10 important reggae albums

Last updated 12:26 24/03/2011

I started this thing a while ago where I made lists of the top albums that I considered important - it's a personal list; the albums that introduced me to a genre and have become firm favourites and/or pointed the way. The idea being that I list out my 10 favourites - my 10 important albums and then you list yours - then we get to share some ideas, pick up some tips...

It started with 10 important hip-hop albums (see here), then it was on to metal (see here). Next was a catch-all term for 10 important electronica (see here) and we even shared 10 important country albums (see here).

So now I'm going to look at reggae - which may well go on to embrace dub, rocksteady and other roots-related genres and subgenres. If I can use electronica as a term and expect people to only name 10 albums there probably has to be some elasticity to the use of reggae as a catch-all also.

It's not a genre that gets a lot of air-time and/or print-space here at Blog on the Tracks - I don't listen to a lot of reggae music these days. But I have my favourites - and I have the albums I've heard that I really dig. And I'm going to share those with you now - hopefully you'll share your list also.

It's in no order, it's simply as I recall them.

1. Poet and the Roots, Dread Beat an' Blood

I first heard Linton Kwesi Johnson reading his poetry (a documentary that also featured John Cooper Clarke). I picked up one of his books shortly after and the hunt for his music took me to this album. From there I picked up this double anthology (which I thoroughly recommend as an intro/one-stop survey of Linton's recordings). I also picked up other early albums (Forces of Victory, Bass Culture and LKJ in Dub). This work introduced me to Dennis Bovell (his Dub of Ages could also make this list but I'll just sneak it in here as a bonus). Linton Kwesi Johnson's poetry works on the page and on the stage, it works with him reciting these pieces as a cappellas or with the supple reggae backing. The playing supports and supplements his vocal rhythms and you can listen to this for the powerful words or for the music. Or of course for both.

2. Bob Marley & The Wailers, Natty Dread

I'm choosing this one because it's the first Bob Marley I owned myself - his Legend compilation is still, to me, one of the great single-disc compilations but I'm a fan of Natty Dread (and Babylon By Bus) because I picked up cheap, second-hand LPs and thrashed them. Side one of Natty Dread feels perfect - still. A mix of spiritual, soulful, stirring blues, roots and reggae. And I love the playing of Al Anderson and rhythm section Carlton Barrett and Aston Barrett - so that's why I have a fondness for this album over any other one with the Marley name. It was the first time I studied the cover and liner notes to find out about the players involved. The weave of their playing is sublime.

3. Lee "Scratch" Perry, Blood Vapour

I picked this up in a sale bin for $2. Bargain. One of my favourite bargains ever - an album I still play a lot. I've checked out a bunch of Lee "Scratch" Perry over the years; often it's a mixed bag - well in terms of the more recent albums. I still go back to the Arkology box-set to discover new things.

4. Mad Professor & Lee Perry, Dub Take the Voodoo Out of Reggae

I say that Lee "Scratch" Perry's more recent output is a mixed bag and then I think of this album - maybe not a classic but it's one I really dig. And one that I was given because the first international interview I ever did was a 10-minute phoner with the Mad Professor. I could hear him blowing smoke, coughing and laughing. He was in a hotel room in Christchurch. Jamming with Salmonella Dub. Apparently.

5. UB40, Signing Off

The debut UB40 album is a classic - the band should have stopped there. It may not be a purist's idea of reggae but it went a long way toward introducing reggae to the pop market in a tasteful and honest way. I've seen UB40 a bunch of times now - good live act the first time you see them, after that it gets a little boring but I still look forward to songs like King and Food for Thought because whenever I hear them (live or studio versions) I think back to when I first heard this album as a very young kid. And it opened my ears.

6. Jimmy Cliff, The Harder They Come

Speaking of taking reggae to the mainstream - this album was crucial. The film (and its soundtrack) was a vehicle for Jimmy Cliff but also introduced other artists to America in the early 1970s. It's a classic - it might be an obvious choice but the title track is still a gem and there's not a dud cut on it. I've recently rediscovered this. I've been playing it a fair bit and it's lost nothing of its spark.

7. Toots & The Maytals, Funky Kingston

Much like The Harder They Come and Bob Marley's Natty Dread (and the earlier Wailers album, Catch a Fire) this album gave reggae a push outside of Jamaica. There's a reggae cover of Louie Louie. There's a few other Toots albums I like but this was my introduction.

