Various Artists

This Is Reggae [Music Club]

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"16 original chart toppers," the cover of this compilation proudly exclaims, and indeed all of these songs were Jamaican number ones, while most also made significant inroads into the U.K. pop chart. However, as anyone who's ever perused the pop charts well knows, high placement is no guarantee of quality, and This Is Reggae is ample proof of that. Running the gamut from the exquisite to the excruciating, the masterful to the merciless, the seminal to the subpar, this is reggae for the undiscerning. That said, the album does contain a clutch of classics -- Desmond Dekker's "The Israelites," Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross," the Heptones' "Book of Rules," the Maytals' "Pressure Drop," and the Paragons' "The Tide Is High." The Melodians' "Sweet Sensation" and Tony Tribe's "Red Red Wine" are equally notable inclusions. Unfortunately, the rest of the album comprises reggae at its most mercenary, desperate to cross over into the British pop charts at any cost. To that end, rhythms were softened, songs were swelled with orchestral arrangements, and any old pop hit was reggae-fied regardless of its suitability for such treatment. Still, even in the midst of such hogwash, a vocalist did occasionally rise above the syrup the song's soaked in, as does Dennis Brown on a phenomenal cover of "Dock of the Bay." But his is the exception, not the rule. So this is a mixed bag, made more miserable by the thoughtless sequencing that exacerbates the chasm between true reggae and pop reggae-fied.

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