Orange Street, also known as ‘beat street’, was the birthplace of many reggae, ska and rocksteady artists, as well as the area where these genres were championed – especially in the 1960s and 70s. We asked Mitchie Williams of Rockers International, one of the street’s last remaining record shops, to put together a playlist evoking the area’s glory days
Orange Street in downtown Kingston was once the heart and soul of Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae. The street and the surrounding area helped give one of the most important music genres of the 20th century to the world; the first ska recordings were made at Studio One on Brentford Road just around the corner from Orange Street. The street itself was alive with record shops and recording studios, and legends such as Dennis Brown and Prince Buster were even born on the street. Sadly, as with much of downtown Kingston, it’s a very different place today – dubbed Ghost Street by locals – but there are still a handful of studios and vinyl record shops flying the flag, and the area is a must-see for music fans visiting Kingston.
Stepping into the fabulous Randy’s records and recording studio (upstairs at 17 North Parade) is like going back in time (check out this gallery of Randy’s back in the day), while Rockers International exports vinyl to reggae fans all over the world and was refurbishing the store when I visited. We asked Rockers’ manager Mitchie Williams to compile a tribute to Orange Street’s pioneering (and speaker-throbbing) spirit.
1. Israelites – Desmond Dekker and The Aces
The first reggae song to reach number one in the UK, in 1969 (and number nine in the US), still sounds as uplifting as the day it was recorded.
2. One Cup of Coffee – Bob Marley
Recorded in 1962 when Marley was just 17, this was released under the pseudonym Bobby Martel, before he formed The Wailers.
3. The Liquidator – Harry J Allstars
This classic instrumental, recorded by producer Harry J and a session band in 1969, became an anthem for British skinheads and football fans; West Brom, Chelsea, Wycombe Wanderers, Northampton Town, Wolves and St Johnstone are among the teams that have run out, pre-match, to this.
4. Freezing up Orange Street – Prince Buster
Prince Buster’s jaunty tribute to Jamaica’s Tin Pan Alley. Cecil Bustamente Campbell was born on Orange Street in 1938 and from here altered the course of Jamaican music in the 1960s by popularising ska – a precursor or rocksteady and reggae, and which was itself inspired by US rhythm and blues. His record shop closed over a decade ago but the fading facade is one of the street’s few remaining highlights.
5. Hurricane Hattie – Jimmy Cliff
Cliff became reggae’s first superstar when he starred in (and recorded the brilliant title track to) the Jamaican film The Harder They Come in 1972. His career took off with this hit, when he was just 14.
6. Judge Not – Bob Marley
Marley’s first hit, released (in Jamaica only) in 1962 on the Beverley’s label, has a ska beat. The lyrics were later paraphrased in the background vocals of Could You Be Loved.
7. 007 (Shanty Town) – Desmond Dekker and The Aces
This rude boy classic reached number one in Jamaica in 1967 and was Dekker’s first international hit, and also the first Jamaican-produced record to reach the UK top 20.
8. 54-46 That’s My Number – Toots and the Maytals
A song about lead singer Fred “Toots” Hibbert’s time in prison for marijuana possession, 54-46 has one of the most infectious basslines in music – and one that’s been sampled by many artists. Originally released on the Beverly’s label in 1968, it was a song that helped popularise ska for a UK audience.
9. Money in my Pocket – Dennis Brown
The late, great Dennis Brown is the pride of Orange Street. Born there in 1957, he started hanging out and then performing around the local record shops as a boy. This is his breakthrough hit.
10. Java – Augustus Pablo
From the 1977 instrumental reggae album East of the River Nile.
11. Soul Shakedown Party – The Wailers
A funky lilting slice of rocksteady from The Best of the Wailers album released in 1971, just before The Wailers really took off.
12. Ghetto Girl – Dennis Brown
Produced by Joe Gibbs, this much-covered tune by Dennis Brown, appeared, with a different mix, on the 1978 album Visions of Dennis Brown. This lolloping 7in single cut of classic reggae has an equally infectious vibe though.
13. The Prince – Madness
… Sorry Mitchie, we slipped this one in in London! Madness’s tribute to Prince Buster and Orange Street was one of the 2 Tone songs that kicked off the 1979 UK ska revival, which was not so much a homage to the great Jamaican artists that inspired it as a deferential smash and grab raid of their work.