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Cherry Red Celebrates “Godfather of Ska” Laurel Aitken With Albums Box

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Laurel Aitken BoxBorn in Cuba of mixed Jamaican and Cuban descent as Lorenzo Aitken, singer Laurel Aitken (1927-2005) is today remembered as “The Godfather of Ska.” The precursor to reggae, ska drew from Caribbean styles like calypso and mento as well as from American jazz and R&B; by the early 1960s, it was the predominant style of music in Jamaica. Cherry Red Records and Pressure Drop have recently collected the seminal early recordings of Laurel Aitken in a new 5-CD box set. Aitken’s Original Albums Collection features four rare albums and a fifth disc of bonus singles and non-LP rarities:

    • Ska with Laurel (1966)
    • Laurel Aitken Says Fire (1967)
    • Scandal in a Brixton Market (with Girlie) (1969)
    • The High Priest of Reggae (1970)
    • Skinhead Train: 1960s Singles and Rarities

When Aitken arrived in Brixton, London, in the early 1960s, he was already an established artist in his home of Jamaica where he and his family had settled in the late 1930s. Aitken had begun singing in the mento style (a largely acoustic, folk-based idiom) in the 1950s, first for the Jamaican Tourist Board and later as a popular nightclub entertainer. His 1958 single “Boogie in My Bones” b/w “Little Sheila” was one of the first records produced by future Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and is also said to be the first Jamaican pop record to be released in the United Kingdom.

Once settled in Brixton, Aitken began recording for the Blue Beat label, releasing fifteen singles before moving back to Jamaica in 1963. After continuing to record there with fellow ska pioneer Arthur “Duke” Reid, he returned to the U.K. and recorded for the Pama label. Aitken was an early proponent of the “D.I.Y.” style, with the homemade sound of his records helping them to stand out in the onslaught of early rock and roll. He went on to record for Island, Rio, Doctor Bird, Trojan and other labels, spreading the gospel of ska and Jamaican music far beyond the confines of Brixton (even today still an area with a large Caribbean population). An innate showman, Aitken took the alter ego of “King Horror,” performing under the guises of characters such as “The Loch Ness Monster”, “Dracula, Prince of Darkness,” and “The Hole.” In the 1970s, he relocated to Leicester, and continued to perform and record over the years, enjoying the 2 Tone ska resurgence and even scoring a No. 60 pop hit in 1980 in the U.K. with “Rudi Got Married.”

After the jump: what will you find inside the box set?

This Original Albums Collection features Aitken’s first four long players, including one LP with Girlie. (Per the story labelled “FICTION” on the album’s back cover: “A big fight bruck out in-a Brixton Market between de man Larel Akin an is wife Girly. Well she not im wife really but dem bin living together now far about eight years and so we acep dem as being marid.” Furthermore, it explains, “He still keep she, altho she have other man wid im but im really don’t care cause im have another sweet gal imself!”) The fifth disc caps things off with a selection of his non-LP sides recorded between 1960 and 1969. In addition to numerous Aitken originals infused with both socially conscious themes and dollops of humor, the four core albums include his reinterpretations of pop, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues classics, among them Ray Charles’ “Leave My Woman Alone,” The Bobbettes’ “Mr. Lee,” Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Halfway to Paradise,” Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller and Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me,” Elvis Presley’s hits “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Teddy Bear,” the Engelbert Humperdinck favorite “Quando Quando Quando,” Sonny Curtis’ Everly Brothers number “Walk Right Back,” and Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman’s Drifters hit “Save the Last Dance for Me.” The singles disc even boasts an Aitken take on Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Each disc is presented in a mini-LP replica sleeve in a compact, flip-top box. An eight-page booklet offers a brief introduction as well as memorabilia images and track credits. Alan Wilson has remastered all discs. Laurel Aitken’s Original Albums Collection is available now from Cherry Red Records and can be ordered at the links below!

Laurel Aitken, Original Albums Collection (Cherry Red/Pressure Drop PDROPBOX25, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

CD 1: Ska with Laurel (Rio LP1, 1966)

  1. Street of Glory
  2. Lonesome Traveller
  3. Madame Soroise
  4. We Shall Overcome
  5. Call the Doctor
  6. Freedom
  7. Hallelujah Train
  8. Looking for My Baby
  9. Woman is Sweeter than Man
  10. It’s Coming Down
  11. Take Off My Pyjamas
  12. Leave My Woman Alone

CD 2: Laurel Aitken Says Fire (Doctor Bird DLM 5012, 1967)

