299. Dave and Ansil Collins – Double Barrel (1971)

‘I, AM THE MAGNIFICENT!’. After six weeks at the top, T. Rex’s Hot Love made way for the first reggae number 1 since Desmond Dekker & the Aces’ Israelites in 1969, and the only one to come from Trojan Records, Britain’s most famous label for reggae, dub and ska artists.

The label’s origins trace back to 1968, when Island records boss Chris Blackwell and Musicland’s Lee Gopthal pooled their resources and launched a devoted reggae sub-label. The name came from the Trojan truck used by Duke Reid as a sound system in Jamaica, which became known as ‘the Trojan sound’.

With the growing interest in reggae and ska in the UK and the rise of skinhead culture, by 1970 Trojan Records had scored several hits by artists including The Maytals, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Upsetters, and The Harry J All Stars. They did so by licensing Jamaican 7′ records by producers such as Reid and Leslie Kong. Dave and Ansell Collins were the lucky duo thrown together to record Double Barrel.

Dave, aka Dave Barker (my dad’s name) was a session vocalist, born David John Crooks on 10 October 1947 in Kingston, Jamaica. Crooks was raised by his grandmother and three uncles from the age of four. He developed a stammer as a result of beatings as a child, but by the time he was a teenager he was interested in singing, thanks to American radio stations playing James Brown.

Crook’s first group was The Two Tones, and from there he briefly joined The Techniques, led by his future producer Winston Riley. While one half of the duo Glen and Dave and working at Studio One, he was introduced to Perry, who took him on as a regular singer. It was Perry that told him to change his name to Dave Barker, and he also encouraged him to adopt his toasting style, in which he would shout over songs in the style of a US disc jockey and make grand pronouncements like the first line of this blog, which introduces Double Barrel. Which brings us to the other half of Dave and Ansil Collins – confusingly, musician Ansel Collins (his name was spelt differently on the record’s release).

Collins, born 1949, also in Kingston, began his career as a drummer before moving to keyboards in the mid-60s. At the end of the decade he was a member of The Invincibles alongside Sly Dunbar. Collins also played on two of The Maytals’ greatest tracks, Pressure Drop and Sweet and Dandy, both from 1969. He also began to work with Perry around this time, and it’s likely this is how Barker and Collins met.

Riley had written the instrumental Double Barrel and probably contacted his old colleague Barker to toast over the top while Collins provided organ and piano. Dunbar makes his recording debut on drums here, several years before becoming one half of Sly and Robbie with Robbie Shakespeare.

Double Barrel is essentially very similar to The Harry J All Stars’ excellent instrumental The Liquidator from 1969. It’s a charming, quirky reggae/rocksteady track led by Collins’ nimble work at the piano, with organ at times. What made it edge to the top when The Liquidator (which is a superior tune) didn’t is likely down to Dave. His showing off at the start really gets your attention, and makes it one of the most memorable intros since The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s Fire. Clearly, shouting before the music starts is the way to go, even if in Dave’s case, it’s not always clear what the hell he’s on about. He’s the Magnificent W-O-O-O, I get that, but the rest is vague due to the echo… something about soul, I think. Anyway, whatever it is, Dave’s enthusiasm is infectious, particularly ‘break’ (I think) over and over on the beat, and in a way you could see this as a forerunner of hip-hop thanks to his toasting. Double Barrel is short, sweet, and a nice taste of something different to mix things up a bit. 70s record buyers had their faults, but one look at 1971’s number 1s proves they were an eclectic bunch.

Dave and Collins also released an LP together called Double Barrel, and one of the tracks, Monkey Spanner, made it to number seven later that year. Dave’s intro this time ‘This is the heavy, heavy monster sound!’, combined with ‘Don’t watch that, watch this!’ from an earlier track he worked on, Funky Funky Reggae, were adopted by Chas Smash on the intro to Madness’s brilliant One Step Beyond in 1979.

The duo parted company after this, bar a short-lived reunion in 1981. Barker remained in England and joined the vocal group Chain Reaction. He’s appeared on stage with The Selecter and The Riffs.

