Top 40 Reggae Reccomendations

Unorthodox Conqueror

A lot of people ask me for some good reggae albums to get as an introduction to the genre.The first thing I’ll say about this list is that it is intended as just that – reccomendations for a person who knows nothing about reggae. As such, some reggae fans may disagree with some of these choices, or find that many artists have been omitted or misrepresented. The reason for this is that some popular artists (such as Gregory Isaacs, Barrington Levy, Dennis Brown etc) have never captured a place in my heart and so I feel I cannot rightly give an opinion on their work. This list would probably not be too far off my own personal Top 40 Reggae Albums Of All Time, but that is not what it’s intended as. There’s no Chris Blackwell-produced Bob Marley albums on the list because I don’t like them very much, and…

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Top 40 Reggae Reccomendations

Aside

A lot of people ask me for some good reggae albums to get as an introduction to the genre.The first thing I’ll say about this list is that it is intended as just that – reccomendations for a person who knows nothing about reggae. As such, some reggae fans may disagree with some of these choices, or find that many artists have been omitted or misrepresented. The reason for this is that some popular artists (such as Gregory Isaacs, Barrington Levy, Dennis Brown etc) have never captured a place in my heart and so I feel I cannot rightly give an opinion on their work. This list would probably not be too far off my own personal Top 40 Reggae Albums Of All Time, but that is not what it’s intended as. There’s no Chris Blackwell-produced Bob Marley albums on the list because I don’t like them very much, and besides I think most non-reggae fans would at least own a copy of his “Legend” compilation.

Secondly, I’ve tried to limit this list to just “reggae” – there’s no dub as I think that genre is too daunting for most outsiders who are unfamilliar with the genre, and if I were to include ska, rocksteady, ragga, jungle etc albums the list would just be too long. I originally wanted to avoid compilation albums but as the Jamaican music industry has always been more about singles than LPs this has proved to be difficult. Also, I have avoided listing the same artist twice, but I have suggested further listening in the case of some artists.

Finally, here’s a little glossary of some terms used in the reviews:

Black Ark: see Scratch.

Dancehall: 80s style of reggae, riddims are usually electronic, with singers offering a faster delivery more akin to rap music.

Deejay: Ironically, a deejay in reggae terminology is a kind of singer. Deejays would toast (improvise lyrics) over the instrumental of another artist’s song. The deejay style was an early precursor to rap music. A singjay is a deejay who sings rather than toasts.

Dub: usually instrumental, a style of reggae with focus on the drum and bassline, with jarring studio effects like delay and samples.

Nyabhinghi: Slower, medititative style of roots reggae, emphasis on percussion, style is akin to African drumming.

Riddim: term used for the backing track of a reggae song. A lot of reggae songs use the same instrumentals (sometimes played by different groups) and these are generally known as “riddims”.

Rocksteady: early version of reggae.

Roots: probably the style of reggae most non-listeners are thinking of when they think “reggae”. Slow pace, vocal harmonies, lyrics focused on religious and social themes.

Scratch: Lee “Scratch” Perry, madman and genius producer behind a good number of these albums, mostly in his infamous Black Ark studio.

Version: alternate cut of a song, can be an instrumental, dub or deejay version.

40 – Joseph Cotton – 100% Pure Cotton

I couldn’t find much info about Joseph Cotton on the web, but this compilation is an enjoyable collection of deejay cuts. Cotton’s voice is tuneful and endearing. Fun album.
39 – Jah Lion – Colombia Collie

LP of deejay versions of Black Ark productions. “Soldier And Police War” is a crucial version of Junior Murvin’s “Police And Thieves”. The rest are also worth checking out, standouts include “Dread In A Jamdong” and “Hey Fever”.
38 – U-Roy – Natty Rebel

There are probably better U-Roy compilations out there, so I’d reccomend checking out a few, but this one has the most classic cuts and is a pretty good starting point for anyone wanting to get into the deejay style.

36 – Viceroys – Ya Ho

Dodgy album art aside, this is a solid compilation of early roots cuts.
36 – Abyssinians – Satta Massagana

Great solid roots LP with sweet vocal harmonies, classic riddims and ace instrumentation. Not much to say about this one other than it’s a classic and a great roots LP for anyone wanting to get into the style. In fact, other reggae fans would probably rank it a fair bit higher than I have done, but this group never did catch my imagination as much as other vocal groups have done, for some reason.

