Uptown Top Ranking

Althea & Donna

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Uptown Top Ranking Review

by Jo-Ann Greene

Theirs is a legendary story of how two teenagers enamored with Trinity's hit "Three Piece Suit" wrote a reply,"Uptown Town Ranking," cut it for Joe Gibbs, and scored a number one in both Jamaica and Britain. That feat brought Althea Forrest and Donna Reid a record contract with Front Line, which resulted in this, their sole album. Uptown Top Ranking was superbly produced by Karl Pitterson, and boasts the heavy rhythms of the Revolutionaries. The music is a wonder to behold, driven by the Riddim Twins' fat rhythms and accompanied by Scully's inspired percussion. The heavenly horn section of Tommy McCook, Vin Gordon, and Herman Marquis punctuates the tracks, while keyboardist Bernard Harvey burbles in the background and guitarist Earl "Chinna" Smith riffs away. All told, the group makes Uptown top ranking indeed, fabulous roots reggae that swings from deeply moody to brightly upbeat. So, why was this album an abysmal failure? Simply put, because Althea & Donna were under the mistaken impression that they were now cultural artists instead of pop stars. And while the pair sings with heartfelt passion, their lyrics are rife with clich├ęs and mind-numbing banalities; the immaturity of their writing is now laid bare. As is their singing. Although both girls had pretty enough voices, what they lacked was experience and training. This wasn't a problem on the single, a jubilant number whose brash lyrics laid waste to all other considerations. Across a full album, the flaws become obvious -- there's no real harmonies to speak of, and neither girl is able to come up with a suitably strong melody of their own. Compared to other albums of the era, Uptown Top Ranking was anything but top ranking. Today, however, militant themes and thoughtful lyrics are no longer required, and thus Althea & Donna may be due for a comeback. Certainly the Revolutionaries' excellent work here deserves the recognition it never received at the time.

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