A superlative introduction to the world of Jamaican music, Tougher Than Tough is a treasure trove of information, filled with unforgettable music. Across four discs and 95 songs, this set spans the entire history of the island's vibrant music scene, hitting all the major stylistic bases along the way, and rounding up many of Jamaica's greatest artists. It's evident that a great amount of thoughtful time and effort went into this package and, although collectors will howl at the many omissions and some of the selections, this set wasn't intended for them, but for a general audience interested in beginning to explore the music more deeply. With that in mind, the package includes a lushly illustrated 65-page booklet written by Steve Barrow (author of The Rough Guide to Reggae), who provides an exceptionally lucid historical overview. The rest of the booklet offers information on every track, including producer, composer, and release date. The music itself is sequenced chronologically, allowing the listener to chart the myriad of stylistic changes over the years. Disc one begins in 1958 with the Folkes Brothers' "Oh Carolina," arguably the first ever proto-ska release, cut during producer Prince Buster's first ever recording session. It continues through the rise of pure ska and through the shift to rocksteady. Disc two concentrates on the reggae years and the rise of the DJs, while the third is given over entirely to roots. The final disc brings things bang up to date, following the trajectory of the dancehalls. The set comes full circle with the final track, Shaggy's smash hit cover of "Oh Carolina." From rude reggae to ragga, dulcet vocal groups to dueling DJs, The Story of Jamaican Music is indeed just that. Of course, there's a wealth of equally masterful music that didn't make the cut, and the booklet discusses a multitude of songs not included. But this is history 101; hopefully, students will continue their studies on their own.
Before reggae there was rocksteady；before rocksteady there was ska；before ska there was mento……
早在50年代的中期，美国的节奏布鲁斯（Rhythm and Blues ——也就是我们现在所说的R&B），通过迈阿密、新奥尔良、孟菲斯等地的广播电台传入牙买加后，当地的一些音乐家便将其与牙买加当地的传统民间音乐Mento（门特）相融合，并混杂了美式灵歌的演唱，逐渐形成了Ska（斯卡）音乐。Ska音乐的速度较快，感觉更容易让人随之舞动蹦跳起来，更加活泼跳跃，节奏强调反拍的重音，乐队中除了采用传统的Mento音乐的乐器（如木吉他、各种拉美打击乐器）外还加入了铜管乐、电吉他、电贝司和键盘等乐器，并突出铜管的华丽色彩。而电吉它的反拍切分演奏技巧也更是体现了Ska音乐的特性，更容易与其他音乐区别开来。
1964年，Millie Small的一首《My Boy Lollpop》在美国流行，这也是国际音乐圈关注Ska音乐的开始（60年代，在英国，Ska被称为Bluebeat）。尤其在七十年代末的英国，受当时流行的Punk和New Wave音乐的影响，衍生出一批像The Clash、The Specials这样大名鼎鼎的Ska-Punk（朋克）、Ska Revival（复兴）风格的乐队。
Ska音乐流行于1960至1965年之间，到60年代中期逐渐演变为Rocksteady音乐。Rocksteady与Ska相比，它的速度明显放慢，节奏及旋律更为细腻丰富；其乐队完全采用节奏布鲁斯的组合方式，将吉他作为节奏乐器，用切音技巧演奏松驰而富有韵律的节奏音型；贝司声部的旋律也更具独立性，与华丽的主唱声部构成对位，成为美妙的低音铺垫，相对来说要求有一定的技术性和演奏技巧。60年末，Rocksteady又发展成更具国际性的Reggae（雷鬼）音乐。实际上，很难在Rocksteady和Reggae之间划出明显的界限，只是Reggae比Rocksteady更为细腻，更多地使用电声乐器和更加国际化、商业化而已，没有Rocksteady那么明显的牙买加传统地方特性。不过Rocksteady在Reggae乐的发展中扮演了重要的角色，Rocksteady主要代表艺人有Alton Ellis、Ken Boothe与The Melodians等，他们的歌曲动听，歌词却充满了政治意味，对接踵而至的Reggae做了很好的铺垫，成为Reggae乐的先锋。
而另一方面，Reggae的诞生也与牙买加的宗教信仰以及当时的政治氛围有着很紧密的联系。虽然Reggae表面上是一种很慵懒的音乐形式，但是歌词却有很强的政治意义，表现内容与当地穷苦人信仰的Rastafari（拉斯塔法里教）有着密切联系。该教派崇拜埃塞俄比亚前皇帝Haile Selassie（海尔·塞拉西一世），把他奉为神，当作黑人的救星，教派即因他在登位前被称为Ras Tafari亲王而得名；红黄绿三色旗是他们的教旗，红色代表鲜血，黄色代表被掠夺的黄金，绿色代表非洲的大陆；“JAH”是他们对于大麻和上帝的称呼，他们在仪式中使用大麻，认为上帝是黑人，所有黑人应该重返非洲大陆，所以大麻和非洲草原便是Rastafari的图腾；而信奉Rastafari的人则被称为Rastafarian或是Rasta，Rasta几乎都留有Dreadlocks（即雷鬼发型，俗称脏辫儿）。Reggae借音乐形式来表达Rastafari教的政治思想，把音乐当作武器，抗议社会的不公，表达牙买加被压迫群众的心理，宣扬爱与和平，也梦想有一天获得解救，重返非洲故乡——他们的地上天堂。
所以，Reggae其实也是一种政治性很强的音乐，至少在其发展初期是这样，这也正是Roots Reggae、Political Reggae的特点。Reggae音乐最著名的代表人物就是Bob Marley（鲍勃·马利），他不仅是Rastafari教的狂热信仰者，还将Reggae音乐广泛流传开来，成为一种具有世界影响的流行音乐形式。民间舞蹈和Reggae乐的传播，迅速遍及北美黑人社区。而Bob Marley和他的The Wailers乐队以狂飙一般所向披靡的气势几乎是在一夜之间就传遍了北美和欧洲，一时间，牙买加首都金斯敦成为了世界上无数Reggae乐迷心中的圣地，而人们也记住了Bob Marley的名字和他极具迷幻色彩而又充满了对自由渴望的音乐。
Dancehall发展于80年代，最初称作Ragamuffin，音乐的主要结构仍是Reggae，但是速度快了许多，强调大鼓的重拍，有别于Ska/Reggae的慵懒，表演内容通常是DJ在台上以半唱半念饶舌的方式演出，歌词内容却都比较低俗，并常常伴以非常激进的唱腔，称作Dancehall是因为这样的音乐并不适合在电台播放，最合适的地点就是舞池（Dancehall），于是Ragamuffin就有了一个通俗的新名字，Dancehall早期的代表人物有Sizzla、Yellowman、Shabba Ranks等人。到了90年代，Dancehall与美国的Hip-Hop进行了结合，许多帮派饶舌逐渐地加入了Dancehall，使得原本就有肃杀之气的歌曲更加的激进，这股潮流延续了下来，Dancehall也成为Hip-Hop的一个重要元素，同时也创造出像Beenie Man以以及Sean Paul这样的知名巨星。
