The Kingstonians – Put Down Your Fire (JJ production)
The Kingstonians are easily recognisable due to the lead vocals of Jackie Bernard. Hugely successful in the late 60’s/early 70’s with producer Derrick Harriot the trio formed at the beginning of the Rocksteady era and managed to record a number of fine tunes with Carl “Sir JJ” Johnson before the style changed. All of these are worth checking out but Put Down Your Fire is easily the best.
Put Down Your Fire was originally issued on Doctor Bird in the UK and supposedly on a Jamaican pre-release though this never turns up. It was reissued on a seven inch single on the JJ label in 2011 and should still be fairly easy to pick up.
Derrick Harriott – Walk The Streets (Derrick Harriott production)
Derrick Harriott wasn’t the greatest singer of the rocksteady era but he was certainly premier league. He had a remarkable knack for picking a tune and making it his own too, if he’d been in America in the same period he would have been a household name to equal the likes of Marvin Gaye.
Walk The Streets was originally recorded by The Tams as You Might As Well Forget Him, it’s a classic tale of heartbreak that works perfectly as rocksteady:
“Whoa, darling, you might as well forget him
For he’s gone, he’s said his last goodbye”.
Great stuff and hugely underrated.
Walk The Streets was originally issued on a Crystal 7″ in Jamaica and on Island in the UK. It is currently available on a Crystal 7″ from Dub Store.
The Progressions – Fair Deal (Pat Hardy production)
The Progressions were Rudy Mills, Pat Hardy, Derrick Bucknor and Milton Henry. They only released six tunes and every one was masterpiece in it’s own right but Fair Deal is the greatest of them all. For a group with limited recording experience the harmonies on this are quite astounding and make this well deserving of it’s inclusion within the top ten of this list.
Originally released in Jamaica on the very small Kismet label this tune, along with the rest of the Progressions work, became better known when released on the compilation of Kismet material Reggae To The UK With Love by Pama in 1970 (by which time some of the material must have sounded quite dated).
Fair Deal is available on the Trojan compilation Rebel Music Volume 2 from 2007 and was also released on a Kismet label 7″ in 2012.
Unknown – Got To Be At That Party (G. Hargraves production?)
Got To Be At That Party is usually credited to the Tennors but it doesn’t sound much like them and this is almost certainly a case of speculation being repeated until it is widely believed. The matrix number STAR 1002/STAR 1003 and the blank label give few clues as to the artists however STAR 1000/STAR 1001 was by the Hitones so it could be by them.
What is for certain is this is a wonderful piece of rocksteady that proves, if proof were needed, that the rare and the obscure can be every bit as good as the major hits.
Got To Be At The Party was re-issued on the Trojan CD Gaz’s Rockin Blues and has been bootlegged on a 7″ single.
Phil Pratt – Safe Travel (Phil Pratt production)
Hauntingly atmospheric and supremely powerful at the same time. Ace producer Phil Pratt was just as good behind the microphone as the mixing desk and he never had a finer moment than with Safe Travel (though some may argue that Sweet Song For My Baby ran it pretty close).
This tune was stupidly obscure, pretty much only known by rocksteady obsessives, until Pressure Sounds picked it up in 2005. They chose it as the title track for their compilation of Phil Pratt’s 60’s productions: Safe Travel – The Rare Side Of Rocksteady and it finally got the recognition it so richly deserved.
Safe Travel was originally issued on 7″ single on the UK Caltone label and on a Jamaican Wiggle Spoon blank.
Delroy Wilson – Dancing Mood (Coxsone Dodd Production)
That piano introduction is legendary! Dancing Mood was a huge hit for Delroy Wilson from 1966 and a great example of the early Rocksteady sound. Despite being around 18 when he recorded this Delroy was already a bit of a veteran having been releasing records for around 4 years. He had recorded exclusively for Coxsone Dodd up to this point and continued to do so for another couple of years.
The original Jamaican issue of Dancing Mood was on a revived All Stars label, this imprint had originally been used from around 1960 to 1963 by Coxsone, the revival was short lived. Dancing Mood was also issued on Island in the UK.
Dancing Mood is currently available on the Studio One CD: Delroy Wilson – Dancing Mood.
Slim Smith – Rougher Yet (Coxsone Dodd Production)
It would have been all too easy to fill this list with Slim Smith tracks (either solo or as a member of the Uniques) so it took quite a while to decide which ones made the grade and which ones had to be overlooked. Rougher Yet was an easy choice as it’s the ultimate Slim Smith Rocksteady tune, it ticks all the boxes; a brilliant soulful vocal, superb backing harmonies and a killer bass line that launched a thousand versions (well, several hundred anyway).
Smith tragically lost his life in 1972 while still in his mid twenties. With his passing Jamaican music lost one of the most talented vocalists it ever produced, the music would never be the same again.
Rougher Yet is currently available on the Soul Jazz CD, Studio One Classics.
Bobby Ellis – Step Softly (Derrick Harriott Production)
Alfred Hitchcock, another Bobby Ellis lead instrumental for Derrick Harriott has already featured in this list at number 28 but Step Softly trumps that, it’s quite simply the ultimate rocksteady instrumental. A great piano led introduction and then the horn drops and it’s game over… wonderful stuff.
Bobby Ellis carried on recording extensively throughout the 70’s, as well as dozens of recordings as a session musician he continued to take the lead and have records, including major hits such as Shan Kai Shek and Stormy Weather credited directly to him.
Step Softly is currently available of a 7″ single reissue through Dub Store Records.
The Sensations – Long Time Me No See You Girl (Bunny Lee Production)
I first heard Long Time Me No See You Girl around 1989 when it was included on the Trojan album Jumping With Mr Lee, one of the producers series LP’s compiled by Steve Barrow. The first tune on that collection it was breathtaking then and it still sounds every bit as good now.
The Sensations started recording for Duke Reid in 1966 and by the time they had linked up with Bunny Lee in 1967 they were already at the top of their game. Though the line up changed several times they remained one of the best Jamaican vocal groups throughout the remainder of the 60’s.
Long Time… is a simple enough song with only a few lines that are repeated but it’s the performance that matters, the beautiful harmonies tell a story all of their own, aided by a superb rhythm that features one of the greatest horn lines of the rocksteady era.
Long Time Me No See You Girl has appeared on many compilations over the years but seems to be unavailable at the present time.
The Techniques – Queen Majesty (Duke Reid Production)
And finally we reach number one. It could never really be anything but Treasure Isle, the label that defined the genre under producer Duke Reid.
It’s also fitting that the number one should be a cover of an Impressions tune, the group who, with Curtis Mayfield on lead, were one of the greatest influences on Jamaican music in the golden years of rocksteady. The Impressions version was named Minstrel and Queen and released in 1962, the Techniques cut from five years later is classic rocksteady in every sense of the word. Many may argue over which is the greatest rocksteady tune but few would disagree that this tune is up there with the very best of them. A Curtis Mayfield composition, a marvelous intro, a great sticky bass line and truly great harmonies – can it really get any better than this?
Queen Majesty should still be available on the CD; The Techniques – Run Come Celebrate released on Heartbeat records.