Whereas the Soul History section of the book recommends 100 albums from each year of the early Seventies, the Reggae History element is limited to just 50 long-playing vinyl records. The reasons for this are twofold: in some years there weren’t as many as 100 even released in the UK but moreso, the quality of a number of reggae albums was questionable. Even as it stands, some of the albums listed may only be one or two-track LPs. Reggae has always been a market dominated by the ‘single’ format – whether on 7-inch, or from 1977 on 12-inch. Reggae’s initial forays into the LP format during the Sixties had tended to be a proliferation of compilation albums and hit collections. This trend began to change in the early Seventies as reggae companies began to experiment with more carefully conceived albums by reggae bands, groups and singers. It also introduced the ‘dub’ album to the world which significantly increased the popularity of the format in reggae circles and beyond. We have already inspected the Top 100 Soul Albums of 1974 – this week we focus on the Top 50 Reggae Albums of 1974. These albums sold almost exclusively in specialist black music shops as many were released on local independent reggae labels. Trojan Records was the major company for reggae at the time (of the 50, over half are on Trojan or associated labels Horse and Attack). These tended to have better national distrubution so made these records more accessible. Though of course, traditional ‘pop’ shops were reluctant to sell reggae albums. In ’74, mail-order outlets for reggae music were still very popular as reggae fans from around the country, who had no reggae shops to visit, found it almost impossible to track down records. Subsequently, the success and sales of these recordings were not necessarily reflected in the very few sales charts printed at the time. Suffice to say, none sold in any huge quantities back then – it wasn’t really until 1975/76 that album sales (and singles too) began to soar as reggae became more widely exposed through the media and saw a rise in the number of independent companies releasing it. As before, the selection only focuses on albums issued in the UK and therefore does not include Jamaican imports. The year of release signifies its original year of issue in the country it originated and not specifically the year it was released in the UK – which perhaps obviously, for some albums was 1975. The first 25 have been highlighted for superiority
I’d heard a few reggae albums growing up – and had had a copy of the requisite Tighten Up Vol.2 handed down to me by my cousin Steve to fan the flame of interest. But it was in 1974 that I began to buy reggae more seriously. There were two Trojan albums I bought at the time which I still love today – Ken Boothe’s Let’s Get It On album and The Inner Circle’s Rock The Boat. They’re both commercial and accessible albums for a reggae novice and they certainly made an impact on me – both combing a mixture of pleasant soul covers and versions of recent Jamaican hits. Ken’s Silver Words (released in 1973 on Green Door) single was one of the first I picked up and in ’74 he also achieved a No.1 crossover hit with his fabulous rendition of Bread’s Everything I Own. His Let’s Get It On set was a big seller in the reggae market – and apart from his nice lick of Marvin Gaye’s title track (which had been a popular seller on ’45 in 1973), the album also includes great versions of The Four Tops’ Nature Planned It (another Boothe ’45 smash), Clint Holmes’ Playground Of My Mind,Paul McCartney & Wings’ massive My Love, Syl Johnson’s deep soul hit Is It Because I’m Black, the Neil Young song (originally recorded with his band Crazy Horse) Down By The River plus his duet with B.B.Seaton – The Whole World’s Down On Me, which was itself covered a couple of years later by the Sniffin’ Glue fanzine pioneer Mark Perry.
Rock The Boat was my introduction to the singing legend Jacob Miller. I was immediately attracted to his soulful and expressive voice – though his contributions on this set gave no indication to the future stutter-style he would adopt for his solo releases. The soul cover versions include You Make Me Feel Brand New (The Stylistics), Some Guys Have All The Luck (The Persuaders), Here I Am Baby (Al Green) and I’m Coming Home (Johnny Mathis) – re-titled I’m Going Home. In Jamaica, the album was released on the Starapple label and entitled Dread Reggay Hits. The UK release included two additional tracks – namely, soul covers Homely Girl (The Chi-Lites) and T.S.O.P. (M.F.S.B.). Reggae covers included the Johnny Clarke smash None Shall Escape The Judgement, Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Burnin’ And Lootin’ (renamed Curfew), Ernie Smith’s Duppy Gunman and Dennis Brown’s Westbound Train. Having heard this album, I was easily able to identify Jacob as the uncredited vocalist on the Augustus Pablo single Baby I Love You So/King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown I enthused over the following year. Other groups featured in the 50 include Toots & The Maytals, Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus, The Paragons, The Pioneers and Mikey Chung’s band The Now Generation. Bob Marley & The Wailers’ phenomenal Natty Dread album is the highest placed at No.2 – and includes classics like So Jah Seh, Lively Up Yourself, Talkin’ Blues and Rebel Music (3 o’ Clock Road Block).
