Label
Riddim
Format
Date

VP Records
Various classic riddims
7 x 7" Box Set (Special Limited Edition)
April 13, 2016

Artist & tune
  • The Jupiters - The Return Of Ezekial / Honey Boy Martin - Dreader Than Dread
  • Carlton Manning - Live And Love / The Gaylads - ABC Rocksteady
  • Val Bennett - The Russians Are Coming / Derrick Morgan - The Great Musical Battle
  • The Melodians - Last Train To Expo 67 / The Melodians - Last Train To Ecstasy
  • Hopeton Lewis - Take It Easy / Hopeton Lewis - Sounds And Pressure
  • The Sensations - Born To Love You / The Sensations - Long Time Me No See You Girl
  • Errol Dunkley - Please Stop Your Lying / Errol Dunkley - You're Gona Need Me
Overall rating : (1 to 5 stars)   
After earlier releases such as "Joe Gibbs 7" Spectacular Parts 1 & 2", Culture's "Seven Sevens Clash", "Channel 1 7" Spectacular", and "Roots Rock Randy's", the next release of 17 North Parade/VP Records' highly collectable vinyl box sets is a limited edition 7" box set of Rocksteady gems entitled "First Class Rocksteady". This new 7 x 7" vinyl box set focuses on tunes from the short lived Rocksteady era, which started 50 years ago. A few titles gathered here are mostly familiar from previous 7" vinyl reissues, but this box set also includes re-presses of two super rare in-demand big money blanks from The Jupiters and Carlton Manning.

Coming in after Ska and a precursor to what we know as Reggay (now spelled Reggae), Rocksteady combined R&B, Ska, Jazz, and African and Latin American drums. Made popular by legendary artists such as Alton Ellis, Errol Dunkley, Hopeton Lewis, The Maytals, The Gaylads, The Sensations, The Heptones, The Paragons, The Melodians, and many many more, this genre is still coveted by enthusiasts and vinyl record collectors five decades later. Each 7" vinyl single is re-mastered and paired with a complimentary Rocksteady hit on the B side.

The first two singles to come out of the box will delight those who failed to get a copy of The Jupiters' ultra rare "The Return Of Ezekial" and Carlton Manning's equally hard-to-get "Live And Love". The entertaining "The Return Of Ezekial" by The Jupiters was originally released in 1968 on Joe Gibbs' Jamaican Amalgamated imprint and featured Roy Shirley's "Music Is The Key" on the flipside. To our knowledge this double A-sided single was only released in Jamaica. Here it's Honey Boy Martin's "Dreader Than Dread" that is featured on the B side. The Jupiters tune and also the Honey Boy Martin one (originally released on the Caltone label in 1967) are underpinned by the same great riddim track, although the mix sounds different. Apart from the background vocals, no singing on both songs but only spoken words, which brings to mind tunes like Prince Buster's "Judge Dread" and Derrick Morgan's "Judge Dread In Court". In particular "Dreader Than Dread" by Honey Boy Martin & The Voices with Tommy McCook & The Supersonics is an amazing rudeboy Rocksteady piece... "No clean face man can be Judge Dread!!!"

Carlton Manning, the later leader of the three part harmony group Carlton & The Shoes, recorded his first single, the beautiful "Live And Love", for Mrs Sonia Pottinger's Gay Feet & High Note label. The single wasn't a particularly big seller and he moved on to Coxsone Dodd. His first recording for the legendary producer, "Love Me Forever", was a massive hit credited to Carlton & His Shoes and released on Studio One's Supreme subsidiary in 1968. On the flip another tune produced by Mrs Sonia Pottinger, The Gaylads' "ABC Rocksteady". Lyrically a charming children's song, it was its infectious riddim combined with the trio's strong delivery and immaculate harmonies, that made this song a smash hit in 1968.

The Bunny Lee produced "The Russians Are Coming" by tenor saxophonist Val Bennett, an extraordinary reworking of Dave Brubeck Quartet's Jazz instrumental "Take Five" from 1959, is without any doubt one of the greatest of all Rocksteady instrumentals. This killer instrumental is backed by Derrick Morgan's wicked vocal cut entitled "The Great Musical Battle", which sees Bunny Lee's brother-in-law naming all the big time names of the day and talking about a musical battle between between Bunny Lee and Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd, which obviously was won by the former.

Produced by Duke Reid and released on his Treasure Isle label, The Melodians fully showcase their exquisite harmonies on one of the best rocksteady riddims played by Tommy McCook & The Supersonics. The vocal group scored many big hits and "Last Train To Expo 67", a song that played on Jamaican's keen interest in Montreal's World's Fair of 1967, was one of them. Singing about a train going from Jamaica to Montreal might seem odd, but at the time trains were popular objects in Jamaican music as they were symbols of transition, movement, and escape. Examples of other songs with 'train' in the title are The Ethiopians' "Train To Skaville" and "Train To Glory", Carey Johnson's "Correction Train", Ernest Wilson's "Freedom Train", and "Rude Boy Train" by Desmond Dekker & The Aces. With "Last Train To Ecstasy", The Melodians deliver a nice next version on the riddim.

Of Hopeton Lewis is said that his 1966 recorded single "Take It Easy" was the first Rocksteady tune. "Take It Easy", a big hit for the Kingston-born singer, heralds the Rocksteady sound with its beat that was slower than the Ska which it followed. Certainly one of Hopeton Lewis' greatest songs is featured on the B side. Originally issued on the Merritone label in Jamaica, "Sounds And Pressure" was one of the six tunes Hopeton Lewis recorded during a session at Federal studio, which was financed by the Khouri brothers. The riddim of "Sounds And Pressure" features the sound of two piano's played by Lesley Butler, who did the lead, and Gladstone "Gladdy" Anderson.

The Sensations were a successful Jamaican vocal group which started recording for Duke Reid in 1966, before they linked up with Bunny Lee in 1967. Membership was fluid, but centred on the original members Jimmy Riley, Cornell Campbell, Buster Riley and Aaron "Bobby" Davis. Despite several changes in their line up, they remained one of the best Jamaican vocal groups of the 1960s. Here they are present with two great tunes, their excellent cover version of The Temptations' "Born To Love you" and the lesser known "Long Time Me No See You Girl". The latter is a superb lovers tune with beautiful harmonies and a riddim that features a truly great horn line.

Last 7" single from this box set features two fine tunes by Errol Dunkley that were produced by Joe Gibbs. "Please Stop Your Lying", released in 1968 when he was just seventeen, was the singer's second big hit single for Joe Gibbs, although it is probably a Lee Perry production as he was the main producer for Joe Gibbs at the time. Originally issued on both Green and Orange Amalgamated labels in Jamaica, "You're Gonna Need Me" (original song recorded by Barbara Lynn in 1962) is one of the earliest recordings from a youthful Errol Dunkley.

Beautifully packaged with a set of 7 vintage postcards and 45's pressed on original Jamaican label designs this is a must have selection for all reggae vinyl lovers.

"First Class Rocksteady" is only available as a one-off pressing especially for Record Store Day 2016. Good to know that this unique box set edition will be followed by a dbl CD, 40 track compilation release on July 1st, which is International Reggae Day.