8. Herbs, 13 Years (Best Of)

I haven't been choosing compilations (beyond the Harder They Come soundtrack) but I had to include this. Herbs are New Zealand's great reggae band - for me. The only reggae band I was aware of from this part of the world growing up - and the only one to really make an impact on my life. Great live band too. This was the only Herbs album I ever owned and was ever interested in.

9. Peter Tosh, Legalize It

This is the first solo Peter Tosh album after he left The Wailers. It still features so many of those great players (for me, again it's the rhythm section that does it). I hunted this out because I had been given a compilation tape with a song called 400 Years on it, identified as a Bob Marley song. I was then told it was by Peter Tosh - so I wanted to check out some of his music. I've checked out some other albums, some compilations too but this is the one for me.

10. Augustus Pablo, Original Rockers

And a compilation to close. Augustus Pablo is the melodica king - I discovered him at a time when I was not listening to any reggae at all. He transcended the genre for me - it was world music as far as I was concerned. And he remains one of my favourite artists. This collection of early singles is a great intro - well, it worked for me.

So these are the 10 important reggae albums that I thought of straight away when it came time to list them - 10 that work for me. Maybe you like some of them too? Maybe there are some here you'd like to check out.

But, more important, I'm interested in your lists; your suggestions. There is a lot of awful reggae I have had to listen to that has put me off the genre - but I'm keen to hear more of the good oil and I'm sure many of you can make some great suggestions.

What are your 10 important reggae albums?

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Ken   #1   12:54 pm Mar 24 2011

You're going to get a bunch of replies from the hardcore about this, but Cedric Mytton and Roy Johnson's "Heart of the Congos" is Lee Perry at his very best. It's a titanic record, all falsetto and back-to-Africa voodoo.

And lest we forget, there's Culture's brilliant "Two Sevens Clash".

bob each way   #2   01:13 pm Mar 24 2011

You rate UB40 and not The Blackseeds? Aren't they the same thing?

Don 1   #3   01:18 pm Mar 24 2011

A bit harsh on UB40 there Simon. Present Arms and UB44 were great. It was only after that the wheels fell off.

pepperann   #4   01:19 pm Mar 24 2011

1.Party Time - Heptones 2.Naturality - Gladiators 3.Sinsemilla - Black Uhuru 4. Night Nurse - Gregory Isaacs 5 Kaya, Uprising & Survival 6.Forces of Victory - LKJ 7.Sweet & Dandy - Toots & the Maytals 8.UB44 - UB40 9.Bush Doctor - Peter Tosh 10.Lee Scratch Perry....too hard to choose one. Youa can't make me!

Peter D   #5   01:51 pm Mar 24 2011

Aagh, can't manage just 10, have to make it 12 I'm afraid! Over many years of listening to reggae these are all just stone cold favourites and many more should be there but can't quite make the list.

1. The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff 2. Satta Massagana by The Abyssinnians 3. King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown by Augustus Pablo 4. The Heart of the Congos by The Congos 5. Two Sevens Clash by Culture 6. War Ina Babylon by Max Romeo 7. Marcus Garvey by Burning Spear 8. Best Dressed Chicken in Town by Dr. Alimantado 9. Mr Isaacs by Gregory Isaacs 10. Right Time by The Mighty Diamonds 11. Better Must Come by Delroy Wilson 12. Cool Rasta by The Heptones

+1 Catch a Fire by Bob Marley &The Wailers +2 Screaming Target by Big Youth +3 Put on Your Dress - Sonia Pottinger rocksteady compilation +4 Pretty much anything by Lee Perry during the Black Ark years... +5 The Trojan Ska and Dub Vol 1 sets, all killer

Apologies to Black Uhuru, Peter Tosh, Jacob Miller, Junior Byles etc... *sigh*

CoucH   #6   01:59 pm Mar 24 2011

In no particular order both fat freddys drop albums all of the black seeds albums that album by Sweet and Irie that album that has that one song that jack johnson does a reggae strum shaggy's 3rd album Perhaps a little incomplete but i am sure you would agree Simon that these are essential albums in the reggae genre.

