Reggae Party: Vinyl Edition
by Kevin Wierzbicki
We listen to the greatest reggae soundtrack of all time and three compilation albums from Jamaica's fabled Trojan Records label.
Original Soundtrack: Jimmy Cliff in "The Harder They Come" - Various Artists
Originally released in 1972 during the nascent days of reggae's global popularity, the music from the film "The Harder They Come" has long been considered essential listening for reggae fans. A showcase for Jimmy Cliff and a handful of his contemporaries, some of Cliff's famous and most-beloved songs are here, including of course title cut "The Harder They Come" which is represented with three versions. The song has often been covered but none has ever surpassed the original found here. Other Cliff cuts on the album are the sweet gospel soul of "Many Rivers to Cross," the cheerful and optimistic "You Can Get it if You Really Want" (two versions) and the classic "Sitting in Limbo." Toots and the Maytals contribute a take on "Sweet and Dandy" and their also oft-covered hurricane's a-comin', (literally or figuratively) reggae mainstay "Pressure Drop." Desmond Dekker, having had a worldwide smash hit with "Israelites" a few years before, gets a slot here to perform "007 (Shanty Town);" rounding out the set are cuts from the lesser-known Scotty ("Draw Your Brakes') and The Slickers ("Johnny Too Bad") and The Melodians with the classic "Rivers of Babylon." If you watch the film, a gritty depiction of crime, weed and music, you'll get a vibrant snapshot of the birth of reggae as a hopeful way out of bad times. This reissue is packaged very nicely in a gatefold jacket with a 14-page bound-in booklet with lyrics, notes and photos.
Desmond Dekker - Essential Artist Collection
Indeed an essential artist from the Trojan Records roster and Jamaican music in general, Dekker remains best-known for his 1968 global hit "Israelites," here called "(Poor Mi) Israelites." Early in his career Dekker was bestowed the title "king of ska" and was also known as "the king of reggae" as he began to work more in that genre; eventually Bob Marley would usurp that title. This compilation collects 28 tracks, most of which were written by Dekker, including the buoyant self-promoting dance track "King of Ska." One of the outstanding ska tracks here is "Wake up Adina" while "Pretty Africa" straddles the line between ska and reggae. "Sing a Little Song" is a joyous bit of ska where Dekker shows off his talent on falsetto vocals. A perfect reading of Jimmy Cliff's "You Can Get it if You Really Want" is a highlight; the only other cover is a take on the Byron Lee & The Dragonaires cut "Jamaica Ska" where Dekker performs with the English ska revival band The Specials. This set with music mostly from the '60s is a nice representation of the Jamaican music scene of the era. Dekker died in 2006. A 2-LP set in a gatefold sleeve with discs pressed on transparent violet vinyl; a short essay from Winston Smith is also included.
John Holt - Essential Artist Collection
A one-time member of Jamaican mainstays The Paragons, Holt, who died in 2014, was extremely popular in the late 1960s and through the '70s. The set list here, 28 songs in all, is almost evenly split between self-penned numbers and covers, some of which might seem to be odd picks. But they all work out nicely, from a take on Jean Knight's hit "Mr. Big Stuff," done here with slightly changed lyrics as "Sister Big Stuff," an interpretation of the Allen Toussaint chestnut "I'll Take a Melody" and others like "Let's Get it While It's Hot" by Eddie Kendricks, and perhaps most surprisingly, Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make it Through the Night." Originals include the very catchy love song "Ghetto Queen," the harmony vocal-filled "Reggae from the Ghetto" where Holt foresees toasting for just a second, the emotional "Tonight" which moves to the classic reggae rhythm and the yearning "My Heart is Gone." Notable is the inclusion of the Holt co-write "The Tide is High" which was much later a big hit for Blondie. This very enjoyable collection ends with a take on the Billy Joel smash "Just the Way You Are." This 2-LP set is packaged in a gatefold sleeve and pressed on orange transparent vinyl. Mykael Riley contributes liner notes.
Ken Boothe - Essential Artist Collection
One of Boothe's biggest hits was a reggae-fied version of Bread's "Everything I Own" and that bouncy cover opens this 28-song compilation. Boothe's self-penned "Silver Words" is a catchy love song with a somewhat amusing lyric that's meant to convince his lover that he's serious, "Baby I'm not joking, and it's not what I'm smoking." An acknowledged fan of soulful American pop stars like Otis Redding, the Temptations and Wilson Pickett, Boothe works with an easily recognizable Pickett influence on the funk-tinged "I Wish it Could Be Peaceful Again." While most cuts here deal with relationships, Boothe is not averse to commenting on social ills, including on a great interpretation of Syl Johnson's self-explanatory "Is it Because I'm Black?," complete with a saucy saxophone solo, and his own co-write, the "can't we all just get along" "Freedom Street." Notable covers include "It's Gonna Take a Miracle," a reggae-fied R&B groove originally done by the Royalettes in the mid-1960s and covered by Deniece Williams nearly 20 years later, a take on the Four Tops hit "(That's The Way) Nature Planned It," a nod to Rasta culture with the Abyssinians song "Satta Massagana" and the collection-closing "Love Don't Love Nobody," originally done by the Spinners. As with the other Trojan Records compilations mentioned above, this release is a 2-LP set packaged in a gatefold sleeve. Pressed on transparent red vinyl and including liner notes from Winston Smith.
Order these titles at the official store here.