1976 – UK Reggae Number Ones

The chart returns system in the UK back in the 70s (and beyond) was not a fair one. Sales records for the national singles and albums charts were made up almost entirely of high street shops and chains. In the main, independent record shops throughout the country were not called upon to supply their sales data – which meant that the majority of independently released music (across all specialist genres) was absent from the national charts. The reggae scene in the mid-Seventies was thriving with an ever-increasing number of small independent labels springing up in London, Birmingham and other cities and towns. Major reggae companies such as Vulcan, Third World, Jama and Klik were releasing some tracks which most certainly would have made the ‘pop’ charts had the sales figures of these tunes been returned from the specialist shops. Getting their records distributed into the high street shops was a real problem. However, their sales were reflected in what was initially called the UK Reggae 20 which was first published on January 30th 1976. Thereafter, it was compiled and published on a weekly basis for decades. In 1976, there were 199 entries onto the chart released on 66 different labels (including four Jamaican pre-release imports) by 127 reggae acts. The following is a breakdown – in chronological order – of the 19 records which topped the chart during that year.

Midnight Rider | Paul Davidson | Tropical  1 wk

Paul’s reggae rendition of Gregg Allman’s 1973 hit song was recorded at Harry J. Studios in Jamaica during 1975 and had been a steady seller in the UK leading up to Christmas. Initially released in Jamaica on the Playback label, the song was an unusual choice to cover – reggae producers usually opting for soul tracks rather than rock. Amazingly, the song crossed over into the pop charts – eventually hitting the No.10 slot. It was produced and arranged by singer Pluto Shervington – who was soon to score his own reggae chart-topper. Paul’s follow-ups – ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ and ‘I Need You’ failed to chart so he is a bit of a one-hit wonder.

Jah Live | Bob Marley & The Wailers | Island1 wk

Bob Marley & The Wailers were already the darlings of the rock fraternity, having hit the big time in 1975 with their first crossover hit – a live recording of ‘No Woman, No Cry’. ‘Jah Live’ was a tune I picked up on a Tuff Gong pre-release in late 1975. It has an especially brilliant dub side – called ‘Concrete’. Trust me, it is tuff. This record was the first of three hits during 1976 – but the only Wailers’ No.1.

Dat | Pluto Shervington | Opal 1 wk

Pluto Shervingtion specialized in humourous songs which relied heavily on Jamaican patois. A commercial artist, this song was another which managed to cross over onto the British pop charts – reaching No.6. The song ruminates on a Rastafarian’s clandestine and controversial liking of pork, a meat not eaten by devout followers of the faith. His only other hit in ’76 was the reissue of an older track – ‘Ram Goat Liver’ from 1974.  He was originally a member of a cabaret band called Tomorrow’s Children.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner | Michael Rose | Morpheus 1 wk

Morpheus Records was one of the biggest new label successes in 1976, scoring 9 hits – including this, the first of two Number Ones. The record was released in Jamaica during the previous year on the Observer label – produced by Winston ‘Niney’ Holness. Michael Rose found bigger fame as lead vocalist with the group Black Uhuru – but this initial chart success certainly paved the way. Such was the song’s success, the tune was later licensed to Charlie Gillett’s Oval Records. It’s a rootsy number that is still considered a serious ‘revival’ tune.

Hit The Road Jack | Big Youth | Trojan 3 wks

Big Youth is one of the most important reggae artists. Releasing music since 1972, by ’76 he had achieved a deserved reputation in the UK as being one of the most consistent Jamaican DJ artists. Producing himself and also working with other key producers of the time, he had carved a niche which combined roots credibility with other more commercial productions. His eccentric ‘singing’ is an acquired taste and not to be taken too seriously. His fun reinterpretation of the Ray Charles’ R&B tune really took the UK reggae scene by storm – with wild rhymes and even an interpolation of the Bacharach & David/Jackie DeShannon classic ‘What The World Needs Now Is Love’ for good measure. Originally released in JA on Youth’s own Negusa Nagast/Agustus Buchanan labels, it was one of four UK hits in ’76.

War In A Babylon | Max Romeo | Island 2 wks

The original version of this song released in Jamaica on the Upsetter label was called ‘Sipple Out Deh’. Produced by Lee Perry, this new mix was issued in the UK and was an instant smash – and the second of seven Number Ones in 1976 for the Island label, who accumulated an unbeatable 19 hits throughout the year. Max Romeo had been one of the first reggae artists to crossover with ‘Wet Dream’ back in the late 60s. Though he was never able to match that crossover success, he remained a popular artist on the reggae scene. This was the first of his two No.1 single hits that year – and the title-track of his album which reached No.5.

