BBC - The Story of Reggae - Pop Reggae

  • In the late-60s/early-70s sections of the British music press and BBC radio actively campaigned to keep reggae off the airwaves
  • Millie Small’s "My Boy Lollipop" stunned the music industry by being a huge hit in UK & US (1964).
  • When Bob & Marcia had their big UK hits, they came here to do Top Of The Pops and that they found out string sections had been added to the records.
  • 10cc’s "Dreadlock Holiday" isn’t pop reggae. Or any other sort of reggae…
Althea and Donna Shaggy
Althea and Donna


Pop Reggae
Although Jamaican music has constantly commented on the social and political situation on the island, first and foremost its job is to get people on the dancefloor. It’s therefore hardly surprising it’s made huge impressions in pop charts around the world - Shaggy, Althea & Donna, Prince Buster, Maxi Priest, Chaka Demus & Pliers, Eddy Grant … summer wouldn’t be summer without the regulation big pop-based reggae record.

But then well-produced reggae is so basically strong it can withstand virtually any arrangement and still sound like reggae. Indeed reggae’s willingness to take on outside influences goes back to the late-1960s when shrewd Jamaican producers would send vocal and rhythm tracks over to the UK to have lush string arrangements added before releasing them into the British pop market. Orchestrated singles like "Love Of The Common People", "Young Gifted & Black" and "Pied Piper" were huge pop hits, opening up the marker for the bouncy but rawer likes of "Double Barrel", "The Liquidator" and "The Return Of Django".

Which proved that reggae had real appeal beyond its core following, and reggae acts in both Britain and Jamaica eyed up the international mainstream. Ken Boothe ("Everything I Own"), Rupie Edwards ("Irie Feelings") and John Holt ("Help Me Make It Through The Night") all proved that, provided you stay true to your reggae roots, you can make exciting sophisticated pop. Lessons learnt by Althea & Donna with "Uptown Top Ranking", Janet Kaye ("Silly Games") and Musical Youth ("Pass the Dutchie") and surely not ignored by Culture Club…

Part of pop reggae does include UK bands such as UB40 who took original tracks and blended their own UK pop culture with Jamaican music.

Reggae’s pop sensibilities continued into dancehall too, Smiley Culture and Tippa Irie brought their sound system culture to the pop chart with "Cockney Translation" and "Hello Darling", Shabba Ranks teamed up with Maxi Priest for "Housecall" and Chaka Demus & Pliers are pop chart regulars. But now it’s moved on even further with Shaggy as on of the world’s consistently biggest pop acts, while No Doubt have felt the urge to call on the dancehall deejays Bounty Killer and Lady Saw to add a little Jamaican flavour to their last album.

Next chapter: Roots