Ragga与Dancehall密不可分，甚至从音乐形式上来说，Ragga就是Dancehall（Ragga不过是法国人的叫法），其实Ragga就是Raggamuffin的缩写，源自于牙买加首都金斯敦的贫民窟，到了80年代中期，成为牙买加年轻一代相当喜爱的音乐形式，歌词有别于Dancehall的肮脏与暴力，到了90年代，Ragga则对英国的Drum 'n' Bass/Jungle（在英格兰出现的一种音乐类型，转变自Techno音乐，它也是Techno所有子类音乐中一种最具节奏性的混合，音乐中可能什么都没有，但绝对少不了那种速度很快的击鼓声以及很沉的低音）影响深渊。
放眼当下，更多来自牙买加的音乐充斥在酒吧、街角、旅馆、海滩与舞厅里，也有越来越多的音乐人将Reggae等牙买加音乐融入到他们的音乐中，从Eric Clapton、The Police到The Clash及The Fugees，在中国则有崔健和王磊。爱尔兰光头女歌手Sinead O’Connor则承认自己也是一位Rasta，她曾在牙买加录制Reggae专辑《Throw Down Your Arms》，并透露出想移居牙买加的愿望，短暂的旅行让这位性格独特的女人流连忘返：“牙买加人非常绅士，并且热情，这个地方对我简直充满了神奇的魔力。”Bob Marley是Reggae不朽的灵魂，也是牙买加的国家名片，新晋的Shaggy和Sean Paul等又给牙买加音乐注入了新鲜的血液。因为当地根源的基础性，牙买加的音乐才得以生生不息。
国家政要：总理珀西瓦尔·帕特森 (Percival Patterson)，1992年3月接替总理职务，1993年起三度连任。
与中国关系： 1972年11月21日，牙买加与中国建交 。2005年6月，牙买加总理帕特森访华 。
Disc One: Forward March (1958-67)
1. “Oh Carolina,” Folkes Brothers (Prince Buster).
Produced by Prince Buster at his first Voice of the People session after leaving Clemente Dodd’s studio, this is raw yet compelling. Jamaican music’s connection with Rastafariansim is implicit right from the start of the set thanks to the track’s distinct nyahbingi drums. Mostly used by Rastas, the drums—a large bass drum with a small chorus of hand drums—dominate and overwhelm the track, creating an almost West African combination of rhythmic discord and melody.
2. “Boogie in My Shoes,” Laurel Aitken (Chris Blackwell).
The boogie sound of New Orleans and other American R&B was a major influence on the early sound systems. This track—notable for being Island Records founder Chris Blackwell’s first success as a producer—is a clean, blues-influenced track sounds pedestrian and too reverent of its roots compared to many of its contemporaries. It almost sounds as if it was the shell of a Jamaican track recorded by white musicians. Oh, wait, it was.
3. “Midnight Track,” Owen Gray (Chris Blackwell).
This track about durability and perseverance could practically be a Fats Domino song. That’s a good thing.
4. “Easy Snappin,” Theophilus Beckford (Clement “Coxsone” Dodd).
Light years away from the more refined Blackwell work above, this slow-burning Clemente Dodd production is the set’s first real classic. Dodd’s burying of the vocals—in this case beneath a walking piano and bass line, a tenor sax, and an unexpected trombone solo—was one of his production hallmarks. I guess I spoiled the surprise of the trombone solo.
5. “Housewives’ Choice,” Derrick & Patsy (Leslie Kong).
Another slow-tempo boogie, this crisp, commercial jaunt is reminiscent of New Orleans duo Shirley and Lee. A rare boy-girl duet in which the male displays as much vulnerability as the female—and initiates conversation about their love—it was wildly popular at its time (hence the title) and is criminally underrated today.
6. “Forward March,” Derrick Morgan (Leslie Kong).
“The time has come when you have your fun / We’re independent.” This celebration of Jamaica’s 1962 independence from Great Britain begins appropriately enough with militant snare drums before quickly giving way to the staccato rhythm and soulful vocals that has become the most recognizable hallmarks of Jamaican music. Unfortunately, Jamaican songs of protest and pain would become as common as songs of joy in ensuing years.
7. “Miss Jamaica,” Jimmy Cliff (Leslie Kong).
This is another celebration of the nation’s independence, this time built around the Miss Jamaica pageant. Cliff’s lyric, “although you may not have such a fabulous shape...I need not know nothing more,” is a sweet eye-of-the-beholder sentiment and, more importantly, a sincere pledge of love and patience to the newly created nation.
8. “My Boy Lollipop,” Millie (Chris Blackwell).
This is one of the few songs on the box that everyone has heard. It didn’t take long for the new ska sound to be successfully exported. Brought to England by Chris Blackwell for the recording, Millie’s cover of the Barbie Gaye song added a harmonica, kept the stuttering vocal, and became an international hit, reaching the top five in both the UK and U.S. in early 1964. This could be the most upbeat unrequited love song not written by Daft Punk or Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins.