Male vocalists tended to dominate the albums as well as the singles market on the reggae scene during this period – and, apart from the previously mentioned Ken Boothe, the 50 is filled with other male singers – including the ever-popular John Holt, the rising star Lloyd Parks, a debut album by Gregory Isaacs (released in Jamaica on GG’s Hit label), Ernie Smith, preacher’s son Ken Parker, Al Brown (who scored a massive UK No.1 reggae smash with his version of Al Green’s Here I Am Baby), Max Romeo, Derrick Morgan and B.B. Seaton.
At this point, UK reggae was in its nascent stages but nevertheless produced some good music – from the likes of Junior English, The Cimarons, Honey Boy and Sidney Rogers, Clem Bushay & Carl Bert and Danny Ray. The latter’s album included Playboy which would go on to become a lovers rock smash a few years later when issued as a B-side.
Horace Swaby – more famously known as Augustus Pablo – was a keyboards and melodica player who had been making records since the early Seventies. With tracks like Java, Frozen Dub (a melodica version of the Soul Vendors’ Frozen Soul), East Of The River Nile, Cinderella In Black (a cut to Errol Dunkley’s Black Cinderella), Hap Kido (a version of Freddie McKay’s I’m A Freeman) and Pablo In Red (released on Gregory Isaacs’ African Museum label) he created a new sound, a new style and a new vibe. As a pivotal maker and shaker in the burgeoning dub movement he combined hardcore rhythms with melodic sweetness and production innovations on his own labels (Rockers, Hot Stuff, Message) and others. His first album This Is Augustus Pablo (released in JA on the Kaya label) is practically a straight-ahead instrumental album – but two thrilling dub tracks (Point Blank and Pablo In Dub) are outstanding. That particular album had a very important impact on up-and-coming broadcasting legend Dave Rodigan. Hot on its heels came the LP Ital Dub (released on Starapple in JA and Trojan in the UK) with a couple of extra tracks on the British issue.
There were many, many compilation albums released during 1974 but only four have made the list. DJs on the selection are represented by Jah Woosh (his eponymous debut LP still sounds great), Dennis Alcapone, U. Roy (an oldies collection) and I. Roy, whose third album has its moments but is marred by some lamentable so-called ‘singing’.
The only female singer in the 50 is Marcia Griffiths – whose Lloyd Charmers-produced album Sweet Bitter Love is fantastic. Her version of The Main Ingredient’s Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely was a track my next door neighbours in Highbury would play on rotation – it remains one of my favourite Marcia tracks. The album was originally released in Jamaica on the Wild Flower label under the title Sweet And Nice. Its original Jamaican title is apt as its full of sweet and nice tunes – including good versions of Neil Diamond’s Play Me (a hit single from this album), Aretha Franklin’s Sweet Bitter Love (which had recently been covered by Roberta Flack), The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (another Roberta Flack cover) and There’s No Me Without You (The Manhattans). One of the best tracks is a funk cut – Children At Play. The reason that Marcia is the only female in the list is that she was the only woman to release a reggae album in the UK in 1974. Though Sharon Forrester’s album from the previous year was still a very popular album for the next couple of years.
Apart from Augustus Pablo’s releases, the other notable UK dub issues were Jah Lloyd’s Herbs Of Dub (also known as Herb Dub) released in the UK on Dip and which appeared in Jamaica on both Teem and Micron labels. Natty Locks Dub was an early dub adventure by Winston Edwards, who would go on to have greater success with King Tubby Meets The Upsetter At The Grass Roots Of Dub the following year. The ’74 release includes the wonderful Soul Ful Dub and the vocal cut Lover Dub. Original copies now sell for hundreds of pounds.
But top-of-the-pops in this fun 50 is Keith Hudson’s seminal Pick A Dub album – originally billed as by Keith Hudson & Family Man. Its UK release had IInd Street Dreads as the named artists. Featuring sublime dubs of tracks by Keith Hudson, Big Youth and Horace Andy, the album is a masterclass in dubwise brilliance. In July 1977, I listed the Top 125 dub albums in a special six-part dub series I wrote for Black Echoes. Pick A Dub I ranked at No.4. Retrospectively, I would now probably rank it at No.2 or possibly No.1. It’s essential. I love it more than ever.
