The mid-'70s was a vibrant time for reggae music. Buoyed by the international success of Bob Marley & the Wailers and The Harder They Come, the genre was bursting with fresh inspiration and new ideas, all the while building on a solid cultural foundation. It was a golden age for Jamaican sound systems and recording studios, a time when harmony vocal trios and chanting deejays alike praised the works of Jah, bemoaned the sufferer's creed, or commented on the day-to-day goings-on of the ganja trade.
Channel One was one such seminal studio, launching the early careers of such artists as the Mighty Diamonds and Yellowman while flaunting its ability to meet the demanding needs of the dancehall market, with new 45s produced every week, if not every day. The studio's contribution to VP's Reggae Anthology series is, at its best, a fairly definitive collection of classic roots, lovers rock, sufferers, and deejay styles, with dubbed-out production that made frequent use of echo and reverb -- as well as the "flying cymbal" style of drumming typically associated with this period.
A staggering 37 tracks on two discs reveal a smattering of all-time favorites, and more than enough above-average cuts to warrant a close listen. The production quality isn't always pristine, but the artists' enthusiasm and Channel One's dubwise ethos more than make up for any sonic deficiencies. Taken together, songs like the Diamonds' "I Need a Roof," Yellowman's "Herbman Smuggling," the Revolutionaries' "Death in the Arena," and Barrington Levy's "Dances Are Changes" offer an overview of what reggae's cutting edge sounded like 25 years ago. Super Chick's "Roach Killer," for instance -- a stylistic predecessor to today's dancehall -- makes the most of a loopy, rub-a-dub groove, as the female DJ incorporates traditional campfire songs into her chat with 'nuff style.
It's a toss-up between Sammy B's "Roadblock" on disc one and Frankie Paul's "Worries in the Dance" on disc two for best song on the comp -- both mix social commentary with top-notch vocal performances and righteous rude boy attitude. Such was the life for Jamaican youth back then: Either you "Buck up 'pon a roadblock" or you go to a dance where "liquor sell out" and "gunshots a bust." The Channel One Story is a testament to that often-turbulent time, and the remarkable musical creativity it yielded.
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