From the big corporate ones to the little DIY ones, both past and present there must be many, many thousands of record labels, across the world. For any number of reasons, a great percentage don’t hang around too long and I’d venture that to the man on the street, there are not many that are instantly synonymous with a particular genre of music.
There is one, however that can rightfully claim to buck that trend: mention TROJAN RECORDS to virtually anyone with an interest in music, and they are likely to immediately associate the Jamaican label with reggae music and its subgenres.
Launched in the summer of 1968, TROJAN RECORDS four years into their existence when Jamaica won their independence as a nation, and so as a ‘constant’ in the island’s recent history it’s fitting that they be closely linked to the 50th Anniversary celebrations.
And what better way of marking the event than with the release of a 5CD Box Set that pays homage to the artists that have brought the sunshine of the island into the lives and culture of so many around the world.
‘Freedom Sounds,’ runs to a total of one hundred and eight songs, spanning about six hours and twenty minutes! Naturally, it features all the names you’d expect, such as Bob Marley, Desmond Dekker, Toots & The Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, and Dennis Brown etc.. It highlights the great producers such as Lee’ Scratch’ Perry, King Tubby and King Jammy, and features several of the iconic studios where the music was made, such as the world famous Studio One, Black Ark and Dynamic Sounds.
The accompanying 52-page booklet was written by Record Collector Editor, Ian McCann and features detailed commentary on the history of Jamaica and its musical heritage. The set also contains a selection of celebratory A5 cards depicting various aspects of the Jamaican music industry over the past fifty years: labels, LP sleeves and artists. There’s also a ‘Jamaica 50 Trojan’ sticker plus rare photos.
Fans purchasing the box set will also receive an additional free download album when they register on the Trojan Appreciation Society website.
Pretty damn good so far ….. and we haven’t even got as far as the music!
Disc 1: ‘Songs Of Freedom.’
This disc consists of seventeen tracks focusing on the struggles, pride and ultimate goal of ‘freedom.’ There are some ‘staples’ on here, such as Bob Marley (no comment required); the softly sung ‘I Shall Be Released’ by The Heptones; the more bouncy and slightly dub-treated ‘Trod On’ by Culture; the more ‘commercial’ Third World and ‘Freedom Song,’ and the moody, slow-burning Burning Spear with ‘Shout It Out.’
There’s also a terrific extended version of ‘Get Up’ by Jackie Edwards that more or less splits its seven minute duration into ‘straight’ and ‘dub,’ interpretations. And, a rather pleasant surprise for me at least was the rather chipper rendition of ‘My My People’ by Judy Mowatt.
DISC 2: ‘Jamaican Hits.’
Of the twenty-three tracks on this one, many will be familiar to even those listeners who would not count themselves as particularly ‘reggae fans,’ due to their Chart successes over the years.
I don’t have either the sleeve notes at my disposal or the initial release dates of the tracks, but I’m thinking they are listed in chronological order or thereabouts, with the bulk of the first half concentrating on more of a ska / rocksteady sound. Which is all the better with me!
Desmond Dekker features twice in quick succession with ‘007 (Shanty Town)’ and ‘(Poor Me) The Israelites’ – he likes his brackets, does our Desmond! Toots & The Maytals, Alton Ellis and Jimmy Cliff will all be recognisable artists.
Interestingly, the track listing places ‘Wear You To The Ball’ by U Roy & John Holt, immediately before Eric Donaldson’s ‘Cherry O Baby,’ both of which were later covered with great success by UB40 and the latter even also by The Rolling Stones on their ‘Black and Blue’ album. (Much as I like early UB40, their version of the former was not a patch on this original!)
Moving on up the time-line, there is the classic ‘Marcus Garvey’ by Burning Spear, and Bob Marley’s ‘Trench Town Rock.’ The excellent ‘Police and Thieves,’ as was later covered brilliantly by The Clash on their debut album, appears in its original form as sung by Junior Murvin; the instantly recognisable chart smashes by Althea & Donna (‘Uptown Top Ranking’) and Sophia George (‘Girlie Girlie’) as well as Dennis Brown’s ‘Night Nurse’ also get a placing.
One that surprised me is the ‘World A Music’ track by Ini Kamoze – who is probably better known for a non-reggae based song, ‘The Hotstepper.’
Then we move onto a more ragga tip to close this disc with Chaka Demus & Pliers and their ‘Murder She Wrote,’ and Beenie Man’s excellent ‘Slam.’
DISC 3: ‘Pioneers.’
I have to confess that my knowledge of Jamaican music, (which I have until now actually been relatively proud of!) doesn’t extend to recognising just why the artists featured on this disc are qualified as ‘pioneers.’ But that doesn’t really matter, does it. The music is still first class – and from a personal perspective, many of these artists are not already featured in my 800+ songs classified as ‘reggae’ on my I-pod. I just checked!
So this one is particularly interesting.