Keith Hudson does figure at No.4 in this list – with another masterwork album: Flesh Of My Skin, Blood Of My Blood. Containing a mix of rootsy vocal cuts and wild instrumental pieces, it truly stands up as an adventurous and groundbreaking album. Paradoxically, its weakness (Hudson’s sometimes woefully out-of-tune singing) is also its greatest strength – Hudson’s emotive and emotional singing is full of feeling and fire and gives the songs a powerful and authentic credibility and sensibility. The album is a testament to his unique talent as a producer and composer.
Instrumental albums also feature in the list – with hornblower Tommy McCook (solo and in collaboration with Bobby Ellis) providing his own brand of Jamaican jazz. Tommy and Bobby also guested on New York jazz flautist Herbie Mann’s fusion album – simply entitled Reggae – which also sold well.
So – let’s roll ‘em:
1. PICK A DUB | Keith Hudson & Family Man | Atra
2. NATTY DREAD | Bob Marley & The Wailers | Island
3. JAH WOOSH | Jah Woosh | Cactus
4. FLESH OF MY SKIN, BLOOD OF MY BLOOD | Keith Hudson | Mamba
5. LET’S GET IT ON | Ken Boothe | Trojan
6. SWEET BITTER LOVE | Marcia Griffiths | Trojan
7. ITAL DUB | Augustus Pablo | Trojan
8. ROCK THE BOAT | Inner Circle | Trojan
9. MANY MOODS OF I. ROY | I. Roy | Trojan
10. IN THE DARK | Toots & The Maytals | Dragon
11. OFFICIALLY | Lloyd Parks | Attack
12. SWEET CHERRIE’S IMPOSSIBLE LOVE | Honey Boy | Cactus
13. HARDER SHADE OF BLACK | Various artists | Santic
14. DUSTY ROADS | John Holt | Trojan
15. IN PERSON | Gregory Isaacs | Trojan
16. HERE I AM BABY | Al Brown | Trojan
17. MIRACLE WORKER | Sidney Rogers | Ethnic Fight
18. KING OF THE TRACK | Dennis Alcapone | Magnet
19. HERBS OF DUB | Jah Lloyd | Dip
20. THIS IS AUGUSTUS PABLO | Augustus Pablo | Tropical
21. EVERYTHING I OWN | Ken Boothe | Trojan
22. IN TIME | The Cimarons | Trojan
23. NATTY LOCKS DUB | Natty Locks | Fay Music Inc.
24. JIMMY BROWN | Ken Parker | Trojan
25. NYABINGHI | Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus | Trojan
And the rest of the rest…
JAH GUIDE – JAMAICA’S GREATEST HITS | Various artists | Atra
THE DYNAMIC JUNIOR ENGLISH | Junior English | Cactus
REGGAE | Herbie Mann | Atlantic
THE BEST OF LLOYD CHARMERS | Various artists |Trojan
U. ROY | U. Roy | Attack
EVERY MAN OUGHT TO KNOW | Max Romeo | Count Shelly
BELCH IT OFF | Dennis Alcapone | Attack
RUPIE’S GEMS | Various artists | Cactus
DANCING SHOES | B.B. Seaton | Caroline
DON’T BREAK YOUR PROMISE | John Holt | Lord Koos
ASHANTI SHOWCASE | Various artists | Ashanti
IN THE MOOD | Derrick Morgan | Magnet
THE SAME ONE | Danny Ray | Trojan
REGGAE FOR LOVERS | Clem Bushay & Carl Bert | Dip
KINGSTON ROCK | Horace Andy & The Righteous Flames | RCA
TOMMY McCOOK | Tommy McCook | Attack
HOUSE OF EXILE| Jimmy Cliff | EMI
REGGAE DESIRE | Various artists | Magnet
PARAGONS WITH ROSLYN SWEAT | The Paragons | Horse
BUILD ME UP | Brent Dowe | Trojan
GREEN MANGO | Bobby Ellis & Tommy McCook | Attack
I’M GONNA KNOCK ON YOUR DOOR | The Pioneers | Trojan
FOR THE GOOD TIMES | Now Generation | Trojan
LIFE IS JUST FOR LIVING | Ernie Smith | Trojan
SOULFUL REGGAE | Various artists | Trojan
Do you have any favourites in the selection? Please feel free to leave any comments below.