Top 10 reggae CDs

From Catch a Fire to Blackheart Man, David Katz counts down his top 10 reggae albums of all time

Black Uhuru. Photograph by URBANIMAGE.TV/Rico D`RozarioBob Marley, 1974. Photograph by URBANIMAGE.TV/56 HRM/Adrian BootDesmond Dekker. Photograph by URBANIMAGE.TV/Rico D`RozarioJunior Murvin in Port Antonio, Jamaica, 1972. Photograph by URBANIMAGE.TV/Adrian BootThe Heptones. Photograph by URBANIMAGE.TV/Adrian Boot

After the explosion of ska during the early 1960s and then the development of rocksteady, reggae burst onto the Jamaican music scene in 1968 as a new style, which would reign in various forms until the mid-1980s, when it was supplanted by computerised dancehall. Of course you could argue indefinitely about the greatest reggae albums ever recorded, but these are David Katz’s suggestions for 10 of the best.

On Top: The Heptones
The Heptones helped define the shift from rock steady to reggae while resident at Studio One during the late 1960s and the On Top album is their finest hour, being one of the first concept albums—rather than a collection of singles—recorded in Jamaica.

From Bam Bam to Cherry Oh Baby: Various Artists
This delightful compilation gathers winners of the annual Jamaica Festival Song Competition, presenting exceptional, folk-influenced material by early reggae icons such as Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker, Eric Donaldson and Derrick Morgan.

Beat Down Babylon: Junior Byles
An overlooked classic, this captivating album of protest music, produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry, was the debut set by one of Jamaica’s most promising voices of the early 1970s, who later sadly succumbed to mental illness.

Catch A Fire: The Wailers
A truly inspirational album of great importance, Catch A Fire was the first reggae album to draw a significant non-Caribbean audience when it was released overseas by Island Records, propelling Bob Marley to international stardom. Although it was altered for foreign ears, the stunning original Jamaican mix has recently been reissued.

Marcus Garvey: Burning Spear
A finely-crafted work of supreme gravity, on which Burning Spear delivered important messages of political upheaval and historical injustice through mournful vocals and super-tight musical backing. Best appreciated with its dub counterpart, Garvey’s Ghost.

Right Time: The Mighty Diamonds
In the mid-1970s, trios like the Diamonds helped elevate reggae to an international pinnacle through effervescent harmonies and lyrics of substance. Right Time is also noteworthy as an early example of the rhythmic style known as rockers, developed at Channel One studio by drummer Sly Dunbar.

Blackheart Man: Bunny Wailer
Bunny Wailer’s first solo effort after leaving the Wailers, Blackheart Man can rightly be hailed as a masterpiece that highlights his great strength as a lyricist and musical arranger, as well as for the uncommon vocal styling that has graced his most outstanding work.

Trench Town Mix Up: The Gladiators
Another of the superb harmony groups long active in the reggae idiom, the Gladiators cut singles for Studio One and others before issuing this sterling debut set, which showcases their powerhouse harmonies and proverb-laden lyrics. Easily one of the greatest albums ever cut by a Jamaican harmony trio.

Police and Thieves: Junior Murvin
Murvin’s unusual falsetto is partly what makes this album stand out from the rest; it made a huge impact on both sides of the Atlantic when first issued and its title track has been covered by everyone from the Clash to Boy George. Backed by Lee Perry’s ethereal Black Ark studio sound, it has certainly stood the test of time.

Showcase: Black Uhuru
In the aftermath of Bob Marley’s death, Black Uhuru emerged as the most important reggae act around, and this debut LP, featuring extended mixes of their early output with production duo Sly and Robbie, shows exactly why they were such a hot concern. Although roots in substance, the disc was also one of the first to edge towards the dancehall style that would transform reggae in the 1980s.