Collins continued as a session musician and solo artist at times, working with some of the world’s foremost reggae and dub artists, including Jimmy Cliff, Black Uhuru, Prince Tubby, Augustus Pablo and Prince Far I. He also collaborated with fellow UK number 1 star Serge Gainsbourg.

Written & produced by: Winston Riley

Weeks at number 1: 2 (1-14 May)

Births:

Footballer Jason Lee – 9 May
Oasis bassist Paul McGuigan – 9 May

Deaths:

RMS Titanic survivor Violet Jessop – 1 May

Meanwhile…

1 May: Far-Left militants The Angry Brigade struck again when a bomb exploded in fashion company Biba’s Kensington store.
Also that day, the Daily Mail appeared as a broadsheet newspaper for the last time. It relaunched as a tabloid the day after.

8 May: Arsenal won the FA Cup final with a 2–1 win over Liverpool at Wembley Stadium. Arsenal’s Eddie Kelly became the first substitute to score in an FA Cup final, and this was only the second time that century (and the fourth time ever) that an English team had completed the double of the Football League First Division and the FA Cup.

11 May: Britain’s oldest tabloid newspaper, the Daily Sketch, was withdrawn from circulation after 62 years. It was absorbed by the Daily Mail.

269. Desmond Dekker and The Aces – Israelites (1969)

That week, Marvin Gaye had been knocked from the top of the pops by Jamaican reggae and ska pioneers Desmond Dekker and The Aces. Two black acts at number 1 in a row… clearly, far from the Rivers of Blood that Enoch Powell had predicted, the immigration to the UK in the 60s was opening the UK charts up like never before. The bestselling act of the week didn’t always have to be four white men with guitars.

Desmond Adolphis Dacres was born in Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica on 16 July 1941. He spent his formative years in Kingston, regularly attending the local church with his grandmother and aunt.

As a young adult, after his mother died, Dacres was working as a welder there, and would impress his colleagues with his singing skills. They encouraged him to go into music. After several failed auditions, he signed with Lesley Kong’s Beverley’s label, but it would be two more years before his first fruits were released.

In the meantime, he had spotted another talented singing welder, and took him to meet Kong, who duly signed him up. In 1962, that singer, Bob Marley, released his debut single. Marley never forgot what his workmate did for him.

Dacres’ first single Honour Your Mother and Father was released in 1963, and he chose the stage name Desmond Dekker at the same time. Fourth single King of Ska established him as one of the island’s biggest stars. His backing band on this were The Cherrypies, better known now as The Maytals. Dekker then picked four singing brothers – Carl, Patrick, Clive and Barry Howard – to become his permanent backing vocalists, and named them The Four Aces, then The Aces.

Desmond Dekker and The Aces’ music at this time was the more respectable end of Jamaican culture, extolling the virtues of going to church, education and respecting your parents. However in 1967 he began recording material that commented on the rude boy subculture, where money was hard to come by and ways to get ahead in life were limited. That year they released the rude boy rocksteady anthem 007 (Shanty Town), the title track of their debut album. Its success reached the UK, where it went to number 15.

Around this time, Dekker became inspired to write Poor Me Israelites, as it was known in Jamaica. In The Metro newspaper on 18 April 2005, he recalled, ‘It all happened so quickly. I didn’t write that song sitting around a piano or playing a guitar. I was walking in the park, eating corn. I heard a couple arguing about money. She was saying she needed money and he was saying the work he was doing was not giving him enough. I relate to those things and began to sing a little song – “You get up in the morning and you slaving for bread.” By the time I got home it was complete. And it was so funny, that song never got out of my mind. It stayed fresh in my head. The following day I got my little tape and I just sang that song and that’s how it all started.’

Although reggae and ska were making inroads, and elements of both were in The Equals’ Baby, Come Back, Israelites became the first full reggae UK number 1, climbing the charts following its release the previous year. This pure form of a fast-rising form of music, with its syncopated vocal melody and offbeat sound, was a taste of another way of life for mainstream record buyers. It helped that the melody was incredibly catchy, because the vocals, sang in thick Jamaican patois, were at times inpenetrable to white audiences. It didn’t matter, though, when the music was this good.