Duncan Campbell   #7   02:17 pm Mar 24 2011

Not a bad list, Simon, and well done for mentioning the mighty Pablo, a masterful musician and producer.

Top 10 lists always produce some wonderful arguments, so here are mine (in no particular order):

DENNIS BROWN: WOLVES AND LEOPARDS One of JA’s greatest voices in classic form with impeccable Joe Gibbs production. BUNNY WAILER: STRUGGLE The sole surviving original Wailer turns out soulful, meditative solo sounds, epitomised by this lovely roots offering. THE CONGOS: HEART OF THE CONGOS Arguably Black Ark’s finest hour – three voices meshing in glorious harmony. MAX ROMEO: WAR IN A BABYLON A skanking rude boy became a righteous Rastaman, chanting down oppressors and baldheads with Lee Scratch at the controls. MICHAEL SMITH: MI CYAAN BELIEVE IT LKJ had a hand in the production of this dub poetry masterpiece, the sole album from a great talent who was stoned to death by a mob after speaking out at a political meeting. Chilling and electrifying. JUDY MOWATT: BLACK WOMAN The rich, vibrant voice from Marley’s I-Three – arguably the closest reggae has got to Aretha Franklin. SUGAR MINOTT: LIVE LOVING No reggae collection is complete without some Studio One and this guy (tragically taken from us not long ago) sang it sweet and Irie. BURNING SPEAR: SOCIAL LIVING Hard to pick one from such a vast catalogue, but this is archetypal Winston Rodney: deepest Rasta roots, so potent you can smell the herb. The companion dub album is essential too. ASWAD: NEW CHAPTER UK reggae has a firm identity distinct from its JA roots, reflecting the urban environment of the tower blocks (“living in a concrete situation”). This album featured innovative production and instrumentation, and there’s not a weak track on it. Another excellent companion dub LP as well. BLACK UHURU: SINSEMILLA Crucial just for Sly and Robbie’s revolutionary rhythms, the vocal combination of Michael Rose, Duckie Simpson and Puma Jones added the militant urgency that took reggae into the 1980s.

Darryl   #8   02:35 pm Mar 24 2011

I can't name a specific album, as my introduction to Desmond Dekker was a mix tape a friend made. I haven't bothered looking out for anything else as it's such a nicely worked collection.

Tim Possible   #9   02:37 pm Mar 24 2011

Good list Simon. Here’s my ten: 1. Third World – 96 degrees in the Shade – combines Jamaican rhythms with funk to produce the perfect soundtrack for those long balmy summer nights. 2. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Kaya – won’t be the one for Bob purists but means so much to me on a personal level. 3. Lee Scratch Perry & Dub Syndicate – Time Boom x De Devil Dead – Perry’s second coming masterfully produced by Adrian Sherwood. An important album in the evolution of Dub. 4. Peter Tosh – Equal Rights – Tosh’s most consistent solo effort just shading Legalise It. 5. Bob Marley & TheWailers – Exodus – prime period Bob. An important statement at a troublesome time for him personally. 6. Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey – Look no further for the true definition of ‘Roots’ in black plastic form. 7. Max Romeo – War Ina Babylon – Perry-produced set that raised the bar for all pretenders. 8. OST – The Harder They Come – not so much a Cliff solo set as a who’s who of Reggae as it morphed from its Ska and Rocksteady origins. 9. UB40 – Signing Off – before they turned to mush, this Brummie collective had a lot to say. The first three tracks on this album ensured they said it with plenty of style and substance. The rest ain’t bad either. 10. Various – 15 Years in an Open Boat – showcases Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound label with 15 years worth of gems from a whole range of sources. A one-stop shop/intro to an important Bristol label.

If I could cheat and expand the list to 20, I’d also include Marley’s ‘Live’, that great Congos album, something from Black Uhuru, Gregory Isaacs, Augustus Pablo, Dr Alimantado, another Dub Syndicate release, LKJ, African Headcharge, Prince Far I, something from Toots ... plus a host of others ... how long you got? So no Dancehall on this list, but more recent rootsy flavours would include Alborosie, Morgan Heritage, Sizzla, and just lately the inner teenager in me has been enjoying Collie Buddz.

John   #10   03:23 pm Mar 24 2011

Katchafire. nuff said


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