Various ‘No More Heartaches’/’What Am I To Do?’ (Doctor Bird) 4/5

‘Skinhead’ or ‘Boss’ reggae may be a surprising and unusual sub-genre for some and one that may strike trepidation into the hearts of others. That need not be the case because in the late 1960s and early 1970s a whole sub-culture of British youths aping Kingston ‘rude boy’ attitude and sartorial style grew, and these two compilations are testimony to the sounds that these youths worshipped at the time.

Listened to in retrospect, they are superb examples of early reggae under producer Harry Johnson, and logically follow on from the rocksteady era with the smoother harmonies and slower sound of the rhythm section. If ‘No More Heartaches’ is the stronger of the two, that is because some key 45s were included and, for this author’s money, contains one of the most compelling singles ever cut in ‘Cuss Cuss’ by Lloyd Robinson. What makes the song so enticing is that in its use of percussion, it is a prototype of roots reggae. Elsewhere, harmony group The Beltones offer up the stunning title track, while another favourite comes from Glen Adams with the gorgeous production of ‘Rich In Love (version one)’, and Adams crops up again on ‘Lucky Boy’ as part of Glen and Dave.

The second album features another great harmony group in The Jamaicans with ‘Early In The Morning’, a terrific interpretation, while the lesser known Keble Drummond offers up a killer groove in ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’. Instrumentals by the likes of King Cannon on both compilations adds some variety to the tropical mix.

As usual with Cherry Red, attention to detail is the name of the game on this wonderful double compilation, with full cover album sleeves, a plethora of various 45 labels of the singles and promotional posters for the then fledgling Trojan label. This is as much a social history of working class youths as it is a chronicle of early Jamaican reggae, with incisive and perceptive notes by author Marc Griffiths and Andy Lambourn, and that makes both the listening and reading experience all the more pleasurable.

Tim Stenhouse