Tag Archives: Reggae box sets

Virgin pushed the reggae front line forward

Virgin Records started releasing reggae albums in 1974, and the label’s initial release was B.B. Seaton’s Dancing Shoes, but it wasn’t until 1977 that Virgin decided to start a subsidiary – Front Line – dedicated to put out only reggae music.

So, in early 1978 Sex Pistols’ front man John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, went to Kingston to interview and sign the hottest new acts. Richard Branson – founder and owner of Virgin Records – had booked an entire floor at a Sheraton hotel, and artists and groups like Big Youth, U Roy, I Roy, Culture, The Gladiators, The Mighty Diamonds and Johnny Clarke were signed.

Over the next 18 months or so, the Front Line imprint put out 46 albums and 26 singles absorbing roots, dub, lovers, instrumentals and dub poetry. It was reggae of the highest calibre and among the very best Jamaica had to offer. But the label’s ambitious journey soon and suddenly came to an end, and in 1979 Front Line was dropped by Virgin.

Now – 35 years after Front Line’s demise – a new celebratory 5CD collection demonstrates what made Front Line so special and why the label is regarded as one key proponents in making reggae available to a broad audience. And Front Line managed – just as Island Records – to popularize reggae on the global arena in the late 70s, just when Bob Marley became a superstar.

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Virgin Front Line – Sounds of Reality features no less than 92 tracks, of which several are long forgotten and previously unreleased gems that make their debut on CD and digital download. Each of the first three discs comprise tracks from original Front Line albums, while disc four highlights a dozen of the discomixes released by the company between 1977 and 1979. The fifth CD brings together some of the long lost gems that until now were left all but forgotten in the vaults.

The package also includes a 52 page booklet, jam-packed with images, facts and recollections, with contributions from John Lydon, Front Line’s label manager Jumbo Vanrenen and designer Brian Cooke, ensuring the most authorative history of the label ever told.

When Virgin started the subsidiary they wanted to capitalize on Bob Marley’s stardom and Island Records’ success with him along with several other key reggae artists, including Burning Spear.

But Front Line’s albums were more dread, more eerie, compared to what Island put out. Just look at each label’s logo. Island had a palm tree. Front Line had a clenched black fist, gripping a length of barbed wire with blood dripping down the wrist. Front Line was Island’s unruly, anti-establishment cousin from the tough streets of Kingston.

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Gregory Isaacs’ in a late 80s style

Gregory Isaacs - Reggae Legends vol.2 - artworkThe late Gregory Isaacs is one of Jamaica’s most beloved singers, equally at home with both lovers and cultural material, even though his silky side is most well-known.

Over the years his material has been compiled over and over, and now it’s time again. But this new compilation is a bit different since it’s a box set that compiles four original albums with their original sleeves.

Two of the albums – Private Beach Party and Red Rose for Gregory – were smashes at the time of release, and collects game-changers such as Rumours and Mind Yu Dis. The two others – I.O.U and Victim – were also successful, especially I.O.U and the single Report to Me.

Three of the discs were produced by Augustus “Gussie” Clarke and singles such as the epochal Rumours and the smooth Let Off the Supm helped to revitalize their respective career. Hugh “Redman” James and Roots Radics were responsible for the underrated Victim, an effort that includes massive cuts like Rosie, Mr. Music Man and the title track.

Together these four albums give an extensive overview of Gregory Isaacs’ career in the late 80s and many of the tracks became stables in the Cool Ruler’s live set at the end of the decade.

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Four superstars showcased on new King Jammy box set

Vocal Superstars At King Jammys - ArtworkSuccessful producer, engineer and label owner Prince Jammy, later King Jammy, has recently earned himself two collector’s box sets on reggae powerhouse VP Records. One of them – Rootsman Vibrations at King Jammy’s – was reviewed by Reggaemani only a week ago.

The second set is titled Vocal Superstars at King Jammy’s. And the title doesn’t lie. The four album box set collects one album each from Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Horace Andy and Sugar Minott. These are some of Jamaica’s most gifted and celebrated singers, and unfortunately Horace Andy is the only one still alive.

This set isn’t as cohesive as Rootsman Vibrations. Or it has one main oddity – Sugar Minott’s Bitter Sweet. A great album in every aspect, but it’s an organic roots album with live instrumentation put out in 1979. The other three albums – Dennis Brown’s History aka The Exit, Gregory Isaacs’ Come Along and Horace Andy’s Haul and Jack-Up – were originally released in the mid to late 80s and have a completely different sound – sparse, computerized and digital with drum machines and synths.

All albums bear King Jammy’s signature sweet reggae sound and even though none of them are regarded as a classic these days, they still sound strong and the box set showcases the shift from analogue reggae to digital dancehall.

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Spectacular Channel One seven inches

Channel One is a classic Jamaican studio and label responsible for a vast amount of immortal albums, vocals, dubs, versions and instrumentals. It was for example here that dancehall pioneering producer Henry “Junjo” Lawes recorded most of his material, including monster hits from Yellowman, Eek-A-Mouse and Frankie Paul.

Recording engineers and producers brothers Ernest and Joseph Hoo Kim owned and operated the studio, and by 1973 it was up and running.

Reggae giant VP Records and its subsidiary 17 North Parade has now decided to re-issue some 7” gems recorded at Channel One and originally put out on the Hoo Kim brothers’ Channel One, Well Charge and Hit Bound labels.

The seven 7” focuses on some wicked rockers and early dancehall titles from Delroy Wilson, Leroy Smart, Barrington Levy, John Holt, Mighty Diamonds, Sammy Dread and Michael Palmer. Each vocal is followed by its dub counterpart or, as in one case, its deejay version.

If you’ve been listening to reggae for a while you’re probably familiar with most of the tracks, especially Delroy Wilson’s adaption of The Spinners’ soul outing It’s a Shame or John Holt’s Up Park Camp.

Pick of the bunch is although the Mighty Diamonds’ Jah Will Work it Out on the A side and the late Ranking Trevor’s Masculine Gender on the B side. Both are cuts on the mighty Drifter riddim.

Since the original 7” are extremely rare, the format is probably tasty for vinyl addicts, and to spice it up further the sleeves come in a nice vintage style.

The box set also comes with a download card for MP3 versions of all 14 tracks.

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