After Tonight | Matumbi | Safari 4 wks

British reggae band Matumbi had been around for a few years – but it was this tune that really catapulted them into the reggae stratosphere. This was a record you couldn’t escape from – it was played constantly in the clubs, at parties, at sound clashes and at ‘blues’. It was the third biggest record of the year and one of the earliest examples of the musical genre that later came to be known as lovers rock. Its popularity can not be underestimated – it stayed on the charts for an astonishing 22 weeks in 1976 and when reissued the following year on Trojan (where it went as high as No.3), it was on the charts for a further 19 weeks – making a total of 41 weeks within two years. Needless to say, it remains a staple revive and a lovers rock masterpiece.

Chant Down Babylon | Junior Byles & Rupert Reid | Black Wax  2 wks

This track originally appeared as a pre-release on the Ja-Man label in 1975 – and when eventually issued by Birmingham-based label Black Wax, it rocketed to the top of the reggae charts. It’s a roots and culture classic. ‘Remember Me’ was a worthy follow-up but never received a UK release. Junior Byles had already scored massively on the British reggae scene with hits like ‘Beat Down Babylon’, ‘The Long Way’ , ‘Fade Away’ and the awesome ‘Curly Locks’.

Gypsy Woman | Milton Henry | Cactus 3 wks

Gypsy Woman’ was originally written and recorded in 1961 by Curtis Mayfield with his group The Impressions. Prior to this smash, Milton Henry’s other big success had been his interpretation of another R&B classic – Donnie Elbert’s 1957 hit ‘What Can I Do’ – back in 1974. Produced by Rupie Edwards, it provided the musical track for Rupie’s own crossover smash ‘Ire Feelings (Skanga)’ the same year. Released on the Success label in Jamaica, Rupie also produced this very popular and nicely rockin’ version of the Mayfield tune which held the pole position for three weeks.

Love The Way It Should Be | Royal Rass-es | Neville King 3 wks

Issued in Jamaica on the God Sent label, this debut song by Prince Lincoln Thompson’s group immediately found favour in the UK. Combining lush harmonies, jazzy horns and an incredible ‘drop’ bass line, it has all the key ingredients of a classic. The follow-up ‘Kingston 11’ was another sound-system favourite and reached No.1 on the pre-release chart but it is this song that has given the group longevity. Although the group released other good tunes, they never quite surpassed this impressive first song. This is a real ‘ravers’ tune.

One Step Forward | Max Romeo | Island 3 wks

Max was the first artist to achieve two Number Ones on the UK Reggae 20 – with another great Lee Perry production. Prince Jazzbo did a tremendous version of it called ‘Ital Corner’ which was released on the Truth & Rights label in Jamaica. I was very frustrated that I couldn’t track down a copy so I borrowed a friend’s copy and got a dub-plate cut just so I could have it.

Back To Africa | Aswad | Island 1 wk

Aswad were a brand new reggae band comprising Brinsley Forde, Courtney Hemmings, George Oban, Donald Griffiths and Angus Gaye. This was their debut single. Their eponymous album was the first I ever reviewed for ‘Black Echoes’. I loved this single as well – which was the first of many No.1 hits by the group down the years. Dread dub versions of debut album tracks were released on a white-label LP which I have never seen or heard of since. Did I dream it?

Police And Thieves | Junior Murvin | Island 9 wks

This massive song first appeared on pre-release on the Wild Flower label as ‘Police And Thief’ in May 1976.  After a swift UK release it entered the chart at No.2 and slipped up to No.1 where it stayed for an impressive 9 weeks – longer than any other record that year. Its relevance and popularity can in part be attributed to its huge success at that year’s Notting Hill Carnival – where it was seen as a political soundtrack to the terrible riots. It was still in the Top Ten at the end of the year and ended up amassing 29 weeks on the chart during this time. It was the third of four Lee Perry productions to top the reggae charts in 1976. It didn’t cross over into the pop charts until 1980, when it reached No.23.

M.P.L.A. | Tapper Zukie | Klik 2 wks

M.P.L.A’ was originally a rockers instrumental by session band The Revolutionaries and released in 1976 on Channel 1/Well Charge labels in Jamaica. Based on Roy Richards’ song ‘Freedom Blues’, it was issued alongside other instrumental 45s including ‘I.R.A.’, ‘Angola’ and ‘Earthquake’. Tapper Zukie’s ‘toasting’ version of the track was immediately popular but didn’t reach No.1 until its eleventh week on the chart. It stayed on the charts for the rest of the year and even re-entered the following May and July when it was reissued. In total, the tune spent 31 weeks on the chart. Tapper Zukie’s real name is David Sinclair.

