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'Top Ranking' new DJs compilation from Doctor Bird Records

Two CDs explore the late '70s art of toasting.

Various Artists

Top Ranking - DJ Session Volumes 1 & 2

Doctor Bird 2-CD Set 

Top Ranking was a two LP series released in Jamaica by producer Joe Gibbs’ Record Globe label at the turn of the 1970s, titled (of course) for his recent worldwide hit with Althea & Donna’s “Up Town Top Ranking.”

Ten songs long, volume one was a showcase for half a dozen DJs, I-Roy, U-Roy, Big Youth, Lizzie, Shorty the President and Trinity, whose own “Top Ranking” toast opens the set; volume two, two years later in 1981, then ushered in a clutch of newer names, as the DJ phenomenon exploded across the island - Clint Eastwood, Nicodemus, Lui Lepki, Lee Vaan Cleef and Weedy Dread joining old hands Dillinger, Jah Thomas and U Brown, plus the returning Trinity and I Roy.

Both albums were crucial listening at the time, and original copies sell today for $25-$30 per volume. Or you can pick up both on a nifty CD twofer, with the original albums bolstered by some 26 bonus tracks, all from elsewhere within the Joe Gibbs/Errol Thompson stable, and all serving up an almost faultless window on what still feels like a remarkable era.

Toasting itself was nothing new - indeed, a decade had elapsed since the initial rise of the two Roys, Big Youth, Dillinger and co. Absorbed then into the roots movement of the mid-late 1970s, the trade of DJ was in danger of becoming just another part of the musical furniture. Only for it to turn around at the end of the decade with the sudden emergence of a host of new talents, and new techniques too.

That is the story told here, how toasting moved into the 1980s and ignited entire new sensations in its own right. And if the reliance on one production team’s material does give a somewhat stilted view of the overall picture, it also reinforces just how pioneering that studio was, even this late in the day - Gibbs himself had been active on the Jamaican scene since the mid-1960s, and numbered the young Lee Perry among his past employees.

The accompanying booklet tells those stories, but it’s the music that brings home their import. Prince Mohammed’s “Forty Leg Dread” and “Bubbling Love,” Jah Grundy’s “Shaolin Disciples,” Prince Hammer’s “Orthodox Rock,” Mr Bojangles’ “Prophesy Reveal” - some of the most memorable floor-fillers of the day are included here, alongside a host of favorites; and with 30-plus being new to CD, there’s a lot to get your teeth into, too.


70s vinyl