9. “Six and Seven Books of Moses,” the Maytals (Clement “Coxsone” Dodd).
Most of the early Toots and the Maytals songs were spiritual and this is no exception. Sure, it’s simply a list of Moses’ biblical contributions, but with Toots’ infectious vocal performance and Dixieland harmonica solo, could anyone resist? The march tempo of the rhythm track and the subject matter connect the plight of the Jamaicans to the plight of the wandering Old Testament-era Jews—a link made more directly by later hits such as Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” and Bob Marley’s “Exodus.”
10. “Simmer Down,” the Wailers (Clement “Coxsone” Dodd).
Made at Clemente Dodd’s relatively new Studio One with the Skatalites as backing band and Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston backing Marley on vocals, this is the undeniable sound of something happening. A warning to rude boys that violence begets violence, “Simmer Down” was a massive hit in Jamaica, reaching No. 1 in early 1964 and selling 70,000 copies. For all the focus on his messages of love and cohesion, Marley’s overwhelming worldwide fame and adoration has cast a strange shadow over the perception of Jamaican music. Because of Marley, too many casual observers believe roots reggae and Rasta is Jamaican music.
11. “Man in the Street,” Don Drummond (Clement “Coxsone” Dodd).
This Studio One recording has hints of mento, the jazz- and swing-influenced music that pre-dated the Jamaican sound systems. The instrumental’s sinewy, elastic horn lines sound ripped from a spy movie soundtrack, a well which has been dried too often over the years for me to find much to love about the song.
12. “Carry Go Bring Come,” Justin Hines and the Dominoes (Duke Reid).
Just two years after the promise of independence, here already is a song claiming that “the meek shall inherit the Earth” and lamenting “how long shall the wicked prey upon my people?” An early switch from the secular to the spiritual, this is suitably restrained, but—possibly as a result—a slight bit dull.
13. “Guns of Navarone,” the Skatalites (Clement “Coxsone” Dodd).
As far as soundtrack-quoting ska instrumentals go, this runs laps around the Drummond track. From the opening psuedo-skat, something truly different is happening here. Playful, exuberant, instantly recognizable but unmistakably Jamaican, “Guns of the Navarone” takes a familiar track and reveals surprises and at every turn. Dropping out at only 2:30, it should be at least twice as long.
14. “Al Capone,” Prince Buster (Prince Buster).
OK, we’re going from strength to strength here and things are really getting interesting. This is another wildly adventurous ska track that borrows a slice of Hollywood-exported American legacy (the gangster, naturally.) Opening with a series of ambient noises that aurally construct a drive-by shooting and a drawn-out warning that, “Al Capone guns don’t argue,” Buster’s staggeringly great anti-firearms morality tale features a brilliant call-and-answer from sax and trombone, and early forms of toasting/rapping and even beatbox work. And to think that in the U.S. and UK at the time, “California Girls” or “We Can Work it Out” was considered revolutionary.
15. “Hard Man Fe Dead,” Prince Buster (Prince Buster).
A classic from one of ska’s few self-contained creative forces. Prince Buster’s tracks tossed out the American R&B backbeat, favoring instead the afterbeat—a phrasing that became synonymous with Jamaican music. This track is the tale of man who rises at his own wake. It’s a lot funnier than it sounds, too.
16. “Tougher than Tough,” Derrick Morgan (Leslie Kong).
As conditions worsened in the Kingston ghettos, criminal gangs of rude boys began to emerge. The rude boys preferred the more grounded and refined slower tempo of rocksteady to the up-tempo, optimistic-sounding ska. The walking lines of ska’s stand-up bass were traded for broken electric sounds.Here, Morgan tries the rude boys— actually Desmond and George Dekker— for violence in the streets, but they’re not having any of it. The courtroom setting doesn’t condemn them, but gives them the opportunity to articulate their motto: Rudies don’t fear.
17. “Girl I’ve Got a Date,” Alton Ellis (Duke Reid).
An anti-rude rude boy, Ellis stayed away from the troubles of his land, focusing on the promise of youth. On this two-timer’s anthem his voice is so smooth, you almost don’t mind that he’s playing you. The largely inconsequential track is carried by a bass line is half-way between “Mr. Big Stuff” and “Walk on the Wild Side.”
18. “Happy Go Lucky Girl,” the Paragons (Duke Reid).
The gurgling bass is even more chopped here than on most rocksteady tracks, and is the clear highlight of the track. Unfortunately, the Paragons’ stunning vocals are here lamenting their runaround mate. Hey guys, when a good girl’s gone bad, she’s gone forever.
19. “Dancing Mood,” Delroy Wilson (Clement “Coxsone” Dodd).
This is a cover of the US Tams hit with a wonderfully restrained arrangement by Studio One organist Jackie Mittoo. Wilson claims he’s ready to hit the dancehall, but the sorrow and longing in his surprisingly monotone vocal tell the true tale. In that respect, he reminds me of a very soulful Neil Tennant.
20. “The Train Is Coming,” Ken Boothe (Clement “Coxsone” Dodd).
It’s fitting that Boothe follows Wilson—his slightly more gritty tenor was considered Studio One’s second-best soul voice. A ska arrangement slowed to a rocksteady tempo, the propulsive vocals match the approach the train.
21. “Take It Easy,” Hopeton Lewis (Winston Blake/Federal Studios).
This is one of the strongest songs on the disc. This track gave a name to the entire genre: another studio musician called Lynn Taitt’s metronomic guitar playing “rocksteady.” The simplicity of Taitt’s work expertly matches the song’s languid lyric.
22. “Ba Ba Boom,” the Jamaicans (Duke Reid).
“Freddy get Ready / Come do the rocksteady.” Another understated classic, this sophisticated, percolating Duke Reid production was just one of the many Treasure Isle Studio works to feature rich, expressive vocal groups.
