With Jamaica celebrating the fiftieth anniversary since it gained independence from Britain, record companies big and small have been celebrating this landmark anniversary. Their way of celebrating Jamaican independence is by releasing a multitude of compilations and box sets. With so many compilations hitting the market at the one time, anyone considering buying just one compilation will be confused by so much choice. So, for anyone thinking of buying just one compilation or box set I’d spent some time looking through each of the contenders. During the last couple of weeks I’ve searched high and low, immersing myself in these releases and chosen what I consider to be one of the best of these releases. My choice is Freedom Sounds, a five-disc box set, featuring 108 remastered tracks, fifty of which, have never been released before. As well as a the five discs, there’s an in-depth and informative fifty-two page booklet filled with photographs of the people and places that shaped Jamaican music. Trojan Records statement that Freedom Sounds is quite rightly described as “a celebration of Jamaican music.” Each of the five discs that comprise Freedom Sounds are have a “theme,” ranging from Freedom Sounds, Jamaican Hits, Pioneers, Innovators and Forgotten Treasures. If you choose to register your copy of Freedom Sounds, you unlock “bonus content.” Doing so, only unlocks ten further tracks. Even without these ten tracks, the other five discs feature much of the music which shaped Jamaican music. You’ll realize this when I tell you about the five discs on Freedom Sounds.
Disc One of Freedom sounds is entitled Freedom Sounds, and features seventeen “Sounds of Freedom,” from some of the biggest names in Jamaican music. These tracks range from protest songs, to songs about unity and liberation. This includes seventeen tracks from Bob Marley and The Wailers, The Heptones, Burning Spear, Culture, and Judy Mowatt. These tracks are produced by such luminaries as Lee “Scratch” Perry, Sonia Potinger and Augustus Pablo, under the guise of Horace Swaby.
Of these seventeen tracks, several of them standout, including Bob Marley and The Wailers’ Rainbow released in 1968 and The Heptones’ cover of the Bob Dylan penned I Shall Be Released. Burning Spear’s Shout It Out, produced by Winston Rodney, and Third World’s Freedom Sound are two other highlights of Disc One. Overall, the majority of the seventeen tracks on Disc One of Freedom Sounds have stood the test of time. They’re an interesting, eclectic and sometimes compelling selection of “Freedom Sounds.”
Even someone with just has a passing interest in reggae will know many of the twenty-three tracks that feature on Disc Two of Freedom Sounds. Entitled Jamaican Hits, Disc Two is like a who’s who Jamaican music. This includes Desmond Dekker and The Aces 007 (Shanty Town) and Poor Me (Israelites), Toots and The Mayals 54 46 That’s My Number, Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey and Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves, which The Clash later covered. There’s also tracks from Bob Marley and The Wailers, Dennis Brown, Derrick Morgan, Marcia Griffin and Culture.
Sometimes the choice of music heads towards populist, featuring tracks like Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse, Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come and Althea and Donna’s Uptown Top Rankin, whose inclusion I could’ve very definitely have lived without. The two most recent tracks on Disc Two are Chaka Demus and Pliers’ Murder She Wrote released in 1992, and Beenie Man’s Slam, released in 1995. Why the compiler decided to Include Beenie Man’s Slam is beyond me? I could’ve thought of several other tracks worthy of inclusion before Slam.
That the most recent Jamaican hit on Freedom Sound was in 1995, must be something that worries Jamaican musicians and producers. Having released innovative and groundbreaking music during the sixties, seventies and eighties, it seems that maybe Jamaican music lost its way after that? Given how good much of the music of these three decades were, Jamaica can boast a rich and varied musical history. Many of these Jamaican Hits feature on Disc Two of Freedom Sounds, and are among some of its biggest and best-known songs.
It seems that the compilers of Freedom Sounds were struggling for themes when they got to Discs Three and Four. Disc Three is entitled Pioneers, while Disc Four is entitled Innovators. Confused? So was I. Especially when much of the music on Discs three and four was similar, ranging from Ska, Rocksteady and early reggae tracks. The musicians that feature on Discs Three Four and are pioneers of Ska, Rocksteady and early reggae, rather than pioneers of reggae in the wider sense. When it comes to the Pioneers theme of Disc Three, I was thinking along the lines Bob Marley, Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby, Sly and Robbie. To me, these are pioneers of Jamaican music, musicians who will forever be perceived as shaping and defining Jamaican music. To me, these are just a few of the pioneers of Jamaican music that spring to mind. Similarly, you could argue that Bob Marley, Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby, Sly and Robbie were all Innovators, in the true sense of the world. Rather than get bogged down in phonetics, I’ll tell you about the music on Discs Three and Four?
Among the Pioneers to feature on Disc Three, are Errol Brown, Ernest Raglin, The Uniques, The Gladiators, Bob Marley and The Wailers, Richard Ace and Phyllis Dillon. Many of the tracks range from 1968-1971, during a time that Jamaican music was evolving and just before reggae crossed over into mainstream music with Bob Marley and The Wailers. There’s also tracks from Don Drummond and The Skalites, Clancy Eccles and Niney and Big Youth. These tracks provide a snapshot of reggae as the music was evolving.
Five of the twenty-three tracks haven’t been released before, so will be of interest to reggae completists. Unreleased tracks can either be hidden gems or unreleased for a reason…that they weren’t particularly good. Thankfully, while the unreleased tracks aren’t quite hidden gems, some are worthy of inclusion. Surely rather than focus on releasing previously unreleased tracks, the compiler could’ve focused on some of the real gems of the Trojan back-catalogue?