35 – Horace Andy – Pure Ranking

There’s plenty of Horace Andy material out there, but the title track alone makes this LP worthy of any list. Horace Andy’s distinctive voice soars above the tracks and earns him a place in the listener’s heart.
34 – I-Roy – Heart Of A Lion

I always preferred I-Roy to U-Roy; in terms of lyrics and delivery, I-Roy is superior in my opinion, and this LP is exemplary of his style. Again, there are many great I-Roy cuts not on this album, but those who are new to reggae should start with this album to get a flavour of his deejay style.

33 – John Holt – Police In Helicotper

John Holt is traditionally seen as a singer of love songs, but this Greensleeves LP sees him as a dreadlocked rootsman singing over more dancehall-style riddims. If you want to hear him singing reggae version of well-known love songs, get “1000 Volts Of Holt”.

32 – Johnny Clarke – Rockers Time Now

It was either this album or “Enter Into His Gates With Praise”. Why this one? I just think it has a better selection of tracks. Get both if unsure, you can’t go wrong.
31 – Tenor Saw – Fever

A brilliant singer tragically taken before his time. This LP makes a good introduction to the 80s digital style as a whole, in addition to being a great recording its own right. No “Ring The Alarm”, though.
30 – Jacob Miller – Tenement Yard

As above, Jacob Miller’s promising career as a singer was cut short at the age of 27 years. This is my favourite LP of his and shows his character and strong voice, especially in the rocking title track.
29 – Keith Hudson – The Hudson Affair

Keith Hudson, the Dark Prince of Reggae, is my all-time favourite reggae producer. As an artist, not so much – his rough voice can take some getting used to. This compilation showcases some of his best work, and features many great and well-known vocalists, deejays and players of instruments.
28 – Various – Rockers Original Soundtrack

Get this if you really don’t know where to start on your journey into the world of reggae. And buy the DVD of the movie as well (make sure it has subtitles).
27 – Justin Hinds & The Dominoes – Prophecy Live

Lead vocalist Justin Hinds (of ska vocal group the Dominoes) slows it down for this live concert recording. The band is tight and JH gives a solid performance. There’s also an interview conducted by someone who can only be described as the whitest man on earth.
26 – Linton Kwesi Johnson – Forces Of Victory

LKJ’s militant and unflinching dub poetry is timeless, songs like “Fite Dem Back” are still relevant today. May be a little hard if you’re looking for sweet vocal melodies and catchy hooks though.
25 – Tennors – Rock Steady Classics

Yeah, I know it’s rocksteady and not technically not reggae, but maybe we can call this one “early reggae” and get away with it. Besides, the Tennors are one of my all-time favourite vocal groups, and every one of these singles is a classic.
24 – Maytones – Brown Girl In The Ring

Again, this is probably more rocksteady than reggae but it’s my list so whatever.The Maytones are a vocal duo whose singing style is distinctive and sometimes a little unnverving, but this compilation is the best collection of their early work. It’s also worth checking out some of their later roots stuff as well.
23 – Eek-A-Mouse – Wa-Do-Dem

Eek-A-Mouse is a real character! His deejay style really is unique, and after listening to this album you will find yourself singing “wa-diddly-bing-bing-shu-diddly-diddly-beng” (etc) for days on end.

 
22 – Cornel Campbell – I Shall Not Remove

My compilation of choice for the mighty Gorgon, others might disagree, but you can’t go wrong with this one. If you like it (and you probably will) there are many other CC albums out there.
21 – Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus – Peace & Love

Great meditative LP. Long tracks, relaxing and slow-paced, and a perfect introduction to the nyabinghi style.
20 – Silvertones – Silver Bullets

Reggae meets doo-wop! Real sweet vocal harmonies, I think most of these are covers of 50s tunes. Although a little out of place, “Rejoice Jah Jah Children” is a definite standout track. This album is not so popular with reggae fans but to me it’s very listenable indeed. The Silvertones’ earlier ska stuff is also great.
19 – Sylford Walker & Welton Irie – Lambs Bread International

