Between 1966 and 1968, Jamaica produced some of the sweetest music to come out of the island. It was known as Rocksteady and during that brief period, groups such as The Paragons and singers such as John Holt dominated the airwaves from Montego Bay to Morant Bay. Many of the songs written during this period have become standards and have been transformed through endless variations (versions) to become the bedrock riddims of reggae.The influence of these singers songwriters can still be heard in Sean Paul’s version of “I’m Still In Love With you” by Alton Ellis and in movies such as Hot Fuzz. These choons became the soundtrack for an entire generation of youth—children of the Windrush generation-- who were weaned them on Rocksteady.
Now while it may be argued that reggae has had a greater effect in introducing the world to Jamaican music, Rocksteady holds the hearts and minds of many Jamaicans. Rocksteady choons still manage to create waves of nostalgia in listeners because it recalls a time when life in Jamaica was not so hard and murderous. And because there is such an intimate connection between music and writing from Jamaica, I’ve asked Winston F. Barnes, a noted authority on Jamaican music, to compile a list of the 25 Foundational Rocksteady Songs.
Here are Winston’s choices:
1. “Girl I’ve Got a Date” - Alton Ellis and The Flames
2. “Rock Steady” - Alton and The Flames
3. “Puppet on a String” - Ken Boothe
4. “On the Beach” - The Paragons
5. “Take It Easy” - Hopetown Lewis
6. “Dance Crasher” - Alton Ellis
7. “Little Did You Know”- The Techniques
8. “Never You Change” - The Maytals
9. “The Train is Coming”- Ken Boothe
10. “Rude Boy Ska”- The Wailers
11. “Hard Man Fe Dead” – Prince Buster
12. “Bam-Bam” - The Maytals
13. “Shoo Be Do Dah” - The Clarendonians
14. “Sounds and Pressurem” - Hopeton Lewis
15. “Dancing Mood” - Delroy Wilson
16. “Hold Them” - Roy Shirley
17. “Happy Go Lucky Girl” - The Paragons
18. “Get on the Ball” - Roy Shirley
19. “Pressure and Slide” - The Tennors
20. “Ba Ba Boom” - The Jamaicans
21. “Walk the Street” - Derrick Harriott
22. “Everything Crash” - The Ethiopians
23. “Baby Why” - The Cables
24. “Little Nut Tree” - The Melodians
25. “Fatty Fatty” – The Heptones
When I asked Winston about his criteria for selecting these songs, he replied, “Considering I work in radio I tend to be biased to the songs that made the popularity charts at JBC and RJR, but in addition, I totally remember the songs we danced to at clubs (discos!), and parties and therefore could not include all of the really big songs hits in only 25 selections. For example, almost any of the songs I offered, except for Alton and Hopeton's, could be substituted for by "I've Got to Go Back Home" by Bob Andy. Plus Ken's "Train" has international currency thanks to that film of recent vintage.
The two main architects were Lewis and Ellis, who came from Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio at Bond Street in West Kingston. In fact in an interview I did with Hopeton he said he just couldn't keep up with the Ska tempo during a recording session, and Jackie Jackson the bassist agreed to slow it down and I think it was keyboardist Gladstone "Gladdy" Anderson who said "this sound steady" or words to that effect, hence the name…"
Winston F. Barnes was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and was educated at the famous Kingston College. His first job in broadcasting was as television camera/sound operator at JBC Television and over the years he has been involved with radio and television in various capacities with the Jamaica Information Service TV and Radio Jamaica, (RJR). Since then, Barnes has also worked as the popular music columnist for The Jamaica Gleaner, contributed to Billboard and he has authored essay which accompanied Third World's retrospective double CD.
A widely respected lecturer on Jamaican popular music/culture, Barnes has served as adjunct professor at Florida Memorial University, and is News and Public Affairs Director with WAVS Radio, Fort Lauderdale. Barnes is currently working on book tracing the evolution of Jamaican popular music over the years of involvement in radio and television in Jamaica.