23. “007 (Shanty Town),” Desmond Dekker (Leslie Kong).
In which Dekker draws a line from rude boys to disparate outlaw heroes as James Bond and the Rat Pack. Infectious and surprisingly airy (again thanks to Taitt’s unfussy playing), the song borrows lyrics from other rocksteady hits, an early example of the dialogue between Jamaican tracks.
24. “I’ve Got to Go Back Home,” Bob Andy (Clemente “Coxsone” Dodd).
The U.S. soul arrangement matches the anguish of the lyric to the struggle of African-Americans throughout the Hemisphere and the world—which is appropriate for this early back-to-Africa hit. Bare and vulnerable, expert lyricist Andy equally excelled with very direct songs of love and hardship.
25. “Queen Majesty,” the Techniques (Duke Reid).
The first of three soul influenced-Duke Reid productions to close the first disc. The Techniques track patiently unfolds, stretching the impact of their polished, Impressions-like falsettos. With a dominant bass line and a steady guitar part also playing in the high registers, the song is so wonderfully fragile it sounds as if it could snap.
26. “Loving Pauper,” Dobby Dobson (Duke Reid).
For some reason, none of Andy Partridge’s pleas to pick his love despite his lack of money sound this sincere or sexy.
27. “Don’t Stay Away,” Phyilis Dillon (Duke Reid).
This is the flip side of Dobson’s “Loving Pauper,” with dedication as a substitute for beauty. One of the first female solo vocalists, her name is incorrectly misspelled on the box. A decent track, but it's no “Don’t Touch My Tomato.”
Disc Two: Reggae Hit the Town, 1968-74
1. “Israelites,” Desmond Dekker (Leslie Kong).
This ska classic is of the most well known tracks on the collection. The connection with the plight of the Israelites and the Repatriation theme touched on in the Bob Andy song of disc one is clearly spelled out (even if it’s not clearly enunciated) here. At the time it was an improbable worldwide hit, although it’s easy to hear why: The long baritone moan underneath Desmond’s falsetto is alone worth its classic status. The song’s enduring fame is a testament to its power, but it also demonstrates the failing of U.S. oldies radio to do anything more than push nostalgia. There’s no reason that “Take It Easy” or “Easy Snappin’” shouldn’t be this beloved.
2. “54-46 (That’s My Number),” Toots and the Maytals (Leslie Kong).
Another Leslie Kong production, this is even better than “Israelites.” After starting out with a series of ska-era spirituals, Toots Hibbert was jailed for two years. This comeback single features the barely contained exuberance of a liberated man recalling his experience from capture to freedom. Hell, he even breaks into a scat.
3. “Reggae Hit the Town,” the Ethiopians (H. Robinson).
The rocksteady sound had lost its taste, so here was another flavor. Not the first song to mention reggae—the Maytals’ Lesley Kong-produced “Do the Reggay” holds that honor—this was still among the genre’s earliest hits. Here the Ethiopians (dig the name: Haile Selassie and repatriation were really picking up steam by this time) are so confident that they celebrate reggae and even pauses for a mid-song conversation about how massively popular it will become. Of course, they were right.
4. “Wet Dream,” Max Romeo. (Bunny Lee)
This is the set’s first overtly sexual track. A roughed up sound, an electric bass, an electric organ, and raw lyrics helped make this a deserved top 10 single in the UK.
5. “My Conversation,” the Uniques (Bunny Lee).
The busier reggae sound matched with the slower rocksteady guitar and sweet falsetto vocals. This Bunny Lee production shows his versatility, but would fit better on the first disc. The tinkling piano and Motownesque vocals match the sweet, reassuring sentiment. The “I can see more clearly” lyric seems a potential influence on the Johnny Nash hit, “I Can See Clearly Now.”
6. “Bangarang,” Stranger Cole and Lester Sterling (Bunny Lee).
More Bunny Lee magic, this adaptation of a UK jazz hit even further demonstrates the producer’s versatility and skill. Vocalist Stranger Cole (what a great name) and Skatalites saxophonist Lester Sterling have their name on the sleeve, but the star of the show is the hiccuping organ. A “bangarang” is disruptive noise from rival sound systems, so it’s only fitting that the vocals are buried.
7. “Return of Django,” the Upsetters (Lee Perry).
This is Lee Perry, but nothing like his later Black Ark studio work. A Hammond organ sound popular with UK skinheads dominated most instrumentals in this era—the best of which were infectious, the worst sounding downright lazy. These up-tempo reggae songs and their frivolous party-first sound were an anecdote to the hippie mentality. Ironically, the emergence of roots reggae focused Jamaican music’s on the same social and political constructs.
8. “The Liquidator,” Harry J. Allstars (Harry J.).
Like the previous track, this was a top 10 single in the UK in 1969. Beginning with the intro to the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.” (Which was used to even better effect in Bongo Herman's “Chairman of the Board.”) Almost completely carried by a slow organ tempo that goes from humming to piercing, the song glides by effortlessly and quits just when it threatens to become tiresome.
9. “Rivers of Babylon,” Melodians (Leslie Kong).
This is a clearly a slave song, but the harmony and melody of the verse sound almost like a cowboy song. Forceful and enduring, it was adopted from Psalm 137. If the meditative tone it carries through most of it doesn’t seem to accurately articulate the pain of enslavement, just wait for the wailing breakdown pleading for a song of freedom.Sadly, this is also the final Lesley Kong song on the collection: Kong, at the peak of his powers during the anything-goes era of early reggae, was killed in 1971.
10. “The Harder They Come,” Jimmy Cliff (Jimmy Cliff).
From the popular film and soundtrack—oh, you all know this. It sounded hackneyed to me for years, but in this context it shines.
11. “Young, Gifted, and Black,” Bob and Marcia (Harry J.).
The expensive production makes this Nina Simone cover sound more confident than whitewashed, despite some claims to the contrary. Despite its slick, commercial sound it loses none of its power thanks to the heartfelt vocals from of Bob Andy and I-Three Marcia Griffiths and a swirling, dancing string line.
