40 Essential Trojan records
Trojan Records celebrates its 50th birthday this year and Long Live Vinyl rounds up 40 essential Trojan classics every collector should own.
The label may have been founded on compilation albums and 45s, but, as Gary Tipp reveals, Trojan’s back catalogue of artist-only LPs is a force to be reckoned with. The albums here are listed in chronological order to give a sense of Trojan’s historical development. We’ve priced the ‘rarest’ vinyl in terms of UK first presses, and it’s testament to the lasting quality of the music that only a handful of the LPs are out of press.
Various Artists (1969)
The Trojan label was initially launched to showcase the output of the legendary ska and rocksteady producer Duke Reid, and so it feels only right to open our Essential list with an album of his work. Duke Reid Golden Hits does what it says on the record label and features a dozen timeless cuts.
Let’s Catch The Beat
Brother Dan All Stars (1969)
The UK-based singer/producer Dandy Livingstone was vital to the initial growth and popularity of Trojan. In from the very beginning, he delivered many of the early releases while the execs were busy scouting for Jamaican producers. Under the guise of Brother Dan All Stars, the budget-priced Let’s Catch The Beat became one of the label’s first big sellers.
The Pioneers (1969)
The Pioneers are one of Jamaica’s most enduring vocal trios and still perform to this day (albeit sedately). They most famously made a huge dent in the UK charts in October 1969 with the single Long Shot Kick The Bucket, one of the catchiest songs about the death of a prize-winning racehorse ever committed to vinyl. The subsequent album was a huge hit for the label.
Blow Your Horn
Rico & the Rudies (1969)
After serving his apprenticeship in Jamaica, this Cuban-born master trombonist emigrated to England in 1961 and became a regular on the UK West Indian music scene. Under the auspices of Dandy Livingstone, he teamed up with The Rudies to create the immensely popular Blow Your Horn album. Rico went on to play with The Specials during the late-70s ska revival.
Jimmy Cliff (1969)
Reggae giant Cliff was not only a golden-voiced performer but also a gifted songwriter, and his skills come to the fore in this eponymous Trojan release. Smash hits such as Wonderful World, Beautiful People and Many Rivers To Cross showcase his talent, while anti-war single Vietnam was described by none other than Bob Dylan as the greatest protest song he had ever heard.
Harry J All Stars (1969)
The soundtrack to many a right good kicking, the hit single of this classic ska instrumental album is a boot-boy classic and still played at Chelsea home games to this day. Harry J All Stars was a generic group name for whoever was playing on producer Harry Johnson’s recording sessions at the time.
This Is Desmond Dekkar
Desmond Dekker (1969)
Along with The Aces, Desmond Dekker became one of the first Jamaican acts to make an impression on the UK charts with his version of the rude boy anthem 007 (Shanty Town). Upon going solo and signing on the dotted line with Trojan, the track reappeared on his first solo album, the rush-released, complete with titular typo, This Is Desmond Dekkar.
The Ethiopians (1969)
Best known for the locomotive-loving hit single Train To Skaville, the influential vocal group spearheaded the transition from ska to rocksteady to become one of Jamaica’s best-loved vocal groups. Reggae Power
is the band’s first album on Trojan and assembles a bunch of boss classics, including signature tune Everything Crash.
Don Drummond (1969)
As a founding member of the hugely influential Skatalites, Don Drummond’s place in reggae’s legend is assured. However, the troubled trombonist lived a tragic life and perished in his prison cell after being convicted of the murder of his exotic-dancer girlfriend. Upon his passing, the influential producer Duke Reid assembled this collection of his greatest tracks.
Return of Django
The Upsetters (1969)
Lee Perry and his house band borrowed inspiration from the Spaghetti Western Django to return a UK Top Five hit with the title track of this classic ska album. A crop of Perry-penned instrumentals was hastily assembled to capitalise on its success, including the infectious Man From MI5; which proved ‘Scratch’ was into his spy movies as well as westerns.
Moonstomp Symarip (1970)
To avoid a contractual dispute, the band formerly known as Pyramids semi-reversed their name and released their debut album under the guise of Symarip. The titular hit was a take on Derrick Morgan’s Moon Hop. Other tracks included Skinhead Girl and Skinhead Jamboree. This was a group with a firm grasp of its audience.
The Maytals (1970)
Monkey Man was the vocal trio’s third UK collection of hits and made a big impression upon release. With rocksteady’s appeal gradually waning, The Maytals’ solid mix of infectious rhythms and feel-good soul tapped into something fresh. The title track was covered by The Specials, while the glorious Pressure Drop was recorded by The Clash.
