10 Great Reggae Songs on Trojan Records
Top Trojan Records Reggae Tracks
Trojan Records is a music label that was created back in 1968 to serve reggae, and its sub-genres, to the burgeoning skinhead culture that was exploding in late 1960s Britain.
Releasing tracks that were rooted in Jamaican music, acts not limited to Desmond Dekker, The Pioneers, Bob Marley, Nicky Thomas and Jimmy Cliff all enjoyed success on this UK label, particularly through the late Sixties and early 1970s.
Much of what became successful among record buyers was described as pop reggae, rather than the not-so-commercial, cultural Jamaican music of the time.
While keeping its name, Trojan Records has changed hands several times over the years. In doing so, reggae lovers have been able to enjoy an enormous back catalogue of music through the re-release of tracks on the Trojan Box Set series.
Having grown up during this period, the songs featured here take me back to a more innocent time, while research has allowed me to rediscover some reggae gems that I might have otherwise forgotten. Here are just a very few of the best from Trojan Records.
1960s Skinhead Culture
Lovers of the Trojan Sound
Although I was a little young to afford any kind of fashion trend in the late 1960s, I have vivid memories of the skinhead movement that developed out of the mod culture. Skinheads at that time were mostly working class and did not have the overly violent image that they were later identified with.
Their style was cropped hair, straight legged jeans, button down shirts, braces and army boots. Their preferred music was that produced in Jamaica; namely rocksteady, ska and the roots of reggae.
There developed an obvious niche in the music business of the time and Trojan Records filled much of the void with the release of reggae tracks by the likes of The Pioneers, Desmond Dekker and Jimmy Cliff.
The Suedehead Subculture
Youth Culture of the Early 1970s
When Trojan Records was at its peak in the early 1970s, a new subculture sprang out of the skinhead movement in the UK: the Suedeheads.
What separated the appearance of the two tribes was longer hair and the preferred choice in clothes. Suedeheads dispensed with the "bovver boy" boots in favour of loafers and brogues. Formal suits added to the overall style change, along with overcoats (in particular, Crombies), Sta-Prest trousers and coloured socks.
While the look of the two subcultures had developed in different directions, they continued to share an enthusiasm for the music coming out of Jamaica and black America.
Stir It Up
A seductive love song that I remember listening to by Johnny Nash. I went looking for the original and here it is. Stir It Up was written by Bob Marley and included on his 1973 album, Catch A Fire.
The video here shows Marley cooing his love in a live performance from the UK's music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test. Thankfully, performances like this have been saved for posterity.
Song: Love of the Common People
Probably my favourite of the Trojan releases is this song by Nicky Thomas. The record label added lush orchestral dubbing to the original to make the sound more palatable to British audiences, and it worked. The track climbed into the British Top 10 in 1970, selling near to a quarter of a million copies in the process. Both versions are now available, so fans can make a comparison and decide which they prefer.
Whatever the outcome of that debate, this is a classic and a masterpiece of the reggae genre. Luckily, this out-of-breath and sweaty clip of Nicky Thomas from Reggae at the BBC is still around for followers to enjoy Love of the Common People.
Song: Wonderful World, Beautiful People
At the height of the conflict in Vietnam, along came a tune that typified the era, Wonderful World, Beautiful People. One of the best by Jimmy Cliff, the song is a call for hope for the future, while at the same time, recognising the serious problems facing the world at that time. Wonderfully melodic, it is as infectious as the plague.
The video here shows the exuberant Jimmy Cliff performing live in front of what appears to be an audience of showroom dummies. Blink and you may miss any movement among them. Close your eyes longer, however, and listen to his soul.
Song: You Can Get It If You Really Want
Many of the Trojan Records' releases were by well-established reggae performers who enjoyed covering the big songs of the day. Desmond Dekker, however, tended to release his own compositions, only intermittently releasing cover songs.
After a lot of persuasion, he agreed to record another favourite of mine called You Can Get It if You Really Want, written by Jimmy Cliff. A massive hit, we British bought it in our droves, sending the track towards the top of the charts. Jimmy Cliff went on to make his own version and fans still argue over which is the definitive one.
The video below shows the late Desmond Dekker performing You Can... along with another of his big hits, Israelites.
Song: Long Shot (Kick De Bucket)
One of the favourites of the Skinheads, The Pioneers produced this bit of fun.
Long Shot (Kick De Bucket) was apparently about a recently deceased horse that had died during one of its races. The group wrote this song about the event and it became an instant UK hit.
Harry J Allstars
Song: The Liquidator
This instrumental track became one of the anthems of the skinhead youth culture and elicits fond memories of days at the fairground where this was always played.
The driving reggae beat became a regular accompaniment to the bumper cars in the late Sixties and early Seventies and featured prominently in (as they were called back then) dance halls. It's very familiar to fans of Chelsea Football Club, too.
Dave and Ansel Collins
Song: Double Barrel
Another instrumental that transports me back to those fairground days. This one became even more popular and was able to make the difficult journey over to the American charts and succeed.
Double Barrel epitomized the new reggae sound and anyone who remembers the song will instantly recall the opening: I am the magnificent, I am double OOO! And the plethora of grunts that brought funk and soul into the reggae arena.
The video here is an edition of Britain's Top of the Pops from April 1971 with Dave and Ansel Collins performing the track at the time it first reached Number One.
Song: Suzanne Beware of the Devil
This one was released at the height of the UK's reggae craze and is an infectious little number that was also recorded by Nicky Thomas. However, it was this version by Dandy Livingstone that became the hit.
Set to a vigourous reggae beat, with the drums and bass in the limelight and the organ carrying the melody, it's difficult not to hum along and tap your foot.
Song: Black and White
If you're American, you may remember a version of this song by Three Dog Night.
However, Greyhound's watered down reggae version was instrumental in creating a market for smooth reggae pop in the UK. I love listening to this all the same!
Song: Let Your Yeah Be Yeah
The Pioneers progressed from Long Shot (Kick De Bucket) to this heavily orchestrated Jimmy Cliff composition, Let Your Yeah Be Yeah.
It was the trio's biggest song in the UK, climbing into the Top 10 in 1971. Pure magic.
Questions & Answers
© 2013 Richard