Don Drummond & The Skatalites I am of course aware of, and their ‘Confucius’ appears here with its upbeat backbeat if you see what I mean. Ska at it’s best! Towards the end of the disc there are several ‘extended mix’ versions of songs, which basically concentrate on the instruments and occasional dub treatment to prolong the beats. But it’s quite magical. Truly!
But again, this disc springs a really pleasant surprise in the shape of ‘Flaming Rock Steady’ by Ernest Rangin. It’s like some kind of jazz guitar set to a reggae backbeat. It just skips along with a jaunty little pace and is just guaranteed to make you smile! Brilliant!
DISC 4: ‘Innovators.’
The track ‘Big May’ by Bunny ‘Rugs’ Clarke merits early mention here simply because it features the music of The Upsetters and ‘Return Of Django’ but this time with vocals laid across the top. It works.
Augustus Pablo brings his distinctive melodian sound to bear on ‘Last Of The Jestering’ (and I may be wrong, but I think King Tubby had something to d with the production on this one.) The Paragons (who I’m sure recorded the original version of Blondie’s hit ‘The Tide Is High’) give us the somewhat subdued, I think, ‘Man Next Door’ and Israel Vibration head off down the same route with the serious sounding ‘Weep And Mourn.’ Nice guitar sound and drums on this one though.
Dillinger, I always felt was forerunner of the ragga sound, way before it was known as such- something about his delivery. Whatever – ‘Bionic Dread’ is a fantastic dub track and a highlight of this particular disc.
(This is an extended dub version of that which appears in the Box Set.)
The Mighty Diamonds (who I think were the originators of Musical Youth’s big hit, ‘Pass The Dutchie’ albeit the initial recording was ‘Pass The Kutchie’ and had to be changed for a bunch of kids to sing!) give us a six minute version of ‘Your Heart’s Desire,’ which is probably about as ‘mainstream’ as reggae can get.
I have to say, that this particular disc is a bit on the slow side for me personally. It lacks the sunshine; or the sense of injustice. It kind of lacks conviction overall, and although Barrington Levy’s extended version of ‘Skylarking’ is seven minutes well spent, and in general reggae music can do no wrong, it fails slightly in comparison to the other CDs in this set.
There! I said it!
DISC 5: ‘Forgotten Treasures’
Aah! Back to the Sound of Ska! Opening with The Planners’ ‘It’s In The Plan,’ a kind of Fifties rock’n’roll vibe set to a ska beat, this disc gets off to a really bouncy start. Next are the brilliantly named The Spanishtonians with ‘Kord A Massie Massie.’ Full of horns and high pitched voices, it’s superb!
‘People Get Ready’ is probably best known in the Bob Marley version ‘One Love / People Get Ready’ but was originally done by, I think, The Impressions. So although maybe not the original version here, the song as performed by The Carib-Beats is instantly recognisable.
There are twenty-six tracks on this disc, so if I highlight just a few, you’ll forgive me – big ‘ups’ if you’ve stuck with me so far!
‘Whip Them’ is another upbeat sound from The Little Wonder Allstars. It features the sound of a flute incorporated into the ska beat and is light and playful in spite, I think of the lyrical matter. ‘West Board Jungle’ is a two minute instrumental by Paul Madden that is full of trumpet, Hammond organ … and cowbell! This is followed by the aptly named Ska Campbell and ‘A Taste Of Reggae,’ which is actually another instrumental that falls somewhere between ska and reggae itself. The keyboard sounds merging with the horns are a particular delight.
‘Bawling Baby’ draws the listener to it simply from the title alone. This track by Glen Adams & The Upsetters has the same sort of feel as say Dave & Ansel Collins and their ‘Monkey Spanner.’ Love it! (Actually, anything featuring The Upsetters will do for me, as it happens!)
There then follows a previously unreleased version of The Pioneers’ classic chart success, ‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah.’ ‘Royal Cord’ by The Melodians will take you by surprise … you’ll have to listen for it, I’m afraid!
One of the bands that initially turned me onto ska way back in the day was The Ethiopians, and they appear here with ‘Socialism Train.’ They’re the sort of Godfathers of ska for me, so I’m glad they made it onto this compilation – though only just, with only five tracks remaining of the hundred and eight! (This one sounds pretty much like ‘Cherry O Baby’ – which came first? Hmmmm.)
‘Chase The Devil’ (another extended mix) by Max Romeo (he of ‘Wet Dream’ notoriety) and Prince Jazzbo may be better known for the samples used by The Prodigy on their early Nineties hit, ‘Outer Space.’
OK – so I think there’s maybe enough here to make a judgement? But basically, in summation: ‘Go get it!!’ In this dismal UK ‘summer’ this is probably the best dose of sunshine you’re likely to get!
(Trojan presents ‘Freedom Sounds’ is released on 6th August 2012)
(10 / 10)
(Shit! Just realised I’ve written 1760 words on this review! Thanks for reading!)