  1. Fire (In Your Wire)
  2. Worried Over Me – The Classics
  3. Halfway to Paradise
  4. Coconut
  5. Quando Quando (Quando)
  6. If You Need Me
  7. La La La (Means I Love You)
  8. Rice and Peas
  9. Stand by Me
  10. Sunnyside (Swimming Pool) – The Detours
  11. Mr. Lee
  12. Gonna Get Married

CD 3: Scandal in a Brixton Market – Girlie and Laurel Aitken (Pama Economy ECO 8, 1969)

  1. Scandal in a Brixton Market
  2. Madam Straggae
  3. Stupid Married Man
  4. Tammering
  5. Have Mercy
  6. Night Cricket
  7. Run Powell Run
  8. Teddy Bear
  9. Mr. Soul
  10. Woke Up This Morning
  11. Babylon
  12. Stop the War in Vietnam

CD 4: The High Priest of Reggae (Pama PSP 1012, 1970)

  1. Jesse James
  2. Mr. Popcorn
  3. I Got to Have Your Love
  4. John B
  5. Shoo Bee Shoo Bee
  6. Hailes Selaise
  7. Landlords and Tenants
  8. Save the Last Dance (For Me)
  9. Walk Right Back
  10. Don’t Be Cruel
  11. Woppi King
  12. Suffering Still

CD 5: Skinhead Train: 1960s Singles and Rarities

  1. Boogie in My Bones
  2. Drinkin’ Whisky – with The Caribs
  3. Mary Lee
  4. Bartender – with The Blue Beats
  5. Brother David – with The Blue Beats
  6. Lucille – with The Blue Beats
  7. Adam and Eve
  8. I Shall Remove
  9. Lion of Judah
  10. Don’t Stay Out Late
  11. Clementine
  12. Propaganda
  13. Green Banana
  14. Rock Steady
  15. Blowin’ in the Wind
  16. I’m Still in Love with You Girl
  17. Reggae Prayer
  18. The Rise and Fall (Of Laurel)
  19. Heile Heile (The Lion)
  20. Donkey Man
  21. Reggae ‘69
  22. Big Fight in Hell Stadium – with Girlie
  23. Pussy Price Gone Up
  24. Skinhead Train
  25. Apollo 12 (Skinhead Invasion)

Tracks 1-3 rec. 1960

Tracks 4-5 rec. 1961

Track 6 rec. 1962

Tracks 7-9 rec. 1963

Track 10 rec. 1964

Tracks 11-13 rec. 1966

Tracks 14-16 rec. 1967

Tracks 17-25 rec. 1969

Written by Joe Marchese

October 9, 2014 at 10:05

3 Responses

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  1. Ehhh . . . Aitken was a genius, entertaining and, in his own way, visionary. But this boxed set is not the way to go. Each of the four albums on this set was lovingly reissued by Pressure Drop (via Cherry Red, same as this set), but with much more generous track listings.

    If you bought “Ska With Laurel,” you’d get the whole album here, plus three tracks from the final CD plus TWELVE more songs not on this set. If you bought “Laurel Aitken Says Fire,” you’d get the whole album here, plus three tracks from the final CD plus SEVEN more songs not on this set. If you bought “Scandal In A Brixton Market,” you’d get the whole album here, plus one track from the final CD plus ELEVEN more songs not on this set. If you bought “Ska With Laurel,” you’d get the whole album here, plus five tracks from the final CD plus EIGHT more songs not on this set.

    The remaining tracks from the “rarities” CD are found on the remaining Pressure Drop titles – “Boogie In My Bones” (2 tracks), “You Got Me Rockin'” (4 tracks), “Original Cool Jamaican Fire” (4 tracks) and “The Fantastic Laurel Aitken” (1 track). All of these other CDs contain an original album and loads of bonus tracks. ONE EXCEPTION: I couldn’t find “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “I’m Still In Love With You Girl” on the original Pressure Drop CD series, but I’m pretty sure they’re there under different titles (Aitken’s songs frequently had more than one title used, due to discrepancies between the UK and Jamaica, and various reissues!)

    I’d recommend buying all the individual titles OR the 2xCD “The Godfather Of Ska Anthology” or the single-disc “Skinhead Ska – The Collection” if you want to dabble. Both provided a better career overview, with less lesser stuff.

    John H

    October 9, 2014 at 14:00

  2. Thanks very much to John H for the helpful comments…I’ve only just picked up the Pressure Drop CDs of the first 3 titles in this set, so I was a bit alarmed to see this box being issued! But it seems that I’ve got the best deal anyway : )


    October 9, 2014 at 18:15

  3. All of these recent Laurel Aitken CDs are, one way or another, released by the Cherry Red family, so mastering and sound are very consistent, in case anyone’s wondering.

    John H

    October 10, 2014 at 10:32

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