Styles & Forms | Reggae Pop | Reggae

Jamaican music has never been that far away from mainstream British music since Millie Small stormed the charts in 1964 with the galloping ska of ‘My Boy Lollipop’, but it was not until the end of that decade that reggae became a bona fide part of pop.

Heralded by Desmond Dekker’s incredible success in 1969 with ‘It Mek’ and ‘The Israelites’, hardly a week went by until the end of 1972 when the Top 40 didn’t feature at least one reggae record. With bouncy, upbeat tunes, Max Romeo (‘Wet Dream’), Bob & Marcia (‘Young, Gifted And Black’), Jimmy Cliff (‘Wonderful World’), Nicky Thomas (‘Love Of The Common People’), Dave & Ansell Collins (‘Double Barrel’), and The Pioneers (‘Long Shot Kick The Bucket’) all became an integral part of the British Saturday night soundtrack.

Right Atmosphere For Success

One of the reasons reggae did so well in Britain as the 1960s rolled into the 1970s was the sorry state of the singles charts. Bands like Marmalade, Herman’s Hermits and The Tremeloes still clung on but were clearly part of a bygone era, prog rock was not exactly the most disco-friendly music and glam hadn’t really kicked off. Soul and Motown were all over the pop charts and dominating the dancehalls, and reggae fitted alongside perfectly. Such was the demand for the music in the UK during this period that more reggae was sold in Britain than in Jamaica.

Kingston record producers reacted to this new marketplace with alacrity, and pretty soon men like Joe Gibbs, Bunny Lee, Derrick Harriot and Lee Perry were adapting their output to accommodate it. They would up the tempo, and lyrics and accents were adjusted accordingly. The big change came about in response to BBC radio’s reluctance to give reggae airplay because, it claimed, the music was ‘unsophisticated’. Producers began to record vocals and rhythm tracks in Kingston, then send the tapes over to the UK to have lush string arrangements added, meaning songs like ‘Young Gifted & Black’ or ‘Black Pearl’ were as good as any other pop music and, consequently, became massive hits.

Reggae Goes Pop

Of course, reggae did not disappear from the pop charts in the early 1970s, but it became a much less frequent visitor as tastes were changing on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, glam rock was taking over from soul and reggae as the dance music of choice, while in Jamaica the onset of roots meant fewer producers and artists were concerning themselves with an overseas pop market. But reggae that has been recorded in the UK or mixed with that market in mind has always maintained a presence, with artists including Matumbi, Maxi Priest, Shaggy, Apache Indian, Musical Youth and hardy perennials UB40, who continue to manage to translate reggae to a mainstream audience.

Jamaican music has had a great influence on the pop scene on both sides of the Atlantic. Beyond 10cc and The Police are the...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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