Laurel Aitken

The High Priest of Reggae

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The Godfather of Ska's career obviously didn't end with the rise of rocksteady, for Laurel Aitken's hit-strewn path continued apace right up to the beginnings of the roots age. Aitken was indeed the High Priest of Reggae, especially in the genre's early years, during which time the prolific Aitken littered the landscape with 45s that tore up British dancefloors and were particularly popular with the skinheads. 1970's High Priest of Reggae set gathered up a dozen of these recent club classics, all self-productions recorded over the previous year, and mostly released on the Pama label's Nu Beat imprint. A trio of tracks were bouncy instrumentals where Aitken plays DJ, including the wildly popular shoot'em up "Jesse James," the jumping "Mr. Popcorn," and the knees up adulation for the misspelled "Hailes Selaise." Others were covers, and surprising ones at that -- Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel," the Drifters "Save the Last Dance for Me," and the Everly Brothers' "Walk Right Back" amongst them, all soulfully delivered over perky reggae backings. Best of the batch was Aitken captaining the Beach Boys' "John B" back to the West Indies from where the ship had first embarked.

"Landlords & Tenants," in contrast, was a version, picking up where the financial woes of the Ethiopians' "Everything Crash" left off. It was the crash of the British pound that took the Jamaican one down too, so this song strongly reverberated on both islands. However, unlike the rest of the set, which was shot straight at the skinheads, the patois laced "Woppi King" and "Suffering Still" were aimed at the heart of the West Indian community. All told, High Priest is a superb album, not only doubling as an Aitken's greatest-hits collection from the reggae era, but a best-of reggae compilation in general.

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