Having said that, there’s some great music on Disc Three, with The Sensations’ I Was Born A Loser, Ken Boothe’s Love and Unity and Nicky Thomas Love of the Common People three of the highlights of Disc Three. However, I would suggest that there’s no way that several artists on the disc can ever be described as Pioneers. Will the artists that feature on Disc Four be worthy of being described as innovators?
While I was critical of some of the “Pioneers” of Disc Three, many of the artists that are referred to as Innovators on Disc Four are worthy of that accolade. Toots and The Mayals, Barrington Levy and Augustus Pablo are three true Innovators of Jamaican music. So too are some of the producers of tracks on Disc Four.
Edward “Bunny” Lee produced Johnny Clark and King Tubby’s None Shall Escape the Judgement, while Lee “Scratch” Perry produced Bunny “Rugs” Clarke produced Big May. Warwick Lyn and Joe Boyd produced Toots and The Mayals’ Treating Me So Bad, one of the highlights of Disc Four. Another of Jamaica’s most talented producers was Ossie Hibbert who produced Horace Andy’s Sea of Love.
One of the real gems on Disc Four is Pat Kelly’s I’m So Proud, a compelling cover version of Curtis Mayfield’s song. The Paragons Man Next Door, released in 1981, was produced by Sly and Robbie, and demonstrates just why they were in such demand as producers. King Jammy is another of Jamaica’s legendary producers, and on Disc Four, produced Johnny Osbourne’s Rock and Come On (Yah). Overall, Disc Four features some of Innovators of Jamaican music, both artists and producers. My only quibble is the inclusion of Luciano’s Never Give Up My Pride, released in 1995. All I can say is why?
By Disc Five, I’m beginning to think that the compilers of Freedom Sounds have exhausted their themes. Why? Well, they’ve decided to use the catch-all of Forgotten Treasures. This comes across as an excuse just to pick a selection of tracks with no real theme running through the disc. Surely, a better idea would’ve been to include another disc of Jamaican Hits or even better, a disc of some glorious dub reggae? However, maybe a disc of dub reggae may not have been palatable for the casual reggae buyer? Instead, Disc Five features twenty-six Forgotten Treasures. Will they really be Forgotten Treasures or best forgotten?
There are twenty-six Forgotten Treasure on Disc Five, with the compilers digging deep into Trojan’s back-catalogue. Sadly, they didn’t dig deep enough. What raised my suspicions were when I noticed several alternate versions or cover versions of old soul track. From past experiences, this can prove disappointing. This was the case here. On Disc Five are alternate versions Austin Faithful’s I’m In A Rocking Good Mood and The Techniques Traveling Man. Neither of these tracks are what I’d call Forgotten Treasures, nor is Tommy McCook and The Specialists cover version of (Ode To) Billy Joe. As for Toots and The Mayals cover of Otis Redding’s Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song), it really is a sad song and best forgotten. The extended version of Max Romeo and Prince Jazzbo shouldn’t have been extended and I wonder at its inclusion on Freedom Sounds.
Of the rest of the tracks, they’re very much a mixed bag in terms of quality. Tracks by The Slickers, Ska Campbell, The Prophets, The Ethiopians and Trevor and The Maytones didn’t disappoint, but the rest of the tracks reminded me of a well-known Clint Eastwood film, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. It’s just a pity that the compilers weren’t more imaginative when thinking of a theme for Disc Five. Sadly, they could’ve made more use of Disc Five and Freedom Sounds really would’ve been “a celebration of Jamaican music.”
Given how important a role Jamaican music has had on other musical genres, it’s no surprise that so many compilations and box sets were released to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Jamaican independence. Sadly, some these releases were of these releases lacked in quality. Indeed, some came across as nothing more than a commercial attempt to cash in on a historically important event. At least Freedom Sounds features some quality music, which is representative of Jamaican musical history. Having said that, it’s not without faults. Disc Two which featured twenty-three Jamaican Hits was sometimes predictable, and far too populist. The inclusion of Gregory Isaacs’ Night Nurse, Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come and Althea and Donna’s Uptown Top Rankin is proof of this. In Discs Three and Four the compilers seemed to be struggling for themes, with Pioneers and Innovators almost a duplication of themes. While some of the artists who were deemed worthy of being Pioneers and Innovators surprising, so were some of the omissions. Having said that, given how many box sets Trojan have released over the years, maybe this was an attempt to come up with something new, different and controversial. By the time we got to Disc Five, Freedom Sounds had been an enjoyable journey through Jamaican music, albeit one with a few strange and I’d say debatable inclusions. Then came Disc Five and its twenty-six Forgotten Treasures. Maybe they’re best described as a few forgotten treasures with the rest best forgotten. To me, Disc Five was very much a mixed musical bag, ranging from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Surely better use could’ve been made of Disc Five, as a disc full of Forgotten Treasures was a disappointing end to what had been an otherwise enjoyable “a celebration of Jamaican music.” However, considering the five-disc box set that is Freedom Sounds retails for under £30, €40 or $50, then even with the disappointing disc of Forgotten Treasures, it’s good value for money. For anyone wanting to buy one of the many compilations that celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of Jamaican Independence, then Freedom Sounds won’t disappoint.