Ten Against One | Tapper Zukie | Klik 3 wks

I was invited to the Chalk Farm recording studio when this tune was recorded. Tapper wrote and recorded the song as a commentary about the previously mentioned Notting Hill riots which had recently taken place. This was the first rare instance of an artist replacing themselves at No.1 on the reggae chart. The song was at No.1 for a week more than his previous ‘M.P.L.A.’ but disappeared sooner, totalling just 11 weeks on the chart in all. The B-side called ‘Rockers’ was also listed for a couple of weeks. His other big tune of the year was ‘Pick Up The Rockers’.

Jah Bring I Joy | Bobby Melody | Trojan 4 wks

This huge roots tune was an adaptation of The Gaylads’ 1968 rock steady hit ‘Joy In The Morning’. Produced by Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson, the Jamaican release was originally issued on the Errol T. label. With a great ridim and joyous singing it can’t fail to captivate. The song stayed on the chart for four months. It’s another of those big ‘revive’ tunes. Although he continued to make music, Bobby never had another hit that captured so many hearts and minds.

Black A Kill Black | Gregory Isaacs | Morpheus 1 wk

Rock Away’ was Gregory’s first success on the UK Reggae 20, peaking at No.8 in February 1976. His second was ‘Rasta Business’ – the first of three hits on Castro Brown’s Morpheus label. The third was this huge tune, which was originally a popular pre-release on Gregory’s own African Museum label. On the chart for 14 solid weeks, its success was not superceded by the follow-up, ‘Extra Classic’ which stalled at No.11.

Ballistic Affair | Leroy Smart | Island 1 wk

Leroy Smart had gained moderate success in the UK the previous year with releases such as ‘Get Smart’, Just Tell Me’, ‘Oh Darling’ and ‘Black Man’. Originally appearing as a pre-release on Channel One’s Well Charge label, ‘Ballistic Affair’ gained steadily in popularity – its eventual release saw it shoot up the charts to the No.1 spot. He finally cracked it huge the following year with the album ‘Superstar’.

Solider And Police War | Jah Lion | Island 5 wks

Pat Francis recorded under various names throughout his career – including Jah Lloyd, Jah Ali and Jah Lion. This record was a DJ version of the year’s biggest hit – Junior Murvin’s ‘Police And Thieves’. It was the Christmas No.1 of 1976 and included in the ‘Columbia Colly’ album. The original Jamaican release on Upsetters included a dub version – but the UK issue featured a saxophone instrumental by Glen DaCosta.

My personal favourites from this list of 1976 Number Ones would have to include Matumbi’s ‘After Tonight’ which was such a special record and introduced me to a band I would soon become fanatical about. ‘Love The Way It Should Be’ by The Royal Rass-es is a record I have never stopped playing down the years so that would also have to be a definite favourite. ‘Police And Thieves’ conjures up that time oh so clearly for me – but ‘Jah Bring I Joy’ and ‘Ballistic Affair’ also help define the year for me too. Do you have any personal favourites on the list? What are your memories of these tunes? Please feel free to leave any comments below.

14 Replies to “1976 – UK Reggae Number Ones”

  1. Aha, Snoops, thats what you been up to. Missed your news, charts, lists and general comments since the sad demise of the Crate Diggers site but glad to see you havent been wasting your time. This looks like an immense undertaking, wow, but brilliant ! When i have a bit longer I will have a proper look through what you have here. And really look forward to the publication, it will be a must for all ravers, past and present !!

  2. I was too young to hear them when they were released Snoops but when I hit my teens everything turned into a reggae haze craze. Leroy Smart’s Ballistic Affair was a big tune for me. I love his diverse voice, same goes for the beautiful tones of Prince Lincoln. What was it with these amazing vocalists. Their souls bringing out the most incredible vocals, voices so different to anything I had heard before as a teenager. Albert Griffiths, Cedric Myton, Joseph Hill and Winston Rodney to name a few that totally blew my mind and lead me on to dig more and more to get my fix.

    Oh how I used to rewind the Dub part of the Black Uhuru version of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner when I first heard it. Had not heard Michael’s original before, just Youtube’d it. A lot more raw version. A great tune.

    Very interesting to hear that tunes could of hit the mainstream charts if the sales ranking would of been fairer.