I have to confess that I have only just begun to grasp the meaning of Israelites. It doesn’t help that my introduction to the song came from a television advert for the margarine Vitalite. As a boy I loved it whenever the animated sun and accompanying sunflowers came on our TV. And then I became confused by an advert for Maxell cassettes, in the late 80s, in which Dekker (I’ve literally just found out it was him) holds up incorrect lyrics to the song in the style of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues video. So for a while, I thought it was called My Ears Are Alight. I was only young, to be fair.

No, Israelites is not about a margarine that’s high in polyunsaturates and low in saturates, and it’s not about your ears being on fire. It’s about, as Dekker described above, a poor guy struggling to feed his family, but the title stems from the Jamaican Rastafarian Movement’s association with the Twelve Tribes of Israel from the Hebrew Bible. Rastafarians were ostracized from the more conservative traditional church of Jamaica in the 60s.

So, Israelites is Jamaica’s version of the blues. Its their answer to Sixteen Tons. Dekker is slaving away to put bread on the table, yet his wife and kids ‘pack up and leave’ him. Despite reading that this is the lyric, I remain certain he’s actually singing that they ‘fuck off and leave’ him. ‘Darling she said, I was yours to be seen’ suggests he hasn’t been as appreciative of her as he could have been. He doesn’t want to end up like ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, I’m assuming, is a reference to robbing and stealing, and not wanting to be shot dead like the infamous duo, back in the public eye after the blockbuster film.

Israelites was not only a success in the US, it made him a name in the US too, reaching the top ten. Dekker decided to leave Jamiaca and took up permanent residency in the UK. It Mek went into the top 10, and then he dropped The Aces, signed with the legendary Trojan Records and very nearly achieved a solo number 1 with his cover of Jimmy Cliff’s You Can Get It If You Really Want in 1970. Dekker was initially reluctant, but was persuaded by Kong.

Unfortunately, his producer and co-writer died in 1971, and some say Dekker never really recovered, but 1972 saw 007 (Shanty Town) featured on the soundtrack to classic rude boy film The Harder They Come, which increased reggae’s exposure and may have helped pave the way for the success of Bob Marley. In 1975 Israelites was re-released and entered the top 10 in the UK once more. His last hit here was Sing a Little Song in 1975.

Dekker signed with cult UK ska/punk label Stiff and released the album Black & Dekker. I don’t know whose idea it was to make a pun on the Black & Decker power tool company, but they have earned my eternal respect. His backing band on the LP was Graham Parker’s backing band The Rumour (featuring Roland Gift, later the singer in Fine Young Cannibals), and they ran through his hits, including Israelites. His next album Compass Point (1981) was produced by Robert Palmer, but he was struggling, and in 1984 he declared bankruptcy.

The Maxell advert brought Dekker recognition once more, and in 1993 he recorded the album King of Kings with the Specials, featuring material by Dekker’s heroes. It sounds like a great idea, but apparently it was a disappointment. His final album was 1999’s Halfway to Paradise.

Dekker continued to perform live right until the end. He was preparing to headline a world music festival in Prague when he died of a heart attack on 25 May 2006, aged 64.

Written by: Desmond Dekker & Leslie Kong

Producer: Leslie Kong

Weeks at number 1: 1 (16-22 April)

Meanwhile…

17 April: The Representation of the People Act was voted in, which would lower the voting age from 21 to 18 with effect from February 1970. It also allowed candidates to include a party label on the ballot paper, and removed the right to allow convicted prisoners to vote.
In other electoral news that day, Bernadette Devlin became the youngest ever female MP when she won the Mid Ulster by-election at the age of 21.

20 April: British troops arrived in Northern Ireland to reinforce the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

22 April: Robin Knox-Johnston finished his solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe via sailing. He was the first person to achieve this feat.

252. The Equals – Baby, Come Back (1968)

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Number 1 for three weeks in July 1968 was Baby, Come Back by The Equals, a mixed-race pop and rock group, largely forgotten these days, featuring 80s chart-topper Eddy Grant.

