Tag Archives: Virgin Records

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.



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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The Mighty Diamonds presented in the best possible way

Mighty Diamonds_-_Planet_Earth fThe Mighty Diamonds are Jamaica’s longest-serving vocal group and have been together since 1969. They also happen to be one of my favorite vocal harmony trios and that’s why I’m excited about the second release on UK’s Hot Milk Records.

It’s a reissue of The Mighty Diamonds (though credited to The Diamonds on the sleeve) Planet Earth and its dub companion Planet Mars Dub by The Icebreakers with The Diamonds, both sets originally released in 1978 on Richard Branson’s label Virgin.

The label has now taken both albums and put them on CD in a showcase style, meaning each song is followed by its dub version. The material is sourced from the original Virgin master tapes and the audio quality is flawless and sounds slicker and more polished than the original LP’s.

The Mighty Diamonds have borrowed a lot from their U.S. soul contemporaries, especially those coming from Philadelphia. Sugary harmonies, excellent songwriting and great feel for melodies are some of the main components in their music.

The Mighty Diamonds’ debut album I Need a Roof aka Right Time is a militant affair, whereas this album leans more towards their heavily criticized Ice On Fire album produced by U.S. soul and R&B giant Allen Toussaint.

The album was recorded with a number of notable Jamaican session musicians at the then newly built Compass Point Studio in Bahamas. The riddims are smooth, the harmonies delicate and lead vocalist Donald “Tabby” Shaw sings more heartfelt and pleading than ever before, just listen to the aching title track, with lyrics as relevant today as they were more than 30 years, or the beautiful Sweet Lady, the album’s only cover.

The dub versions lean more towards instrumentals and most of the songs are left more or less intact with vocals snippets dropping in and out of the mix.

The Mighty Diamonds have over the years put out soundtracks for revolutions and for romancing between the sheets. This catchy set contains a little of both and is now presented in the best possible way.

Available now on CD that comes with a booklet containing a long and informative essay by John Masouri.


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20 bästa reggaealbumen på Spotify

Spotify är en riktigt bra nätbaserad musiktjänst. Man laddar ner en programvara från vilken man sedan streamar – lyssnar i realtid – musiken.

För närvarande finns flera miljoner låtar. Och det finns faktiskt förvånansvärt mycket reggae – såväl singlar som EPs och hela album från tidigt 60-tal fram till idag. Om man kikar på vilka album Spotify fått rättigheter till, så verkar det som att de slutit avtal med skivbolag som Greensleeves, Blood and Fire (numera nedlagt) och Virgin (numera EMI). Det är skivbolag som under många år släppt fantastiska skivor – Virgin släppte på 70-talet klassiska skivor med bland annat The Mighty Diamonds och U Roy, Greensleeves har länge varit mästare på dancehall, och Blood and Fire var under några år ledande på återutgivningar av obskyra artister och skivor, exempelvis The Chantells.

lone-ranger1Spotify har tyvärr inte allt man vill ha. Katalogen består till stor av samlingsskivor och greatest hits. Men några klassiska guldkorn går det allt att gräva fram Och det har jag ägnat ett par minuter åt att göra.

Ladda ner länken nedan, så får du tillgång till 20 av de bästa och mest klassiska reggaealbumen som Spotify har att erbjuda. Jag har bara valt album av en artist eller grupp. Det ingår alltså inga samlingsskivor. I mesta möjliga mån har jag försökt att hitta originalalbumet, och inte någon nyutgåva eller greatest hits. Allt för att försöka få till någon form av originalkänsla.


u-roy1Den observante märker nog att jag i princip endast valt gamla alster. Den absoluta merparten av skivorna är från 70-talet. Varför? Svaret är lika enkelt som det är sant; det var ju då det gjordes bäst reggae.

Hade jag valt ur den egna skivsamlingen hade listan på de 20 bästa reggaealbumen sett lite annorlunda ut. Exempelvis fattas skivor från Studio One helt, vilket inte är särskilt rättvisande.

Har du exempel reggaeskivor på Spotify som inte är med på listan, men borde vara där? Tips och åsikter tas givetvis mycket gärna emot.

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