    Snoops this project is gonna to be epic bro. I look forward to keeping up with the progress.
    I will post some links to here.
    All the best and happy vibes… Mike

  3. The chart returns system couldn’t help be anything but unfair. In ’76 I was living in Leeds, probably the 5th largest city in the UK and home to a fair-sized West Indian population mostly living around the Chapeltown area. I was a regular reader of Snoopy’s column in Black Echoes which I had on order from the newsagent as the paper was in short supply. It may come as a surprise but by ’76, Jumbo Records – stalwart vendors of Soul and Dance Music and virtually the only source of Reggae records in the city took a change of direction with the commercial decision to support the growing interest in punk music and consequently to stock less and less Reggae. The only alternative was to buy pre-release items that enterprising Blues party entrepreneur and Sound System supplier , Yankee, sold out of his front room on Gaythorne Terrace. For anyone who wasn’t on the party circuit this was a fairly well kept secret.
    A major consequence of this was that a tune like Ballistic Affair for example would only ever be heard in one of it’s many versions and when added to the lack of retail stock left no possibility of popular success in the mainstream charts.
    Snoopy, I think you’re attempting a mammoth undertaking. I am really looking forward to reading it. I always enjoyed your columns in Black Echoes you are a talented writer with an appealing style so Good Luck!

  4. Hey Pete, thanks for the reply. Yes, this book is a real labour of love but at the end of the day, hopefully, there will be nothing quite like it! And you’re right, it is definitely for all the ravers – you included! More soon.

  5. Mike, thanks for your response. It’s much appreciated. I am pleased – though not surprised! – that you are a ‘Ballistic Affair’ fan. And I know what you mean about Jamaican vocalists having such distinctive and unique voices. Their intonation and vocal delivery is obviously different but it’s the timbre and inidividual sound of the voices that make them so exciting – the examples you give are great. Horace Andy, Jacob Miller, Cornell Campbell, Junior Delgado…the list goes on and on!

    You are right, it is an epic project! Apart from gathering all the data, it is the analysis of the data that is also crucial and time-consuming but hopefully people will enjoy it once it is ready. There is still much to do but every day brings the ending closer!

    As always, thank you so much for your support and encouragement. I genuinely value it!

  6. Hi Shadowspan, thanks for your very interesting reply. From 1977 and for a few years after, I was responsible for compiling all the Black Echoes charts – Jumbo Records was one of the shops I used to get returns from! One of the biggest issues with reggae releases generally was the availability or lack of. Sometimes records never got repressed when they sold out so they would suddenly drop out of the charts – or, reappear months later when they were finally back in stock. I am sure that tracking down records in Leeds was certainly a problem. Even London didn’t always have everything – I used to buy records by mail-order from Black Wax in Birmingham on a regular basis.

    It makes me smile to know that you enjoyed reading my columns. As you know I used to get a lot of flak – I’d had no writing experience when I started writing at 17 but certainly had enthusiasm. Researching this book I have had to read a lot of my old stuff and it makes me squirm with embarrassment – hopefully I’ve improved a lot since then! I am currently attempting a degree in English Language & Literature through the OU (I’m in my fourth of six years) so I am honing my writing skills! A ‘mammoth undertaking’ really does hit the nail on the head. Hopefully, there will be a few people who would like to read the information I am gathering. Thanks for the good luck – I do need it! – and I hope you continue reading the blog. Cheers!

  7. Snoopy, I love the way you have made personal comments about each record. Your research seems very thorough. You’ve shown great knowledge on your experience of reggae music. My favourite No.1s are the roots records like Chant Down Babylon, Jah Bring I Joy and best of all the Jah Lion track. That song has a real good kick to it. I am looking forward to more of your write ups.

  8. Cheers Mike, thanks for your comments. The Jah Lion track is great isn’t it? I originally got it when it was on pre-release from Jamaica. Please keep reading!

  9. Some great, great tunes in there – and so many memories. Had to laugh when I saw “His eccentric ‘singing’ is an acquired taste”. A truer thing has never been said – but we love it for so many reasons!! Big Youth ruled it for me – as well you know!
    Hope Su Su Pan Rasta gets a mention at some point -some special meanings with that one, eh?

  10. Do you think ‘eccentric’ was too polite? But yes, Big Youth’s ‘unusual’ singing voice has never been emulated. Who can forget how he transformed Diana Ross’ ‘Touch Me In The Morning’ to such toe-curling effect? The less said about ‘It’s Not Unusual’ the better.

    And yes. ‘Su Su Pan Rasta’ DOES feature in the book – at which point, you will have to wait and see!

  11. Hey Paul, really enjoying your columns. I was only 8 in ’76 but living in a house of music to relatively young parents i know a lot of the tracks. As you say matumbi is a classic of which i would revisit many times while relieving someones living room of wallpaper in my raving days! But my tune from your list is the royal rasses humanity, love prince lincolns voice and always loved the album artwork as a boy…

  12. Hey – thanks Martin! As you can see, The Royal Rass-es is definitely a stand-out for me from that year. Unconventional People was another record by them which I really liked. Being brought up in a house of music definitely helps shape your future. My parents and wider family had a deep influence on me appreciating all kinds of music when growing up. It has kept my ears open and ever ready for great music, new and old.

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