Musical Youth


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Jamaica and Britain share more than a common language: The two islands also revere child stars, and in the U.K. none made more of a splash than Musical Youth. The schoolboy quintet took Britain by storm in the fall of 1982, when their inspired cover "Pass the Dutchie" boiled straight to the top of the charts. Seven more Top 50 hits followed before the fickle public grew bored in early 1984. The quintet of two pairs of brothers and lead singer Dennis Seaton were a talented bunch, spinning out an enticing blend of reggae that simmered from deep roots, across lusher love songs, and upbeat skankers of their debut album Youth of Today and into funk and urban landscapes of Different Style. Anthology packages up both albums in their entirety, but sadly no expense was spent on this compilation, which omits any production/arrangement credits, and refused to even fork out a few bucks for sleeve notes. Which is a pity. In the States, the Youth are seen as one-hit wonders, although they placed three further singles into the R&B charts, while in the U.K., they are remembered merely as precocious child stars. In reality, they were groundbreakers. By 1982, roots was dying in Jamaica, as the DJs pushed cultural singers into oblivion. The Youth offered a solution, with their rollicking blend of roots reggae and pop, a sound they perfected on their debut album. From the mighty "Dutchie" to the haunting "Heartbreaker," the dubby "Mirror Mirror" to the glorious "Never Gonna Give You Up," the group laid out a blueprint for crossover success. Different Style was even more adventurous, as the Youth brought funk and more American urban stylings into the mix. Although their follow-up did not find the same commercial success as its Top 25 predecessor, with guest stars like Donna Summer, Shalamar's Jody Watley, and boasting a number especially written for the band by Stevie Wonder, it's arguably the stronger set, although less reggae-fied in sound. Beyond the musical revelations were the group's vocal innovations. Today the pairing of singer, DJs, and backing harmonies is de rigeur, in 1982 it was a complete unknown. The Youth single-handedly invented it, and eventually the dancehalls and hip-hop scene would follow suit. Before that, the Melody Makers would ride to fame down the very musical path that the Youth had paved, with young Stephen Marley taking the toasting baton from the even younger Kelvin Grant. Most kid groups work their cutesy charms, and while there is an inevitable cute factor found here, the Youth never were sappy, and their talent wed to the excellent production and arrangements graced the group with maturity sound, while simultaneously playing up their own youthful exuberance. They were so far ahead of their time that their songs, especially from Youth, still sound fresh today and just as awesome.

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