With the sad news of his passing, I felt it was high time I wrote about my love of reggae (on this blog that's mainly about indie rock). It's a genre and a longstanding passion of mine that few of my friends and family are aware of, to be honest. I've been building up a small but precious collection over the years.
I know that my draw to reggae can be pinpointed back to the reggae pop hits of my teens in the early 90s - It Keeps Raining, as covered by Bitty McLean was one of the first singles I bought on tape. Baby I Love Your Way by Big Mountain was a massive smash hit song of one of the greatest summers of my teens, a song that my classmates used to sing by the swings at lunchtime. Shine by Aswad was another perfect August summer's day burst of pop. All this gloriously upbeat, warmth and all these lilting, bass-happy, love songs being around grounded me in my love of reggae.
Maybe what cemented it all, was years later, after turning to guitar music, getting into The Clash, feeling and appreciating reggae's influence and also their use of dub bass and reggae time signature in their punk songs. The Clash's cover of Pressure Drop was pivotal - and many of the songs on the band's first album too (particularly, their version of Police and Thieves - although I'm aware that this wasn't received well by Jnr Murvin and Lee Perry - and their own White Man in Hammersmith Palais. In their later catalogue, of course, the almighty Guns of Brixton, surely their pinnacle feat).
The legendary imprint, Trojan Records brought out some superb boxsets of compilation series, really accessible stuff suited to the curious beginner. There was Rock Steady, collections of Dub and so on. Those boxsets were 3 discs, and came cheap, between £6 and £12 in shops like Fopp and HMV. Island Records brought out a great compilation called Islands in the Sun, too. They've been my education - covering great breadth of artists and versions. 70s and 80s films like The Harder They Come and Babylon were also influential to me (I even had to track down one of the films on VHS from eBay as it was yet to come out on DVD).
One book I would recommend is: Young, Gifted and Black, The Story of Trojan Records, for setting the historic scene and naming the important figures and a look-back on the context for reggae's development. I've seen books like The Rough Guide series which look useful too, for learning your stuff.
I love digging around at record fairs, discovering specialist record shops - Soul Brother Records in Putney, Honest Johns in Kensal, and People's Sound on the once infamous All Saints Road in W11. I have a few albums on vinyl, but it's a costly genre as it sounds best on wax.
I thought it was long overdue that I write a music blog post about my all-time favourite reggae songs. Mostly, rock steady, as I've come to realise that along with dub, it's my favourite genre.
Pat Kelly: Somebody's Baby:
Of course, Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals:
The Harder They Come, by Jimmy Cliff:
Johnny Too Bad, by The Slickers:
Dub from Jnr Murvin:
007 (Shanty Town), by Desmond Dekker:
Rudies All Around, by Joe White:
Rock Steady itself, from Alton Ellis:
And the mighty Al Capone, by Prince Buster: