Johnny Clarke

Golden Hits

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Anyone coming to this compilation on the strength of Johnny Clarke's dread masterpiece "Move Out a Babylon" is in for a surprise. Not to suggest that the title Golden Hits is incorrect, for, in fact, most of the 20 songs here were indeed hits in Jamaica. The shock value lies in the fact that Clarke's career at home was polarized between two extremes, dread gems and excellent covers of pop hits. And although this album contains both, it leans heavily towards the latter. That would be less a problem if the album included sleevenotes to explain this to the uninitiated, but it doesn't even bother to include credits, except for acknowledging producer Bunny Lee. Virtually all the pair's recordings together were extraordinary; Lee reached creative heights during this period with his signature flying cymbal sound, and it's that which drives all these songs. Eventually those cymbals did get old, but here they still sound amazingly fresh; even an hour into the album, the excitement never dulls. For most fans, the point of entry is the aforementioned "Babylon," alongside the equally seminal "None Shall Escape His Judgement," while another massive hit, "Joshua's Word," utilized the latter's rhythm. Clarke was adept at writing new lyrics for these fabulous rhythms, which is why many consider him the first dancehall singer. Other great roots rhythms are found on "False Rasta" and "Jah Jah We Are Waiting." A clutch of roots classics. The flying cymbals are equally to the fore on the rest of the album, but now wrapped around old Studio One gems from the rocksteady era. Clarke was particularly fond of John Holt and Delroy Wilson classics, and several appear here, including "Left With a Broken Heart" "The Tide Is High," and "True Believer in Love." These lighter numbers still have a rootsy edge to them, but there's no mistaking their pop appeal. Still, Clarke's vocal performances are sublime without, and although there's the odd clinker -- "Give the Little Man a Hand" and "Tide" are truly disposable -- the rest are as strong as his own roots compositions. An excellent way to discover both sides of the singer's charm.

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