VA - Tougher Than Tough: The Story Of Jamaican Music (4CD) (1993) (Reup)

Posted By: Manavgat
VA - Tougher Than Tough: The Story Of Jamaican Music (4CD) (1993) (Reup)

VA - Tougher Than Tough: The Story Of Jamaican Music (4CD) (1993)
MP3 CBR 192 kbps | 95 Tracks | ~425 MB | Released Date: 16 November 1993 | Covers
Genre : Reggae, Dub, Rocksteady, Roots Reggae, Ska, Dancehall | Cat. No.: 518 399-2 | Label: Mango

Over the course of four CDs, this is the essential musical history of the loudest island in the world, with the emphasis on essential. It starts in the time before ska, and brings it all up to the dominance of dancehall in the '90s. Along the way there's ska, rocksteady, reggae, and dub; 95 great tracks, every single one a classic. About the only major artist not represented is Lee Perry, and his productions sneak in there. Steve Barrow's notes will carry you through the story. This is about as perfect as they come, in both form and content.

VA - Tougher Than Tough: The Story Of Jamaican Music (4CD) (1993) (Reup)

This week, Jamaica celebrates the 40th anniversary of its independence from Great Britain. To honor the enduring magic of the island’s music, we look at the best survey of the island’s musical history, the four-disc The Story of Jamaican Music: Tougher than Tough, issued in 1993. Despite uneducated claims to the contrary, Jamaican music is far from monosyllabic—it’s a rich, diverse, and rewarding stew of sonic innovation, personality, humor, and social and political consciousness.

Over the past five decades, the small island of Jamaica has been one of the world’s richest musical regions. The depth and breadth of Jamaica’s influence—from the remix to the art of rapping to ska to the articulation of the worldwide struggle of those of African heritage—is almost immeasurable. And all from a nation of only two million people.

This box set is a chronological look at many of the major signposts of ska, rocksteady, reggae, roots reggae, toasting, dancehall, and ragga dancehall. The only things missing are dub plates—the economical rhythm re-mixes favored by many overly discerning Jamaican music fans—and, because of the set’s ending in 1993, the contemporary influence of U.S. hip-hop and UK garage on the Greensleeves label’s wildly inventive (yet often coarse) ragga dancehall. (For a more contemporary yet less complete introduction to the power and diversity of Jamaican musical history, try Soul Jazz’s excellent single-disc Dynamite series.) Tracing the music’s history from its nyahbingi and calypso roots through the influences of boogie, soul, afrobeat, disco, electro, and hip-hop, this set only scratches the surface of the more than 100,000 records created in Jamaican music in the past 40-plus years. For the interested newcomer, however, it serves as a solid introduction to the dynamism of one of the world’s most under-appreciated musical forces. Let’s look at these songs.

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.”

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.

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).

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.

Disc: 1
01. Oh Carolina - Folkes, John
02. Boogie in My Bones - Aitken, Laurel
03. Midnight Track - Gray, Owen
04. Easy Snappin' - Beckford, Theophili
05. Housewives Choice - Morgan, Derrick
06. Forward March - Morgan, Derrick
07. Miss Jamaica - Cliff, Jimmy
08. My Boy Lollipop - Levy, Morris
09. Six and Seven Books of Moses - Hibbert, Toots
10. Simmer Down - Marley, Bob
11. Man in the Street - Drummond, Don
12. Carry Go Bring Come - Hines, Justin
13. Guns of Navarone - Tiomkin, Dimitri
14. Al Capone - Campbell, Cecil
15. Hard Man Fe Dead - Campbell, C
16. Tougher Than Tough - Morgan, Derrick
17. Girl I've Got a Date - Ellis, Alton
18. Happy Go Lucky Girl - Holt, John [Vocals]
19. Dancing Mood - Lowery, B
20. The Train Is Coming - Boothe, Ken
21. Take It Easy - Lewis, Hopeton
22. Ba Ba Boom - Cowan, T.
23. 007 (Shanty Town) - Dekker, Desmond
24. I've Got to Go Back Home - Anderson, Keith
25. Queen Majesty - Mayfield, Curtis
26. Loving Pauper - Dobson, Dobby
27. Don't Stay Away - Dillon, Phyllis

