Wailers – Bus Dem Shut (Wailers Production)
What a tune! Released in the summer of 1967 this shows that the Wailers were every bit as good as the Uniques or the Sensations on their day.
Before starting their Wail N Soul M label the Wailers had recorded exclusively for Coxsone Dodd, though many artists were dabbling with self productions in the rocksteady era few made as much of a go of it as the Wailers did with more than a dozen singles released between ’66 and ’69. Bus Dem Shut is arguably the pick of the bunch.
Bus Dem Shut is available on the Universal CD, Wail’n Soul’m Singles Selecta.
The Minstrels – So Weary (Sam Mitchell and Keith Scott production)
Another wonderful tune finance by Lebanese Jamaican businessman Kenneth L Khouri for his Merritone label. How can anything so brilliant be so obscure? Every one should have a copy!
The similarity of the vocal structure and melody to Ferry Cross The Mersey by Gerry & The Pacemakers is unmistakeable and can’t be a coincidence. Though on this occassion the somewhat unusual source material doesn’t detract from the end product, this wasn’t always the case with other tunes covered/adapted on the Merritone label; The Mighty Quinn by Hopeton Lewis And The Gaylettes is kind of odd and Hornpipe Rocksteady by Leslie Butler is at best completely forgettable.
So Weary was originally released on the Merritone label in Jamaica, it did not see a UK release. It is currently unavailable but is expected to be reissued in the near future.
The Melodians – Swing And Dine (Sonia Pottinger production)
The Melodians were Tony Brevett, Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton, they first recorded for Coxsone in 1966 then moved to Treasure Isle and then to Sonia Pottinger. They had two big hits for the latter, Little Nut Tree and, of course, Swing And Dine.
“I can’t believe you want to leave so soon, the parties just begun now don’t go away…swing and dine and dance for your money…” this is one of my favourite rocksteady sing-a-long tunes. It’s also another supreme example, if any more were needed, of rocksteady harmony vocals.
The Melodians went into the 70′s with a string of hit singles such as Sweet Sensation and Rivers Of Babylon for Leslie Kong but this was undoubtedly one of their finest moments.
Swing And Dine should still be available of the 1990′s Heartbeat CD The Melodians – Swing And Dine.
The Soul Vendors – Swing Easy (Coxsone Dodd production)
An unlikely tune to turn in to a Jamaica music classic but this one is mighty all the same. Swing Easy was adapted from Tradition, a song from the 1964 Broadway musical Fiddler On The Roof. In 1967 the Soul Vendors picked it up for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One and made one of the finest instrumentals ever, from the bass line that launched dozens of versions to the beautiful horn melody, this one has it all.
The reverse side of the original release on both Jamaican Studio One and UK blue Coxsone was River Jordan by the Bassies, see number 51 in this list.
Swing Easy is currently available on Studio One Soul 2 released by Soul Jazz records.
Val Bennett – The Russians Are Coming (Bunny Lee production)
The Russians Are Coming started life as the Jazz instrumental hit Take 5 by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, first recorded in 1959. The name change was presumably inspired by the 1966 comedy film The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming.
This is perhaps tenor saxophonist Val Bennett’s finest moments and certainly one of the greatest of all rocksteady instrumentals. Definitely one of the occasions where it could be argued that the cover is better than the original.
Originally issued on a Lee’s 7″ in Jamaica and on Island in the UK, The Russians Are Coming is currently available on the Trojan CD; Original Riddims.
Slim Smith And The Freedom Singers – Hip Hug (Coxsone Dodd production)
I’ve written about many great singers on this countdown and have changed my mind about who might be the greatest of all more than once. In any list of the very best Slim Smith will always be one of the first names that springs to mind; both as a member of the Uniques and as a solo artist his work is rarely less than quite superb. Hip Hug is a case in point, helped by one of those great Studio One basslines that launched a hundred versions his plaintive and soulful vocal is just wonderful. And just when you thought this is as good as it gets they add those horns to the mix as well…on another day this might easily have been number one.
I’m not aware of any current re-issue of this tune though there may be a Coxsone 7″ floating about. There is a next cut of Hip Hug with re-recorded vocals that most notably appeared on a Music Lab 10″, it’s lovely as well and a repress of this should still be available.
Ken Boothe – Say You (Sonia Pottinger production)
Another wonderful singer, indeed the man who’s debut album for Studio One gave him the not undeserved title of Mr Rocksteady. There could be other contenders for this title but Ken Boothe had something very special and it was never better demonstrated than on Say You.
The guitar licks of Lynn Taitt are a real joy here, Say You is one of those tunes where you can really appreciate the contribution he made to the rocksteady sound. That said, if he done enough to warrant Ken Boothe’s name being missed out on the credit on the original UK issue on Doctor Bird as shown is open to debate!
Say You is currently available on the Trojan double CD: Ken Boothe – Everything I Own: Definitive Collection.
The Paragons – My Best Girl (Duke Reid production)
The first Treasure Isle tune on this list in a while but this won’t be the last! Another superlative vocal effort from John Holt, alongside Howard Barrett and Tyrone Evans that demonstrates, as if any proof were needed, that they were one of the very greatest rocksteady vocal groups. The organ at the forefront (Winston Wright?) and Lynn Tait’s guitar work make for a tough rhythm track that fits the vocals supremely well. If you love this you should also check for the horns piece My Best Dress by Tommy McCook & the Supersonics.
It doesn’t appear that My Best Girl is currently available though it’s on the LP On The Beach With The Paragons which has seen CD release by both Charly and Trojan within the last ten years (the latter as a 53 song anthology) both should be reasonably easy to find either new or second hand.
Keith And Tex – Tonight (Derrick Harriott production)
A rocksteady anthem of the first order. Keith And Tex’s other major hit Stop That Train was number 40 on this list, I’ve always preferred Tonight but there’s very little in it if truth be told. Both tunes sound like they were recorded at the same session, if that’s true then what a session that must have been!
The Tonight rhythm has been used for many versions over the years but unusually there have also been many cover versions and adaptations of the the original song which says a lot for the quality of this tune. Derrick Harriott struck gold with this pair, why on earth didn’t they record for anyone else as a duo?
Tonight is on the Crystal LP Stop That Train.
The Uniques – Beatitude (Bunny Lee production)
Beatitude is a reasonably faithful adaption of The Beatitudes, part of the Sermon On The Mount from Matthew Chapter 5 of the Bible.
Take a spiritual set of lyrics, put the masterful Slim Smith on lead vocal and it’s hardly surprising that the outcome is something really quite special, you don’t have to be religious to be moved by this. It helps of course that the rhythm is great too, Bunny Lee was doing something very right in this period, never underestimate his contribution when talking about the great rocksteady producers.
This was originally released in Jamaica on Lee’s with My Conversation also by the Uniques (number 37 on this list) on the other side. As double siders go this is pretty much as good as it gets.
Beatitude is available on the CD/LP The Uniques – Watch This Sound on Pressure Sounds.