“Hello is that the Trade Descriptions department? I want to report a compilation CD that flouts your rules big style!” The CD in question is Young, Gifted and Black 2 – 40 Classic Reggae Hits. I never thought I’d be writing the above. In fact, I couldn’t wait to review the CD as I love the first volume of this series.
Young, Gifted and Black 1 was brim full of real reggae gems such as Madness by Prince Buster, You Can Get It If You Really Want It by Desmond Dekker And The Aces, and Jimmy Cliff‘s Many Rivers to Cross. All 50 songs are absolute classics, (well nearly of them seeing as Side Show by Barry Biggs is on there), and chronologically show the development of bluebeat, reggae and ska with each song.
With the second volume, on first glance at the 40-strong song list I felt a surge of excitement. There’s The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff, I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash and Cocaine In My Brain by Dillinger for starters. Just like on the first volume, the compilation shows how many bands have cashed in on simply covering great reggae tracks. Original is best I always say, and here we have Brown Girl In The Ring by The Maytones, Homely Girl by Jackie Robinson, Tears On My Pillow by Johnny Nash and Night Nurse by Gregory Isaacs among others.
However then the blood drained from my face as I read with wide-eyed disbelief the following artists and songs that are supposedly classic reggae: Tease Me by Chaka Demus & Pliers, Boom Shack A Lack by Apache Indian and Mr Loverman by Shabba Ranks.
Had I missed something here? I re-read the cover sleeve to see if I’d misread “40 Classic Reggae Hits” when in fact it read “Utterly Dire Reggae-Influenced Hits From The ’90s That We’d Really Rather Forget”. If by “classic reggae” you think of Shabba Ranks, Chaka Demus and Apache Indian then you’d probably think Kylie is an appropriate addition to a collection of Beethoven symphonies.
And what is Bitty Mclean doing on there? He has not one, not two, but no less than three songs featured. He’s about as classic reggae as my cat Trixie. Furthermore, instead of a chronology like in the first volume, there is a mishmash of eras all scattered about without any logical development.
But it gets worse. Baby Come Back by Pato Banton is sung with Ali and Robin Campbell of UB40 – what are those pretenders doing on a Young, Gifted And Black album? They are neither of those three, and if there weren’t any reggae classics to pilfer these guys would still be filling out their unemployment slips.
Yet the stale glacé cherry aloft the now melted pool of ice-cream is this: ’80s crooner Boris Gardiner is on there with his awful hit I Want To Wake Up With You. Someone must be having a laugh. Had I seen this track on one of those ’80s CDs you find at service stations I would not have batted an eyelid. After all, the only exposure that schmaltzy song still gets is from insipid bands playing continental beach hotels. But on this album?
In the midst of my puzzlement I looked towards the sleeve notes for some sort of justification. Author of said notes, Michael De Koningh, is “co-author of Young Gifted & Black – The History Of Trojan Records” – a book brought out by Sanctuary Publications. Well, call me cynical but the compilation is released on Trojan, that happens to be a label of Sanctuary Records, so it’s hardly an unbiased viewpoint. De Koningh talks about a “snapshot of the disparate forms of reggae” but skirts around the issues of why some of the songs on there are classics when clearly they wouldn’t be called so even in 30 years’ time.
Also, my impression was that these compilations are supposed to be accessible to everyone, from the reggae novice to the enthusiast. But littering the album with relatively unknown artists like Janet Kay and comparatively obscure songs like Beenie Man‘s Who Am I will leave many quite stumped. In fairness, there are some real big hitters on there such as 54 46 Was My Number by The Maytalls, but why hasn’t Volume 1 or Volume 2 featured one of their greatest ever hits, Pressure Drop?
This whole review can be condensed into one sentence: Volume 2 is a rubbishy follow-up to the superb first volume. While there is just enough to keep the true classic reggae fan occupied, this compilation is riddled with real hooters from the ’80s and ’90s that just don’t belong. Plus, it’s thanks to this CD that Gardiner’s I Want To Wake Up With You has been stuck in my head… All. Blooming. Day.