The Kingstonians (1970)
The Kingstonians only recorded one album in their lifetime: fortunately for the vocal trio, it happens to be a rocksteady classic that still gets reissued to this day. Produced by Derrick Harriot, who also co-wrote most of the songs, the album contains a number of sizeable Jamaican hits, including Singer Man and the anthemic title track.
Young Gifted and Black
Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths (1970)
The Paragon co-founder and the talented Ms Griffiths were teamed up by producer Harry J (he of Liquidator fame) and soon had a huge international hit with a version of Nina Simone’s To Be Young, Gifted And Black. The Trojan album saw the duo take on a dozen tracks, including Bob Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe.
Prisoner of Love
Dave Barker Meets The Upsetters (1970)
He’s a sociable lad our Dave, as before teaming up with keyboard wizard Ansell Collins, he was liaising with Lee Perry and his house band to cut this classic slice of early Trojan. It may sound like an unassuming name, but Dave Barker is actually a pseudonym appropriated due to his unique ‘barking’ DJ style.
Love Of The Common People
Nicky Thomas (1970)
Pop-reggae performer Nicky Thomas made the much-covered title track his own in the summer of 1970 and nabbed a No. 9 hit in the process. Following this success, his Joe Gibbs-released debut album was released on Trojan and contained a clutch of soulful cover versions, including folk classic If I Had A Hammer.
Dave And Ansell Collins (1971)
The heavy, heavy monster sound of Dave And Ansell Collins’ hit singles, Double Barrel and Monkey Spanner, propelled the duo into the upper reaches of the UK charts. The album continues where the hits leave off with a murmurous mash of DJ toasting layered over the top of “the most thundering storming sound of soul”.
Guns Don’t Argue
Dennis Alcapone (1971)
Born plain old Dennis Smith in Clarendon, Jamaica, the ‘Alcapone’ surname was introduced after going to see a gangster movie with friends. This excellent Trojan collection assembles the best of a batch of 45s the early DJ released in close cahoots with producer Bunny Lee, and captures the irresistible appeal of his relaxed half-sung, half-rapped style.
Bruce Ruffin (1971)
The former dental student cut his teeth singing for The Techniques and also Byron Lee & The Dragonaires before stepping out solo. His polished blend of pop-reggae possessed major crossover appeal, and he found
chart stardom with his take on a José Feliciano flipside, also the title track of his most successful album.
Black and White
Initially known as The Rudies, the UK-based collective released tracks under a variety of names, including The Tilermen and Des All Stars, before settling on the name of a speedy canine variety. The band’s brand of reggae was pop-oriented and they hit big with single Black And White. The subsequent album also includes
a cheesy-as-they-come cover of Moon River.
Lee Perry (1971)
This early Lee Perry studio album documents the development of reggae’s most celebrated producer. The trademark eccentricity is kept in check across the course of the album’s ska instrumentals, but the famous oddball flair still lurks beneath. Vocal track Place Called Africa, Version 3 was one of Dr Alimantado’s first appearances on vinyl.
Beat Down Babylon
Junior Byles (1972)
Junior Byles’ soulful vocals team up with Lee Perry’s masterful proto-dub production for a massively influential roots masterpiece. Radical title track Beat Down Babylon was full of rebel anger, far removed from the rocksteady crowdpleasers of the day. This classic is recognised as Perry’s finest work prior to the opening of his Black Ark studio the following year.
Gussie Presenting I-Roy
Roy Reid, aka I-Roy, whipped up a storm DJing for local soundsystems in the late 60s, before signing up to the Gussie record label and making his mark as a recording artist. The tracks he recorded with producer Gussie Clarke at the helm were assembled to form this highly entertaining and impressive early collection.
Meet The Now Generation!
The Heptones & Their Friends (1972)
Backed by crack session crew the Now Generation, this Joe Gibbs-produced collection was primarily
a vinyl showcase for The Heptones, and features their smash hit Hypocrite. In a show of unity, the album also makes room for three other shining stars of the period, in the form of Peter Tosh, Nicky Thomas and Judy Mowatt.
Toasting is the DJ’s art of chatting over the instrumental version of the hits of the day, and U-Roy was its originating genius. Cut for Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle studio and compiled by Trojan, Version Galore gathers up a dozen of the Originator’s masterful vocal interpretations. This landmark release was also a major influence on the US rap scene.
Big Youth (1973)
One of Trojan’s most important releases, Big Youth’s landmark debut witnessed the larger-than-life DJ take U-Roy’s toasting style and add a politically conscious edge and streetwise wit all of his own. Screaming Target was produced by childhood friend Gussie Clarke, and it’s his old grooves that are radically ‘repurposed’ across the album.