Half roots vocal, half deejay cuts. Each song has a few different versions but each is great in its own right, thanks in part to Welton Irie’s entertaining deejay style.
18 – Bob Marley & The Wailers – Rebel Revolution

I was going to list the Wailers’ “African Herbsman” but this compilation includes that album and quite a few other tracks recorded at the Black Ark. Also try the Gold compilation for more great early Wailers tracks, before they were brought to massive mainstream attention by Chris Blackwell and Island records.
17 – Peter Tosh – Legalise It

I prefer Peter Tosh to Bob Marley – the Stepping Razor was tough, militant, and a great songwriter, and this is his best solo work, although his other albums are well worth your time too – try “Wanted Dread And Alive”.
16 – Ijahman Levi – Are We A Warrior

In my mind Ijahman is the Bob Dylan of reggae. The songs on this LP are long, the lyrics are great and the arrangements are fantastic, complex and heavily layered.
15 – Burning Spear – Social Living

Great singer, great production, his best LP in my opinion. Like this? There’s plenty more out there!
14 – Johnny Osbourne – Musical Chopper

Great singjay style, this album showcases JO’s voice over many well-loved and familiar riddims.
13 – Desmond Dekker – Music Like Dirt

I know, some of the tracks on this compilation are ska and the rest are rocksteady, but I can’t make a list like this without mentioning Desmond Dekker. This is one of the first reggae albums I bought and DD will always have a place in my heart.
12 – Toots & The Maytals – Time Tough

Ditto – this is a great overview of the Maytals’ work, and there’s loads more out there for those who haven’t already heard of this group through GTA soundtracks and TV adverts.
11 – Mikey Dread – World War Three

I LOVE Mikey Dread’s voice! I could listen to it all day. Great album, riddims are all perfect, Mikey Dread deejays in his laid-back style; not a song out of place. Get the Dread At The Controls label version as it has extra tracks and dub versions.
10 – Yellowman – Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt

King Yellowman. Not only one of my favourite reggae singers, but one of the most inspiring figures in music (to me). The guy overcame his albinism, cancer, and a stroke – and is still performing today. Some prefer “Mister Yellowman” but I think this one has better cuts, some using the same riddims. Get both if in doubt, then get more. Yellowman’s deejay style is addictive!
9 – Yabby You – Jesus Dread

Huge collection of roots, deejay and dub cuts. Be warned that the same riddim is sometimes used on three or four cuts. Some people don’t get this when they first get into reggae. I prefer to think of it as listening to a super-duper-extended version of the same song, where singers, deejays and players all get to show off their talent. Every one of these tracks is outstanding.
8 – Keith Hudson – Flesh Of My Skin, Blood Of My Blood

I know I already listed a Keith Hudson album, but “The Hudson Affair” is more of a showcase of his production talents, and acts more like a compilation album (like the above). This album shows KH’s unusual vocal style embellished by wonderful musical arrangements and sweet harmony vocals. The title track and others such as “Testing Of My Faith” are poignant and KH’s vocals ooze character and feeling despite their gruff nature.
7 – Lacksley Castell – Morning Glory

An underrated singer in my opinion, this is one of my favourite roots reggae LPs. Every track on this one is great, and each is paired with a dub version after the vocal cut.
6 – Mighty Diamonds – Right Time

Crucial roots album, again not much to say except every track is a killer and if you like it, there’s many more to check out (“Heads of Government” being my next choice).
5 – Lee Scratch Perry & The Upsetters – Super Ape

Scratch’s masterpiece.The man has a HUGE back catalogue, most of it from the 80s onwards is not up to scratch (heh) but this one serves not only as a crucial reggae album but also a gentle introduction to dub.
4 – Culture – Two Sevens Clash

Another roots reggae masterpiece. Hugely powerful and prophetic vocals, great production, one of my favourites of all time.
3 – Little Roy – Tafari Earth Uprising

Another underrated singer, Little Roy’s vocals are passionate and exude an incredible amount of emotion. See also “Packin’ House” for a great compilation of cuts from Little Roy and other artists.
2 – Israel Vibration – The Same Song

Perfect album, beautiful harmonies, a good mix of slow, hypnotic roots reggae grooves and more upbeat cuts.Not much to say other than this is probably the roots reggae album you should get if you like the sound of the style but can only afford one LP.
1 – The Congos – Heart Of The Congos

My favourite reggae album of all time, and one of my favourite albums in any genre. Scratch’s production is phenomenal – minimalist yet enormous, with the huge vocal harmonies resulting in a haunting and otherworldly sound that manages to be eerie and powerful yet catchy and melodic. Obviously a hard act to follow but see also “Lion Treasure” for a good compilation of post-Scratch recordings.

