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.