Posts Tagged ‘Rocksteady’

Various Artists: First Class Rock Steady

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

Various_FirstClassRockSteadtyExtraordinary collection of Jamaican rocksteady 1966-68

The difference between ska, rocksteady and reggae may be lost on casual listeners, but even without an academic understanding of Jamaican music’s evolution, rocksteady’s slower tempos, heavy backbeat and harmony vocals will get listeners on their feet. In celebration of rocksteady’s fiftieth anniversary, this forty track set pulls together some of the short-lived, foundational genre’s most important tracks, including Roy Shirley’s prototype “Hold Them,” Hopeton Lewis’ genre-defining opener, “Take it Easy,” material from internationally renowned exponents Desmond Dekker and Johnny Nash, and deep, collectible tracks from Jamaica’s greatest musicians.

Rocksteady slowed the tempo and simplified the instrumentation of ska, dropping the horns in most cases, shifting emphasis to the rhythm section, leaning more heavily on the backbeat, and freeing the bass to play melody. Technology also had an impact, as the introduction of two-track recorders allowed backing tracks to be reused, as did the Melodians with “Last Train to Expo ‘67” and “Last Train to Ecstacy,” and Stranger Cole for “Seeing is Knowing” and “Darling Jeboza Macoo.” Rocksteady also freely borrowed melodies, such as Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata” for “Pata Pata Rocksteady” and Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” for both “The Russians Are Coming” and “The Great Musical Battle.”

Though only active from 1966-68, rocksteady produced a large number of excellent singles, and set down roots that grew as reggae took over. This set was originally issued on vinyl as a super deluxe singles box for Record Store Day, and has now been expanded and reissued in digital form for International Reggae Day. The CDs come in an artfully decorated digipak with an 18-page booklet featuring liner notes by reggae historian Harry Wise, and deftly integrated quotes from rocksteady giants Bunny “Striker” Lee, Lynn Taitt and Hopeton Lewis. All tracks are mono except “Take It Easy,” “Sounds and Pressure,” and “Hold Me Tight,” which are surprisingly good quality stereo. A great set for newbies and crate diggers alike! [©2016 Hyperbolium]