12. “Wake the Town,” U-Roy (Duke Reid).
U-Roy, the “Originator,” didn’t actually invent Deejaying—the practice had been in place in dancehalls for years, but his effortless translation of the practice from stage to vinyl cannot be understated, Despite his infectious confidence, it's ironic then how shortsighted he was on this song. “Wake the town and tell the people,” he insists—and the town is clearly Kingston. Instead, he woke the world— toasting was an incalculable influence on not just Jamaican music (in particular ragga dancehall) but hip-hop as well.On this track, Duke Reid strips the rocksteady beat to its barest elements, allowing U-Roy to not just slip in phrases among the clutter as older deejays had done, but allow the personality and fluid vocals of his front man effectively dominate the show.
13. “How Long,” Pat Kelly (Bunny Lee).
This is yet another soul-influenced track with a falsetto vocal. The former leader of the Techniques is in good voice, but the superb rhythm trumps him and the song peaks when the vocals drop out and the piano takes the lead.
14. “Double Barrel,” Dave and Ansel Collins (Winston Riley).
Also written by Riley, this is one of the most unlikely UK No. 1 singles. An organ-based “heavy, heavy monster sound” combined with early toasting, “Double Barrel” is the blueprint for a million Madness songs. The familiar piano melody was later appropriated for “Baby, We’ve Got a Date,” but the vocal does little more than encourage the musicians or exalt the talents of the DJ and the whole thing quickly gets tiresome, despite coming in at under three minutes.
15. “Blood and Fire,” Niney. (Niney)
A former Joe Gibbs protégé, Niney is best known for crafting songs for Max Romeo but he took the vocal on this notorious classic. A hollow, bare production adds menace to an already uncompromising, vengeful lyric in which Niney encourages the world to burn and for the wicked to be judged. This is also the first song on the collection to explicitly exalt ganja.
16. “Cherry Oh Baby,” Eric Donaldson (Bunny Lee).
Covered by the Rolling Stones and many more, this pledge of love is one of Lee’s populist productions that probably deserves some of the derision it gets—despite Donaldson’s falsetto.
17. “Better Must Come,” Delroy Wilson (Bunny Lee).
Wilson, the former soul star, returned with this song of frustration and stubborn hope. After the previous track, the tougher rhythms and percolating, distant organs are a welcome new twist on the Lee sound. As the song slightly smooths when the vocal comes in, Wilson seems to be almost trying to reassure his players that better days are ahead. The music seems to almost halt at times before being willed forward by Wilson’s pleas.
18. “Money in My Pocket,” Dennis Brown (Joe Gibbs).
The opposite of the loving pauper, Brown has the coin but no love. This 1972 original was re-recorded seven years later after Brown’s roots work increased his international fame.
19. “Stick By Me,” John Holt (Bunny Lee).
This cover is an appeal for commitment and another example of the male making the initial emotional pledge. The uncluttered melody lends earnestness to Holt’s pleas, but doesn’t allow the song to hold up to repeat listens.
20. “Teach the Children,” Dennis Alcapone (Duke Reid).
A deejay version of a John Holt version of Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff.” Alcapone was one of U-Roy’s biggest rivals. As a performer, he was the Missy Elliot of his day punctuating his raps with frequent singing, whoops, yelps, and screams. His style is subdued on this Children’s song, but the track is still wonderful.
21. “S.90 Skank,” Big Youth (Keith Hudson).
The best of the second wave of toasters, Big Youth chants more than speaks. And here Hudson’s aquatic sound—best displayed on the peerless dub LP, Pick a Dub—is perfectly punctuated by Bug Youth’s congested vocals that, erm, celebrate a particular brand of motorcycle.
22. “Everything I Own,” Ken Boothe (Lloyd Charmers).
I vaguely recall this one from childhood. With a tinkling piano and Boothe singing in a higher register than normal, the song effortlessly flies in the treble zone. Boothe’s lilting twist on the despair of losing a lover would seem unrealistic were he not taking the time to warn the listener of his fate. Sure, it comes perilously close to crossing the line into the saccharin, but doesn’t most great love songs? A deserved No. 1 single in the UK.
23. “Westbound Train,” Dennis Brown (Niney).
Unlike his above track, Brown seems in better voice and spirit with a more relentless production, and this pulsating, proto-funk Niney track fits the bill. If Dr. Dre hasn’t heard the opening guitar line, I’d be shocked.
24. “Move Out a Babylon,” Johnny Clarke (Bunny Lee).
A plea for the Rasta man to abandon the land of the wicked, this is very tame compared to Clarke and Lee’s more militant and muscular later work. There’s not much here to recommend.
25. “Curly Locks,” Junior Byles (Lee Perry).
There is plenty, however, to recommend here. Speaking of aquatic sounds, here is this Perry-produced tale of parental disapproval (because the suitor is a dreadlocks). Unlike the defiant of girl groups songs with similar theme, this is almost bittersweet as Byles is resigned that the object of his desire’s choice between her father’s wishes and himself is out of his hands. Fittingly, for a song that doesn’t opt for Shangri-La’s theatrics or the melodrama of ’70s AM tales such “Sylvia’s Mother” or “Run, Joey, Run,” the tale is never completed.
Disc Three: Natty Sings Hit Songs, 1975-81
1. “Country Boy,” the Heptones (Harry J).
This fish out of water tale, written by Leeroy Sibbles was originally a rocksteady hit but like many of the Heptones’ early songs was revisited in the roots reggae era. This is not as captivating as their work with Joe Gibbs of the same era and therefore seems an odd choice for this set.
2. “Welding,” I Roy (Jo Jo Hookim).
The slow, deliberate sound fits this deejay’s intelligent, erudite style. On this track, however, he’s sluggish as much because, snoring, he’s awakened by a knock at the door by a girl whose come to “get her welding done.” What follows is a leery and nearly lewd, distinguished as much by Hookim’s clap drums as I Roy’s self-satisfied yeeeaaaaahs.