We Need A Revolution with Dan Tafari – New EP !

I am very pleased indeed to share a new release! I have worked with the talented vocalist Dan Tafari to produce a six-track EP of conscious roots reggae. The album consists of two full songs with vocals (“We Need A Revolution” and “I Cry”), corresponding dub versions (“Dub Your Revolution” and “Mother Nature”) and the riddims/instrumentals of each track, presented in an unmastered format so all you vocalists out there can do your own vocals if you wish.

The pace of the first track “We Need A Revolution” is slightly faster than what Dan usually does, so this one has more of a hip-hop feel to the vocals. I wrote the riddim about six months ago, but it was only when I added horns to it that I felt it had legs. I am really pleased with the sharp, conscious lyrics that Dan provided and the passionate way in which they are delivered –

The corresponding dub version of this track features snippets of vocals and a strange, haunting delay on the piano.

The second song (third on the EP) called “I Cry” deals with more consious themes in a slower roots style. For this track I was greatly inspired by the song “Zimbabwe” by lesser-known UK roots group Dambala, and the verse is loosely based on the classic Real Rock riddim, perhaps best known as Willi Williams’ “Armagideon Time“, which was famously covered by the Clash –

For the dub version of this track, I decided to colour the riddim with a few guitar licks, drenched in reverb. I was very pleased with the result!

You can download all the tracks FREE at Bandcamp by clicking this link – I reccomend that you do download the tracks to listen to, only because the quality of the Bandcamp player is not great.

This is the first in what I hope will be a long series of EPs where I work with different vocalists from around the world. I’m also releasing a mixtape soon so stay tuned. I hope you like the record.

http://unorthodoxconqueror.bandcamp.com/album/we-need-a-revolution-with-dan-tafari

We Need A Revolution (new song)

I’ve just finished mixing a new song with Dan Tafari. His vocal is upon a fairly old riddim of mine which had stayed unused until I had the idea to add horns to it. Dan said that the riddim is more fast paced than what he is used to, but I feel the hip-hop style vocal works really nicely against the instrumental.The lyrics carry a socially conscious theme and revolutionary/anti-illuminati ideas. Link below –

Please check out Dan’s work at http://soundcloud.com/dantafari – we hope to bring you more songs and possibly an EP some time soon. I am working on a dub version of this song as well; it’s kind of difficult to get the bass sound without destroying my speakers…

Thoughts on the new Soundcloud format

As those of you who use Soundcloud will be aware, the site is undergoing a change in look and feel, but also a more underhanded change in format. I have expressed my thoughts in an audio post below, but as I’m not a great speaker I thought I’d articulate my concerns in a bulleted list (you know, because the internet loves lists of things).

  • Since Souncloud made the switch in format, I have experienced a significant drop in activity on my tracks – less plays, downloads and comments.
  • The “artists” that Soundclown suggests I follow include a number of corporate institutions that have no relevance to my music or interests. These include a newspaper, a coffee brand and an energy drink manufacturer.
  • I speculate that it is only a matter of time before Soundclod’s activity stream is polluted with the irrelevant and asinine output from the aforementioned institutions, as is currently observed on sites like Fakebook.
  • I also speculate that Soundcrowd is going to be made more like a streaming music service for consumers (similar to Spotify etc) and less of a community for musicians and producers. The community spirit is what makes me passionate about keeping Soundcloud as it is – if this is taken away, I may well close my account and move elsewhere.

A link to the audio file is below – please also make use of the avatar I created in green gold & red – I’m starting to see it around Soundcloud already, which makes me glad.

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