This is the first of a five part list compiled as a celebration of Jamaica’s 50 years of independence. The list contains 50 albums – ten for each decade. Today it’s time for the first ten albums and the period covering 1962-1972.
It all started back in the early 60’s when ska was born. The music itself was a mix of R&B, swing, mento and latin and the genre’s prime ambassadors was The Skatalites, a group of brilliant instrumentalists that backed most of the top singers of the day as well as recorded dazzling instrumentals.
And it’s only fair to kick-off the list with a top-notch ska album recorded for the Top Deck label. Ska changed after a few years and evolved into the smoother, glossier and more soul-influenced rocksteady.
The only straight rocksteady album on the list is The Paragons’ On the Beach.
The sound of rocksteady –just as ska – only lasted a few years, and around 1968 reggae took the island, and later the world, by storm.
The rest of the list contains albums in the early reggae – sometimes labeled skinhead reggae – vein with albums put out between 1968 and 1972, even though some of the albums cover a period when rocksteady transmuted into reggae.
The list doesn’t contain any compilations, but as always with Jamaican albums, some albums are more or less made-up of several previously released singles.
The Skatalites – Ska Boo Da-Ba (1966)
The all-star ensemble of The Skatalites – with instrumentalists such as Tommy McCook, Don Drummond, Jackie Mittoo and Roland Alphonso – has released numerous of immortal ska tunes, and this set collects twelve instrumentals, including Lawless Street and Confucius.
The Paragons – On the Beach (1967)
Classic rocksteady album recorded at Treasure Isle with John Holt on lead vocals. Contains almost exclusively hit songs – Only a Smile, Happy Go Lucky and The Tide is High, later coved by U.S. pop/rock group Blondie with great success.
Prince Buster – Rough Rider (1968)
More or less a collection of singles issued on Bluebeat, but what great singles. Contains both fast-paced instrumentals and slower ballads. Highlights include the title track, the aptly titled Scorcher and Taxation, with its memorable brass.
Ken Boothe – A Man and His Hits (1968)
Ken Boothe started in the ska era with Stranger Cole as the duo Stranger & Ken. He reached solo success in the 70’s with his album and single Everything I Own. A Man and His Hits was recorded at Studio One in the rocksteady vein and is filled with his gritty singing style.
The Heptones – On Top (1968)
The trio’s second album, recorded at Studio One with Coxsone Dodd handling the production. Includes beautiful harmonizing and immortal and much versioned riddims – Pretty Looks isn’t All and I Hold the Handle can still be heard to this day.
The Pioneers – Long Shot (1969)
The late Leslie Kong is without a doubt one of the best Jamaican producers of all time. This early reggae album was produced by him and includes up-tempo scorchers such as the title track and the Jamaican hit Samfie Man.
The Ethiopians – Reggae Power (1969)
The much overlooked Jamaican producer J.J Johnson is responsible for this set in the early reggae vein. His productions have a very distinct sound with picking guitar in an almost country and western style, with Gun Man and Woman a Capture Man being two prime examples.
Desmond Dekker – This Is (1969)
Another set produced by the great Leslie Kong and with backing supplemented by the always consistent Beverly’s All Stars. Not a weak or boring moment, and you can’t go wrong with a collection that includes the monster hit 007 (Shanty Town) along with less known gems such as Beautiful & Dangerous and Hey Grandma.
Bob Andy – Song Book (1970)
A stunning collection of songs from this sometimes overlooked artist in the course of Jamaican singers. Bob Andy is a versatile and gifted song writer and arranger and had a smash hit a few years later with a cover of Nina Simone’s Young, Gifted & Black, made as a combination with Marcia Griffiths.
Junior Byles – Beat Down Babylon (1972)
The unique voice of Junior Byles contains a sublime mix of vulnerability and rebelliousness. This Lee Perry-produced set includes ten tracks with mostly social themes.