Across the Seventies, Jamaican artists had (willingly or otherwise) altered their sound to appeal to British audiences.
Most notoriously, Island had remixed The Wailers to soften their heavy rhythms, while Trojan had laden their singles with orchestral overdubs. It was effective, as Jamaican artists continually breached the British charts, but it still left a slightly bitter aftertaste in most islanders's mouths.
Which is why "OK Fred"'s success was so astonishing.
Recorded at Channel One, "Fred" takes no prisoners, exuberantly celebrating the island's sound in all its glory. By the late Seventies, the dancehalls were swept away by the sounds of the past, as myriad rocksteady and early reggae riddims were recut for modern consumption. Most were toasted over or featured new lyrics, but not "Fred," this was a straight cover of a 1971 John Holt single.
The prolific former Paragon is indisputably Jamaica's best songwriter, penning a flood of smash pop reggae hits. "Fred" wasn't one of his biggest, and barely registered abroad, until, that is, Dunkley and Hibbert got their hands on it.
Delivered up as only the Channel One studio band The Revolutionaries could, the new version retains all the charm of the original, but punches it up to magnificent proportions. The irrepressible rhythm - crisp, blistering beats and the voluminous unstoppable bass line, is a steppers classic, across which the sharp slices of rhythm guitar, bouncy keyboards, and triumphant brass jubilantly dance, while the Linn drums burbling excitedly around the arrangement.
The dancehalls were moving to a more minimalistic sounding style, "Fred" however, returned to the richness of the rocksteady age, and paired with the exhilarating rhythm it was unbeatable.
But there was still Dunkley to come, and he strives onto the disc with a swagger that suggests he took one listen to the backing and knew he had a hit on his hands. Grabbing the mic, he tackles Holt's goofy lyrics (does anyone know what a "yagga yagga" is?) with such delight and such power, that their meaninglessness falls by the wayside, and combined with the infectious melody, listeners found themselves invariably singing along with gusto.
Amazingly, the single first entered the UK as an import 12" single; it didn't take long however, for the Scope label to grab it up, toss it onto 7", and watch the song soar to #11, coincidentally, the same number of weeks it bopped exuberantly around the chart. Dunkley had bigger hits back home, and in the roots scene is revered for his fabulous self-composed "A Little Way Different", but it's "Fred" with which his name will always be twinned abroad, the perfect Jamaican steppers single that made everyone want to be a yagga yagga too.