1000 Volts of Holt
John Holt (1973)
After signing on the dotted line for Trojan, the Jamaican superstar took a break from penning his own material to record this hugely successful, soulful collection of covers. The album includes Holt’s hit version of Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night, and is as close to ‘easy listening’ as the label ever got.
Bob Marley & The Wailers (1973)
Released in the UK shortly after Catch A Fire hit the racks, African Herbsman is a collection of songs recorded by The Wailers a few years previously, together with producer Lee Perry. This meeting of future giants produced a slice of vinyl that is not simply a historical artefact, but also a fantastic reggae album.
Everything I Own
Ken Boothe (1974)
Ken Boothe’s supremely soulful vocals often gained him comparisons with Otis Redding, but international recognition was a long time coming. It finally arrived in the form of his soul-reggae version of Bread’s weepy Everything I Own, which was No. 1 in the UK for three weeks before being knocked off the top spot by East End pretty boy David Essex.
Gregory Isaacs (1975)
On his UK debut album, the Trench Town-raised singer reveals both his political and romantic sides with a curious mix of culturally charged tracks (Financial Endorsement) and mellow ballads (Love Overdue). This is the sound of a superstar in the making. The classic cover sees Isaacs sitting proudly behind the wheel of his Ford Capri.
Dennis Brown (1975)
This essential Trojan release bundles together the breakthrough sessions Dennis Brown cut with producer Winston Holness, better known as Niney The Observer. It was at this stage of his career that Brown cast aside the mantle of youthful balladeer and reinvented into a serious roots-reggae artist. Standout tracks include Cassandra, Westbound Train and Conqueror.
Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus (1975)
Nyabinghi is a subdivision of the Rastafarian faith, and Ras Michael and his band employed the traditional drums and chants used in its worship to create this stripped-down deep roots-reggae classic. Standout track Rise Jah Jah Children is wonderfully representative of the percussive sound and builds its refrain from The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
Tommy McCook (1975)
Cuban-born saxophonist McCook was a founding member of The Skatalites, and so his place in Jamaican music legend is assured. He was also a close collaborator with producer Bunny Lee and his house band, The Aggrovators. This dub workout is one of their finest group efforts. Confusingly, the album was also released in Jamaica under the title Brass Rockers.
Augustus Pablo (1975)
The first association between dub’s greatest partnership, Augustus Pablo and engineer extraordinaire King Tubby, resulted in a highly credible early addition to the Melodica King’s stellar discography. More was to come from the visionary duo, but the two sides of Ital Dub were pretty damn good for starters.
Susan Cadogan (1976)
Initially released as Sexy Suzy in Jamaica, Susan Cadogan’s debut album was repackaged in the UK in the wake of her slightly suggestive smash Hurt So Good. The ubiquitous Lee Perry was at the controls, and it was at his prompting that Cadogan adopted a new Christian name. The album went some way to ushering Lovers Rock into the UK’s consciousness.
I Love Marijuana
Linval Thompson (1978)
Linval Thompson drops a heavy hint about how he likes to spend his recreational time on his self-produced debut. Recorded at Channel One Studios, he was backed by drummer Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace and Wailers bassist Aston ‘Familyman’ Barrett. The album closes with Jamaican Colley, a dub track that we can safely say isn’t about a West Indian sheepdog.
Dread At The Controls
Mikey Dread (1979)
Mikey Dread first made his mark as a DJ with his roots-reggae radio show and transferred his vocal talents to become a recording artist. His debut album for Trojan was a highly creative and wonderfully rhythmical affair, with the cream of Jamaica’s recording talent all happy to pitch in. Mikey went on to collaborate with The Clash on their Sandinista! album.
Black Ash Dub
Sly And The Revolutionaries (1980)
This latter-day dub album sees perpetual sideman Sly Dunbar take the top billing alongside The Revolutionaries, who include such luminaries as Robbie Shakespeare and Ansell Collins within their ranks. Dub masters Prince Jammy and Scientist also get involved in mixing this killer selection. The album includes the club hits Marijuana and Cocaine.
Voice of Thunder
Prince Far I (1981)
With his mega-deep bass tones, Prince Far I really did possess a voice of thunder, and his distinctive chanting vocal delivery ensured his formidable personality was stamped all over his album releases. Voice Of Thunder was no different and is as righteous as it is rhythmical. The man was a genuine force of nature.
Scientist And Jammy Strike Back!
Scientist And Prince Jammy (1982)
On previous releases, dub adventurer Scientist had won the World Cup and defeated vampires and Pac-Man. Now it was sci-fi’s turn to face off against him and sonic partner Prince Jammy. If truth is told, this fantastic dub selection owes little to science fiction other than the track titles (such as Storming The Death Star and The Crushing Of The Stormtroopers).