Desmond Dekker

Sweet 16 Hits

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Released in 1975, "Sing a Little Song" was to be Desmond Dekker's swan song as far as the British chart was concerned, a saccharine little offering that held little of the power of his earlier hits. However, the rise of 2-Tone brought a revival of interest in the Jamaican legend, prompting the Trojan label to release this compilation in 1978. Unfortunately, a glance at the track listing makes clear just how clueless the then-current owners of this once mighty British reggae label were. Rather than bundle up the myriad glorious rocksteady singles that had made Dekker a mod icon back in the mid-'60s, or the reggae stompers that had sent the skinheads into a frenzy of skanking a couple of years later, or even his earlier exhilarating hits from the ska age that echoed the exuberance now flooding across the 2-Tone scene, Trojan released this instead. Sweet 16 Hits does at least scatter all six of Dekker & the Aces' British hits among the set, but then proceeds to totally ignore what the market cried out for, filling the album with the orchestral string-laced numbers that were all the rage in the U.K. in the late '60s/early '70s, but were utterly passe in 1978. The suspender-snapping, boot-stomping "Licking Stick," the bounding "Archie Wah Wah," and the insistent "The More You Live," with its echoes of "007 (Shanty Town)," were the exceptions, leaving over half the set of little interest to the very audience that should have gobbled it up. In fact, Trojan may have been aiming this set at roots fans, for it couldn't be sheerly coincidental that many of the remaining tracks were introspective songs that in another musical context would have thrilled this group. The heartfelt self-affirmation of "My Reward," the overcoming obstacles of "Where Did It Go," the moderation preached on "What Will You Gain," and the ode to "Mother Nature" all carried themes that might have resonated with cultural crowds if recut in a contemporary style. So, while the songs here are all top-notch, the timing for most of them was totally wrong. Now, however, it makes for quite an exquisite collection, or it would, if Trojan bothered to reissue it.

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