Various Artists

The History of Ska, Blue Beat, & Reggae, Vol. 1

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Although the title The History of Ska, Blue Beat & Reggae, Vol. 1 is not inaccurate, Lagoon Reggae would have grabbed more attention by simply shortening it to "The History of Blue Beat" alone. The famed Blue Beat imprint was launched by Siggy Jackson in Britain in 1960 as a home for Jamaican music. As Prince Buster's distributor, the label was instrumental in introducing ska, rocksteady, and reggae to the U.K., while also providing an outlet for a myriad of other Jamaican producers. However, Blue Beat also nurtured homegrown talent as well, and this compilation showcases much of it. One of their most popular groups was the Pyramids, who debuted as Buster's backing band on his U.K. tours but are better-known under their alias, Symarip, of "Skinhead Moonstomp" fame. In the day, Blue Rivers & the Maroons were of equal note, but neither group attained the preeminence or longevity of Laurel Aitken, the label's most renown artist. The Cuban-born, Jamaican-raised singer emigrated to the U.K. in 1960 and was Blue Beat's first signing. The label's devotion to R&B is legendary, as is ska's debt to this genre. As the years passed, R&B's influence never diminished from Blue Beat's acts, as this compilation aptly illustrates. Bar a single track dating from 1972, the entire album is culled from releases between 1966 and 1968, capturing the tail end of ska, the shift into rocksteady, and the evolution of early reggae. Yet throughout these stylistic transformations, the R&B roots remain deep, pumping through the songs. With only 14 tracks, the album merely whets the appetite, but as an introduction to this seminal label, it's an excellent opening gambit.

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