3. “Marcus Garvey,” Burning Spear (Jack Ruby).
Social commentary that combines Garvey’s own words with those of Burning Spear. The slowed deep roots sound (almost Nigerian) perfectly matches his expanding vision: Taking the struggles of the Jamaican shantytown and linking them to black history and Rastafarianism.
4. “Right Time,” the Mighty Diamonds (Jo Jo Hookim).
This is another track that seizes on Garvey’s prophecies. This roots gem pledges defiance (“Natty Dread will never run away”) because of the belief in the fulfillment of Garvey’s words—and does so in a three-part harmony that arrives by way of Philadelphia. Hookim’s Channel One studio work solidified roots rock as Jamaica’s premier sound and the yearning, rage, and frustration of tracks four through 10 on this disc would have a profound effect on the Clash and other UK punk acts hoping to cling to a cause. They are also the sound that many people erroneously consider the sum of reggae music.
5. “Natty Sing Hit Songs,” Roman Stewart (Tommy Cowan).
OK, not everyone in the roots era aspired to repatriation or redemption. Stewart does ask for delivery, however, but it’s from poverty. With Jamaican music's export to England and elsewhere, such bling-bling aspirations (“I see big cars / I see pretty girls”) were suddenly possible. Fittingly for this roots-era hit, it’s still Jah to whom he pleads to deliver him to the top of the charts and away from his poverty—and all over a lightly strummed summery guitar that Nelly would die to work with.
6. “Ballistic Affair,” Leroy Smart (Jo Jo Hookim).
As captivating as the deep bass and drums of Sly and Robbie’s “College Rock” rhythm is, it can’t distract from the impassioned criticism of black-on-black violence. To highlight the folly of Jamaica’s tribal wars, Smart even romanticizes Victorian-era English games football and cricket—imported during imperialism—as evidence of how incredible the times were when the island’s blacks were united. “Throw away your gun / Throw away your knife / Let us all unite.”
7. “Tenement Yard,” Jacob Miller (Tommy Cowan).
Almost naively slight, but still one of my favorite roots tracks. The stutter of Miller’s vocals expertly matches the paranoia and hesitation to act or speak under too many watchful eyes in the tenement.
8. “War Ina Babylon,” Max Romeo (Lee Perry).
The only song Romeo did for Perry, and one of the greatest tracks to emerge from the Black Ark studio. Like “Ballistic Affair” this is a reaction to the “tribal wars” of 1976 and has a thick, dense production that mirrors the entanglements of the people. An absolute classic.
9. “Police and Thieves,” Junior Marvin (Lee Perry).
This is another one of the clear highlights of this disc. The Clash version is familiar to most, but this is essential. The vulnerability and desperation in Murvin’s falsetto is heart-wrenching.
10. “Two Sevens Clash,” Culture (Joe Gibbs).
And you thought RZA invented numerology. This is the clearest articulation of Garvey’s prophecies by one of the final roots bands. Unlike the warm, soul-inspired vocal groups of the rocksteady era, Culture’s melancholy was often expressed over minor chords, as it is here.
11. “I’m Still Waiting,” Delroy Wilson (Lloyd Charmers).
First written in 1966 by Bob Marley, Wilson’s version is a classy throwback to Drifters-era soul. Despite the aggressive heterosexuality of much of contemporary Jamaican music, this is yet another reminder of the willingness of older artists to express male sensitivity and even weakness (“Oh my gosh, the rain is falling / And I just can’t stop bawling”).
12. “No Woman No Cry,” Bob Marley and the Wailers (Steve Smith/Chris Blackwell).
Fittingly, it’s the live version—captured at London’s Lyceum Ballroom in 1975—that best demonstrates the worldwide fame of Jamaican music by this time. In the years since, Marley’s fame has only grown—he’s now arguably the world’s beloved rock-era musician, and with this expressive, pointed lyric and impassioned vocal it’s easy to see why.
13. “Uptown Top Ranking,” Althea and Donna (Joe Gibbs).
From Gibbs’ catchy rhythm to the teenage girl vocalist’ patois slang, this is one of the cutest songs of all time. “Uptown Top Ranking” was a hit single in the UK despite being an answer song to a track few outside of Jamaica have ever heard. “Gimme little bass to make me wind up me waist.” Wow. This is an almost irresistible ’ting.
14. “Number One,” Gregory Isaacs (Alvin Ranglin).
Next to Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs was the most successful Jamaican vocalists of the late-1970s. This lovelorn track rubs elbows with MOR and is a massive letdown after “Uptown Top Ranking.”
15. “Bredda Gravalicious,” Wailing Souls (Wailing Souls).
Starting with a drum beat and horns that almost sound like slowed details from a Loose Joints song, the anti-materialistic “Bredda Gravalicious” never really goes anywhere else.
16. “River Jordan,” Sugar Minott (Lincoln Minott).
Minott’s religious images and back-to-Africa calls here must have seemed tiring to him, too – he soon abandoned the sound for lover’s rock and dancehall.
17. “Armagideon Time,” Willie Williams (Clemente “Coxsone” Dodd).
A nagging dub and Williams’ apocalyptic lyric drive one of Dodd’s last great productions. “Armagideon Time” starts with rocksteady organ but the optimism further into the mix. The relentless bass sounds like a distant warning, but eventually the beats become closer, louder, and dominates the track, pushing out Williams’ attempts to reclaim it with his vocal. Covered by the Clash in 1980.
18. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Black Uhuru (Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare).
Sly and Robbie’s synthetic sounds and percolating rhythm carry the entire track and offer hints of the synthesized sounds to come on disc four. Thankfully, the vocals drop out at around the three-minute mark and we get almost two minutes of playful dub.
19. “Fort Augustus,” Junior Delgado (Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare).
Delgado’s deep, scratchy vocal blends well with Sly and Robbie’s vaguely electronic sound. The song—about a prison “in the middle of the sea”—sounds as foreign as the gurgles and bubbles on the backing track.
