VA – Reggay Undercover (14 Scorching Ska, Rocksteady & Reggay Covers From Jamaica 1964-1970)

by Dec 16, 2023Reviews, Various

Reggay Undercover

Release Info

Label
Harlem Shuffle Records
Format
LP
Street date
March, 2023
Contact
Website Record Label
Facebook Label

Tracklist
SIDE A

1. Tommy McCook & The Supersonics – Kansas City
2. Bongo Man Byfield – Bongo Man
3. The Techniques – What’cha Gonna Do
4. Eric Monty Morris – If I Didn’t Love You
5. Trevor & The Maytones – Everyday Is Like A Holiday
6. The Uniques – Just A Mirage
7. Patsy Todd – Retreat Song

Side B

1. Roland Alphonso – Charade
2. Lee Perry – Something You’ve Got
3. The Upsetters & Count Prince Miller – Mule Train
4. Alton Ellis – Trying To Reach My Goal
5. Harry J All Stars – Je T’Aime
6. Ken Boothe – Is It Because I’m Black
7. The Messengers – Crowded City

Harlem Shuffle Records

We have recently received two LPs from Harlem Shuffle Records, a British label. This collective of DJs, who have a strong affinity for vintage sounds such as soul, early reggae, rocksteady, ska, funk, and more, is comprised of members from both England and France. Their passion for these genres led them to launch a series of re-releases in late 2019, featuring various obscure gems from earlier years on 7″ singles. While they did include well-known tunes like Train To Glory by The Ethiopians, their main focus was on unearthing the lesser-known works of Jamaican artists from the 1960s and early 1970s. In late 2020, they took it a step further and released their first LP titled Hot Sauce. This vibrant collection of tunes was sourced from the archives of several Trojan-related UK labels that were active between 1965 and 1975. It offers a delightful glimpse into the musical landscape of that era.

Reggay Undercover

Continuing their exploration of Jamaican music, the collective released Reggay Undercover in the spring of this year. This 14-track LP features a curated selection of Jamaican covers from the latter half of the 1960s. It showcases Jamaican producers fearlessly reinterpreting numerous American hits, timeless classics, and even soundtracks. While not every cover was an instant success, the practice of covering these songs yielded enough hidden gems to fill this LP. Coincidentally, around the same time as the release of Reggay Undercover, we published a book titled Reggae Got Soul: Jamaican Covers and Their Originals – From the ’60s into the ’80s. In this book, we meticulously trace the origins of approximately 170 Jamaican songs, providing intriguing insights and trivial details about both the original versions and their cover counterparts. If you’re interested, you can find more information about the book here.

Scorcher

Tommy McCook & The Supersonics, the exceptional talented house band of Duke Reid, commence this collection with the 1970 instrumental track Kansas City. Prior to this, Joya Landis achieved considerable success with her vocal rendition of the same song. Moving on to track two, we have a captivating rendition of Sam Cooke’s beloved hit What A Wonderful World. Delroy Byfield, also known as Bongo Man Byfield, took on this tune and transformed it into an exhilarating uptempo composition titled Bongo Man. The momentum continues with the ska scorcher Watch’Cha Gonna Do by The Techniques, who skillfully put their own unique touch on the original 1955 version by The Drifters. Charles “Chuck” Jackson, a highly talented yet underappreciated singer, garnered a minor hit in 1965 with If I Didn’t Love You. A year later, Eric “Monty” Morris recorded a heartfelt rocksteady adaption of the same song for Duke Reid.

passionate and soulful voice

It is widely known that the songs of William “Smokey” Robinson were frequently covered by Jamaican artists. One such example is the relatively lesser-known track titled The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage from 1967, which was covered by The Uniques with Slim Smith as the lead vocalist. After departing from The Techniques, Slim Smith went on to form The Uniques, a vocal trio that skillfully showcased his passionate and soulful voice in their rendition of Just A Mirage. This particular tune can also be found on their exceptional LP titled Absolutely The… Uniques. Read the review of that LP here. The first side of the album concludes with Patsy Todd’s The Retreat Song, originally performed by Miriam Makeba. In Jamaica, this fusion of calypso and reggae was released under Sonia Pottinger’s Gay Feet label, while in the UK, it was released under Doctor Bird. Singer Millicent “Patsy” Todd, who frequently collaborated with Stranger Cole and Derrick Morgan during the 1960s, was a consistent hitmaker. One of her notable successes was the chart-topping track Housewive’s Choice, recorded alongside Derrick Morgan.

whimsical and extravagant interpretation

Upon reaching the second side, the mood undergoes a shift as soon as the first track begins to play. The exquisite instrumental piece, Charade, is flawlessly performed by the immensely talented saxophonist Roland Alphonso, accompanied by The Beverly’s All-Stars, the house band of producer Lesie Kong. It’s a cover of a song performed in the 1963 film of the same name. In his own inimitable style, the legendary reggae artist Lee Perry covers Chris Kenner’s hit song, Something You’ve Got. This particular track was featured on the flip side of Perry’s popular single, Run For Cover. The country & western hit, Mule Train, proved to be an ideal choice for Count Prince Miller’s Jamaican rendition, but Miller, alongside Perry and his Upsetters did another version, transforming it into a whimsical and extravagant interpretation, which can be found on the LP Scratch The Upsetter Again. Check the review of that set here. Reggae legend Alton Ellis tackles Screaming Jay Hawkins’ funky tune Trying To Reach My Goal with equal gusto, offering a spirited and swinging rendition that stays true to the original’s essence.

Black Awareness

Harry Zephaniah Johnson, known by his stage name Harry J, was a highly acclaimed producer during his time. He gained recognition for his successful tracks such as Young Gifted And Black by Bob & Marcia and Liquidator which reached number 9 on the UK Singles Chart. In 1969, his session band, The Harry J All Stars, recorded a rendition of the sensually charged European hit Je t’aime, Moi Non Plus by French duo Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. The lead role in this captivating piece is skillfully executed by Winston Wright’s mesmerizing organ playing. The tone becomes more profound both lyrically and musically with the powerful and ‘black awareness’ track Is It Because I’m Black by Ken Boothe, also credited to The Messengers. This remarkable and thought-provoking song was covered by Ken Boothe for producer Lloyd Charmers, who released it on his Splash label in 1973. In the UK, Trojan Records released the song with the addition of strings and horns. The closing track, Crowded City by The Messengers, features the same group that Ken Boothe was a part of, alongside Lloyd Charmers, Busty Brown, and BB Seaton. This song follows a similar vein as Is It Because I’m Black and is once again produced by Lloyd Charmers. Truly, these are two exceptional tunes that showcase the immense talent and creativity of the people involved.

Tommy McCook & The Supersonics
Kansas City

Eric Monty Morris
If I Didn’t Love You

The Messengers
Crowded City

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