Derrick Harriott – Greatest Reggae Hits/Reggae Disco RockersDerrick Harriott – Greatest/Reggae Disco Rockers – album review

Doctor Bird

2CD/DL

Released 11 June 2021

Reissue of two popular 1970s compilations of singer/producer Derrick Harriott’s singles. Greatest Reggae Hits is followed on disc one of this set by a selection of dub versions and Reggae Disco Rockers on disc two is enhanced by nine bonus tracks from Del’s back catalogue…Ian Canty rocks out with the king of soulful reggae…

Despite more than keeping himself on his toes with a hectic production schedule at this time in his musical career, Derrick Harriott did not neglect recording in his own right all through what was an already very busy period. He specialised in the early to mid 1970s in easy-going (if not quite easy listening, but close) pop reggae, giving a number of soul favourites a cover and more often than not a reggae refit too. His work in this style would prove influential on lover’s rock later in the decade, with Derrick’s high vocal pitched, soulful delivery and smooth production helping to provide the template. 1975’s Greatest Reggae Hits, a compilation of his recent at the time singles, appeared at a crucial stage in the form’s development.

The original incarnation of Trojan was on its last legs when it issued Greatest Reggae Hits in the UK in 1975. This LP collected some of Derrick’s single sides drawn from the three year period prior to the album’s release. Even the fact that it was a good seller for the label didn’t help to stave off Trojan’s imminent demise. Even so it is a really good collection of modern reggae with a large side helping of soul. The swinging groove of Face Dog, an updated version of Derrick’s 1960s mento-flavoured hit, gets Greatest Reggae Hits off to a good start and it is immediately followed by a warmly rendered reggae/soul crossover version of the Chi-lites Being In Love.

There’s a fine clavinet sounding off on Let Me Down Easy and Look Over Your Shoulder, also recorded by The O’Jays and a 1974 hit for The Escorts, expertly harnesses electric piano, elegant guitar and the merest smidgeon of a reggae beat. Though probably better known by the covers by both Robert Palmer and Rod Stewart in the early 1980s, Some Guys Have All The Luck was originally by r&b act The Persuaders and Harriott’s version trots along gamely in a jaunty pop reggae manner.

In addition to being dubbed the king of soulful reggae, Harriott was also always capable of cutting a convincing pure r&b ballad. The self-penned Bucketful Of Tears and Trial Of Love are both done in a straightforward soul fashion and they are breezily played and sung too. The fact that there is barely a hint of reggae in either did not hinder my enjoyment a jot. The album ends with a neat reggae reworking of The Temptations’ Since I Lost My Baby.

On this first disc Greatest Reggae Hits is followed by dub takes of some of the album’s tracks. To be honest they are on the whole pretty standard in their versioning, with the mix going down to drums and bass before bringing selected elements back in as was the default dub setting of the time. However, on Love Version the times when the song and organ comes back are well-judged and helps to emphasise the quieter sections all the more. Some Guys Have All The Luck Version has the vocal just about there very low in the mix to start with, just a ghostly whisper as the clavinet buzzes purposefully out front. Bucketful Of Tears Version is understandably just an instrumental take, but I did like Why Do Fools Fall In Love Version, where the squelching synth line moves forward to take centre stage.

Reggae Disco Rockers, which opens up disc two of this set, originally emerged on Lloyd Charmers’ label later in 1975 after Trojan finally went belly up (to be reborn as an oldies imprint a while later). This collection was different in that it was made up of all new recordings. A version of Pete Wingfield’s recent UK hit single Eighteen With A Bullet starts things off with a big doo wop bass-vocal and is enhanced by the delightful organ sound that is achieved. Fly, Robin, Fly has Derrick exploring funk ably and Wish On A Star is an undiluted rhythm & blues slowie. Reggae Disco Rockers even throws in an alternate take of Bucketful Of Tears and DH does wonders on the creamy soul number of Castles In The Air.

Back in a more reggae mode his voice really soars on the ebullient Caught You In A Lie. This tune was previously recorded in the UK by Louisa Mark, a key proto-lover’s rock recording masterminded by Dennis Bovell. The addictive drive of Reggae Train may retrace a few well-worn moon-stomping steps for Derrick, but its feelgood momentum soon overcomes any feelings of overfamiliarity. The album itself ends with an up-tempo All Day Music, which has some nice brass touches.

Among the bonuses on disc two Derrick revisits his first recording from way back in the 1950s Lollipop Girl, a pleasing mid-paced gallop and also there is a different Eighteen With A Bullet take. The playful Don’t Rock The Boat and Day By Day both impressed me, the latter a really good example of Derrick’ flawless high voice in full flow. The packed arrangement of Have You Seen Her?, another Chi-lites number, helps give it enough individuality to pull it away from being just another cover and Harriott finishes the set with Medley In Five Parts 1 & 2. It’s fun if inessential, this was part of the brief medleys craze that occurred in Jamaica during the first half of the 70s.

It has to be said that the production style and musical approach employed on Greatest Reggae Hits/Reggae Disco Rockers is very commercially minded, we’re a long way from the militant roots sound of later in the same decade. As reggae music struggled to adapt after the boom time of 1969/70, the pop route was one well travelled. Derrick Harriott at least did it with a touch of quality and his sweet vocal talents were ideally matched to soul-inclined and sometimes pure soul material. This 2CD set shows him on good form and hard at work, making a successful stab towards the middle ground. His own songwriting even manages to stand up well alongside the quality cover selection, with the musical arrangements and crafted performances bringing each tune to life vividly.

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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