20. “Joggin’,” Freddie McGregor (Freddie McGregor).
Another populist, McGregor’s odd metaphor—damning corporate imperialism and condemning those who get fit for Babylon with Adidas and Puma as “keeping fit to conquer creation”—is just strange enough to make this a charmer.
21. “Sitting and Watching,” Dennis Brown (Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare).
More tone-punctuated goodness from Sly and Robbie, and a more adventurous track for Brown. The irritatingly catchy synth sound and cyclical bass line tugs and pulls but never disturbs Brown’s patient vocal (which is ironically scolding those who wait for something good to happen to them).
Disc Four: Dance Hall Good to Me, 1982-93
1. “Night Nurse,” Gregory Isaacs (Gregory Isaacs).
Another Isaacs track in which he longs for female companionship—this time the medicine he seeks is from his night nurse—but this one is a winner. The Jamaican “Sexual Healing.”
2. “Mad Over Me,” Yellowman (Channel One/J&L).
This half-sung, half-toasted boast of sexual prowess and power is witty and winning—even breaking into a reading of a ketchup commercial. The simple chant of the chorus was recently adopted for Sister Charmaine’s ragga dancehall hit, “The Body.”
3. “Diseases,” Michigan and Smiley (Junjo Lowes).
The first cut here from Junjo Lowes, who did more to establish dancehall’s dominance than any other producer. The Lowes production plus the witty cultural observation makes this another winner. Lyrically and musically, the populism of the late-‘70s is really under fire here.
4. “Water Pumping,” Johnnie Osbourne (Jammy’s).
Appropriating Hopeton Lewis’ “Take It Easy” was a natural for dancehall. With apocalyptic warnings and political upheaval in the past—and Garveyisms on the wane—dancehall focused on having a good time. It was even so predicated on enjoying the moment that it got its name from Jamaica’s music venues. Also appropriately enough, Osbourne’s update of the Lewis track includes a sexual metaphor—a frequent focus of dancehall to this day.
5. “Pass the Tusheng Peng,” Frankie Paul (Junjo Lowes).
This is another celebration of the healing powers of marijuana, this time from visually impaired Paul. The Latin horn and rhythm works wonders, and Paul’s impassioned plea for the stick is convincing, as well. Without it he could go...even...blinder.
6. “Here I Come,” Barrington Levy (Jah Screw).
A dancehall force since the end of the 1970s, Levy’s melodic style and flexible inflections are on great form here. He scats, he sings, he charms—and he’s “broader than Broadway.” This is irresistible stuff from one of dancehall’s first giants.
7. “Ring the Alarm,” Tenor Saw (Winston Riley).
Built on the rhythm of Max Romeo’s 1972 single “Stalag 17,” this is a flat-out classic. Covered and adopted many times since this original arrived (including a brilliant version with Buju Banton deejaying over this track), the influence and power of this celebration of slaying other sounds cannot be understated. Like “Reggae Hit the Town” it deftly and bravely announced a new sound and everyone in Jamaica listened.
8. “Under Me Sleng Teng,” Wayne Smith (Jammy’s).
Speaking of influence, this is another epochal track. The first all-digital Jamaican hit, this practically launched modern dancehall all by itself. The Casio sound is not only infectious but dirt cheap—a combination that had every sound system in Jamaica scrambling to carbon copy this track.
9. “Tempo,” Anthony Red Rose (King Tubby’s).
The idiot sound? We call that lo-fi. Awesome.
10. “Boops,” Supercat (Winston Riley).
Not a thinly veiled breast metaphor, but a well-crafted ragga condemnation of sugar daddies over Winston Riley’s digital recreation of the rhythm of the Marcia Griffiths classic “Feel Like Jumping.” One of the few dancehall classics that doesn’t improve on the original, it’s still a wildly inventive work.
11. “Greetings,” Half Pint (George Phang).
Spotting the Primal Scream’s lyrical robbery can sometimes seem like a non-stop exercise. In this case, it’s the song’s opening “You live the life you love/ You love the life you live” that was gleaned and altered slightly for “Don’t Fight It, Feel It.” Even the beat, with its dense drums and near Italian house piano, almost sounds like acid house-era dance. At the center of this musical storm, Half Pint almost stubbornly sings a deliberate message from Jah, trying to shout above the din of the dancehall party.
12. “Punanny,” Admiral Bailey (Jammy’s).
You don’t get any reward for guessing this is overtly sexual. Is it any good? Well, despite the attempts at humor the toasting is just too pedestrian for its punanny roll-call to ultimately seem anything but leering and even a bit desperate. Put it this way: It makes the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” sound like Jay-Z’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.”
13. “Hol’ A Fresh,” Red Dragon (Winston Riley).
Cleanliness is next to godliness. So is “Hol’ A Fresh.”
14. “Rumours,” Gregory Isaacs (Augustus “Gussie” Clarke).
The embrace of technology left a lot of producers forgetting their past, but this is the rare exception. With Isaacs’ familiar, beloved voice leading the way, Clarke uses digital instruments to recreate the tempo and cadence of rocksteady. Around the two-minute mark there are a few glorious seconds in which the bass is so bottomed-out and sped up, it could have been programmed by DJ Assault or DJ Oxide.
15. “Cover Me,” Tinga Stewart and Ninjaman (Pickout).
This was another simple idea—combining a vocalist and deejay—that it’s incredible it took so long for it to become common. That low bass that I wish had appeared in more of the previous track is back in places (albeit not as powerful) and the drums are increasingly staccato.
16. “Legal Rights,” Papa San and Lady G (Winston Riley).
The rough, ragga dancehall sound that is so popular today is becoming to dominate Jamaican music. This battle of the sexes ends with a decided victory for Lady G.
17. “Wicked Inna Bed,” Shabba Ranks (Bobby Digital).
It’s sort of difficult to understand why this was so popular. The braggadocio wears thin, Shabba has little personality to carry it off anyway, and the track has little except the now-you-hear-it, now-you-don’t of the relentless bass.