Grant was born in Plaisance, British Guiana on 5 March 1948. While at school, his parents lived in the UK, sending him money for his education. His father was a trumpeter, but after emigrating to Kentish Town, London, aged 12, he became interested in guitars, and his hero was Chuck Berry.

Growing up in an interracial area, he became friends with Pat Lloyd and John Hall. In 1965, Hall suggested they form a band. Hall became the drummer, with Grant on lead guitar and Lloyd on rhythm guitar. The Gordon twins, Derv on vocals and Lincoln on bass, joined them, and with three black members and two white, they made the bold move of calling themselves The Equals.

With a diverse melting pot of cultures (the Gordons were Jamaican immigrants), their sound was a mix of pop, rock, R’n’B, with ska elements too. They quickly gained a following in London, and were soon called on to open for visiting soul and blues greats from the US such as Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke and Bo Diddley. They signed with President Records after Grant’s neighbour, singer Gene Latter, put them in touch.

The Equals released debut single I Won’t Be There in 1966. A simple, catchy tune, it got lost among the crowd and despite enthusiastic pirate radio support, it failed to chart. Their follow-up, Hold Me Closer, didn’t do great either, but Baby, Come Back was tucked away on the B-side, and it got noticed by DJs in Europe, even reaching number 1 in Germany and the Netherlands. Once I Get So Excited reached the top 50 in the UK, President Records tried again, and sure enough, Grant’s Baby, Come Back knocked Jumpin’ Jack Flash off the top spot.

Featuring thick Jamaican vocals from Derv, and interjections from Grant, Baby, Come Back is a taut, upbeat piece of pop-rock. There are hints of reggae and ska in there, particularly with the ‘sch-sch-sch’ and ‘Rudeboy!’ at the close of the track, but never enough for it to stray too far from its basic simplicity. It’s an earworm of a chorus, like many of 1968’s number 1s, and a forerunner of the ska and reggae number 1s to come, but ultimately a little too lightweight to get too much enjoyment from.

Despite this, reading about The Equals has been rather interesting. How come they’ve been forgotten? The Foundations seem to get more plaudits for their inter-raciality, but the Equals were there first, long before Sly & the Family Stone, too. Not only did this make them stand out, they also experimented with their image, long before glam, wearing bright, dramatic outfits, with Eddy Grant sometimes even donning a blonde wig. Plus, there’s also the fact that Grant was later a star in his own right.

Whatever the reason, the Equals rarely troubled the charts again, apart from Viva Bobby Joe in 1969 and Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys in 1971. The latter in particular is interesting, hinting at a more political, funky sound, and would have fitted a Blaxploitation movie well. By that point, Grant had already ceased touring with the group after they injured in a car accident in Germany in 1969. He left for good after Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys when he suffered a heart attack and collapsed lung aged only 23, despite being teetotal. The health scare saw him return to Guyana.

The Equals soldiered on, but without the songwriting talents of their guitarist, they’ve never been able to repeat their early fame. Pat Lloyd remains the only founder member. As for Eddy Grant, well, of course he returned to music, but that’s another story for another time.

Despite the relative obscurity of The Equals, their songs have been covered over the years by The Clash and Lethal Bizzle. Baby, Come Back was re-recorded several times by Grant, without success. It did reach number 1 again in 1994 though, when Brummie reggae singer Pato Banton teamed up with Robin and Ali Campbell. The Campbells gave their reggae-lite kiss of death to proceedings, but thanks to Banton’s excitable toasting, it’s fondly remembered by children of the 90s.

Written by: Eddy Grant

Producer: Ed Kassner

Weeks at number 1: 3 (3-23 July)

Births:

Actor Julian Rhind-Tutt – 20 July
Welsh actor Rhys Ifans – 22 July 

Deaths:

Humorist RJ Yeatman – 13 July
Welsh poet William Evans – 16 July 

Meanwhile…

4 July: Alec Rose made headlines by returning from a 354-day single-handed round-the-world trip in his boat Lively Lady. Rose was knighted the next day.

10 July: A rather dull, cool and wet summer led to flooding in the south west of England.

17 July: The animated film Yellow Submarine, based on some of the Beatles’ most psychedelic songs, and featuring a cameo from the Fab Four at the end, was released.