Disc: 2
01. Israelites - Dekker, Desmond
02. 54-46 That's My Number - Hibbert, Toots
03. Reggae Hit the Town - Dillon, Leonard
04. Wet Dream - Romeo, Max
05. My Conversation - Lee, Bunny
06. Bangarang - Lee, E.
07. Return of Django - Perry, Lee "Scr
08. The Liquidator - Johnson, Harry
09. Rivers of Babylon - Dowe, Brenton
10. The Harder They Come - Cliff, Jimmy
11. Young Gifted and Black - Irvine, Weldon
12. Wake the Town - Beckford, Ewart
13. How Long - Kelly, Pat
14. Double Barrel - Riley, Winston
15. Blood & Fire - Holness, Winston Ni
16. Cherry Oh Baby - Donaldson, Eric
17. Better Must Come - Wilson, Delroy
18. Money in My Pocket - Brown, Dennis
19. Stick by Me - Holt, John [Vocals]
20. Teach the Children - Smith, D.
21. $.90 Skank - Hudson, Keith
22. Everything I Own - Gates, David
23. Westbound Train - Brown, Dennis
24. Move Out of Babylon - Clarke, Johnnie
25. Curly Locks - Perry, Lee "Scr

Disc: 3
01. Country Boy - Sibbles, Leroy
02. Welding - Reid, Roy
03. Marcus Garvey - Fullwood, Philip
04. Right Time - Mighty Diamonds
05. Natty Sing Hit Songs - Stewart, Roman
06. Ballistic Affair - Jones, F.
07. Tenement Yard - Lewis, Roger
08. War Ina Babylon - Perry, Lee "Scr
09. Police & Thieves - Murvin, Junior [Reg
10. Two Sevens Clash - Dayes, Roy S.
11. I'm Still Waiting - Marley, Bob Listen
12. No Woman, No Cry - Ford, Vincent
13. Uptown Top Ranking - Forrest, Althea
14. Number One - Isaacs, Gregory
15. Bredda Gravalicious - Matthews, W
16. River Jordan - Minott, L.
17. Armagideon Time - Dodd, Clement "Coxs
18. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner - Rose, Michael
19. Fort Augustus - Delgado, Junior
20. Joggin' - McGregor, Freddie
21. Sitting and Watching - Brown, Dennis

Disc: 4
01. Night Nurse - Isaacs, Gregory
02. Mad Over Me - Foster, Winston
03. Diseases - Fairclough, Anthony
04. Water Pumping - James, Lloyd
05. Pass the Tu-Sheng-Peng - Paul, Frankie
06. Here I Come (Broader Than Broadway) - Levy, Barrington
07. Ring the Alarm - Bright, Carl
08. Under Me Sleng Teng - Smith, Wayne [Regga]
09. Tempo - Cameron, Anthony
10. Boops - Maragh, W
11. Greetings - Trinity
12. Punanny - Thompson, Delroy
13. Hol' a Fresh - Red Dragon
14. Rumours - Hines, Carlton
15. Cover Me - Ballantine, D.
16. Legal Rights - Lady G.
17. Wicked Inna Bed - Browne, Cleveland "
18. Bandolero - Thompson, Delroy
19. Yuh Dead Now - Jackson, Norman
20. Bogle - Kelly, Dave
21. Murder She Wrote - Bonner, Everton
22. Oh Carolina - Folkes, John : part1 | part2 | part3 | part4 : part1 | part2 | part3 | part4 : part1 | part2 | part3 | part4

VA - Tougher Than Tough: The Story Of Jamaican Music (4CD) (1993) (Reup)