18. “Bandolero,” Pinchers (Jammy’s).
With a voice so trebly it could fit into the So Solid Crew, Pinchers half-sung, half-spoken witty, alliterative lyric works well with the Spaghetti Western of King Jammy’s work. Best of all, he’s assured enough to take a busy, tongue-twisting lyric and not hammer home its difficulty but make it sound effortless.
19. “Yuh Dead Now,” Tiger (Shocking Vibes).
Whoa, this sounds a little like “Mambo No. 5,” but, like, infectious and unstoppable.
20. “Bogie Dance,” Buju Banton (Dave Kelly and Donovan Germaine).
It’s the new style. Well, he claims it is, but the ragga sound cropped up a few tracks ago. Banton crystallizes it here, clearing the path for Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, and others. Best loved now for his post-Rastafarianism records such as ’Til Shiloh, Banton wasn’t too shabby then, either.
21. “Murder She Wrote,” Chaka Demus and Pliers (Sly Dunbar/Lloyd Willis/Jason Lee/ Herbie Harris).
A liberal re-working of “Bam Bam ,” this femme fatale tale matches a pair of versatile yet clean-voiced deejays. The results are almost too pop-friendly and approachable.
22. “Oh Carolina,” Shaggy (Sting International.)
Speaking of pop, the set ends with this international hit. The “Peter Gunn” nod is nice, but it should be about twice as fast and twice as good. It’s no “Boombastic” or “It Wasn’t Me” but it sure takes “Angel” behind the woodshed.
1. Oh Carolina - The Folkes Brothers
2. Boogie in My Bones - Laurel Aitken
3. Midnight Track - Owen Gray
4. Easy Snappin' - Theophilus Beckford
5. Housewives Choice - Derrick Morgan, Patsy Todd
6. Forward March - Derrick Morgan
7. Miss Jamaica - Jimmy Cliff
8. My Boy Lollipop - Millie Small
9. Six and Seven Books of Moses - The Maytals
10. Simmer Down - The Wailers
11. Man in the Street - Don Drummond
12. Carry Go Bring Come - Justin Hinds & Dominoes
13. Guns of Navarone - The Skatalites
14. Al Capone - Prince Buster
15. Hard Man Fe Dead - Prince Buster
16. Tougher Than Tough - Derrick Morgan
17. Girl I've Got a Date - Alton Ellis
18. Happy Go Lucky Girl - The Paragons
19. Dancing Mood - Delroy Wilson
20. The Train Is Coming - Ken Boothe
21. Take It Easy - Hopeton Lewis
22. Ba Ba Boom - The Jamaicans
23. 007 (Shanty Town) - Desmond Dekker
24. I've Got to Go Back Home - Bob Andy
25. Queen Majesty - The Techniques
26. Loving Pauper - Dobby Dobson
27. Don't Stay Away - Phyllis Dillon
1. Israelites - Desmond Dekker
2. 54-46 That's My Number - The Maytals
3. Reggae Hit the Town - The Ethiopians
4. Wet Dream - Max Romeo
5. My Conversation - The Uniques
6. Bangarang - Stranger Cole, Lester Sterling
7. Return of Django - The Upsetters
8. The Liquidator - Harry J All-Stars
9. Rivers of Babylon - The Melodians
10. The Harder They Come - Jimmy Cliff
11. Young Gifted and Black - Bob & Marcia
12. Wake the Town - U-Roy
13. How Long - Pat Kelly
14. Double Barrel - Dave & Ansel Collins
15. Blood & Fire - Winston Niney Holness
16. Cherry Oh Baby - Eric Donaldson
17. Better Must Come - Delroy Wilson
18. Money in My Pocket - Dennis Brown
19. Stick by Me - John Holt
20. Teach the Children - Dennis Alcapone
21. $.90 Skank - Big Youth
22. Everything I Own - Ken Boothe
23. Westbound Train - Dennis Brown
24. Move Out of Babylon - Johnny Clarke
25. Curly Locks - Junior Byles
1. Country Boy - The Heptones
2. Welding - I-Roy
3. Marcus Garvey - Burning Spear
4. Right Time - The Mighty Diamonds
5. Natty Sing Hit Songs - Roman Stewart
6. Ballistic Affair - Leroy Smart
7. Tenement Yard - Jacob Miller
8. War Ina Babylon - Max Romeo
9. Police & Thieves - Junior Murvin
10. Two Sevens Clash - Culture
11. I'm Still Waiting - Delroy Wilson
12. No Woman, No Cry - Bob Marley
13. Uptown Top Ranking - Althia and Donna
14. Number One - Gregory Isaacs
15. Bredda Gravalicious - Wailing Souls
16. River Jordan - Sugar Minott
17. Armagideon Time - Willie Williams
18. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner - Black Uhuru
19. Fort Augustus - Junior Delgado
20. Joggin' - Freddie McGregor
21. Sitting and Watching - Dennis Brown
1. Night Nurse - Gregory Isaacs
2. Mad over Me - Yellowman
3. Diseases - Michigan & Smiley
4. Water Pumping - Johnny Osbourne
5. Pass the Tu-Sheng-Peng - Frankie Paul
6. Here I Come (Broader Than Broadway) - Barrington Levy
7. Ring the Alarm - Tenor Saw
8. Under Me Sleng Teng - Wayne Smith
9. Tempo - Anthony Redrose
10. Boops - Super Cat
11. Greetings - Half Pint
12. Punanny - Admiral Bailey
13. Hol' a Fresh - Red Dragon
14. Rumours - Gregory Isaacs
15. Cover Me - Ninjaman, Tinga Stewart
16. Legal Rights - Papa San, Lady G
17. Wicked Inna Bed - Shabba Ranks
18. Bandolero - Pinchers
19. Yuh Dead Now - Tiger
20. Bogle - Buju Banton
21. Murder She Wrote - Chaka Demus & Pliers
22. Oh Carolina - Shaggy