY HEART TO YOU | John McLean | Ariwa 10 wks

This lovers rock classic was sat atop the reggae chart during the week of the festive season – and stayed for an amazing ten weeks right through to mid-February in 1988. Written by John himself and produced by Captain Sinbad at Ariwa Studios, it was the first of many hit tunes John made for Ariwa – later hits included Truly Bowled Over, Say You, Time For Love and Runaround Girl. However, this almighty tune is certainly his most fondly remembered and will forever be one of the shining moments in the lovers rock canon.

Leave a Reply