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The Gladiators - Studio One Singles Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 November 2007
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    9
sound:    8
released:    2007
label:    Heartbeat
reviewer:    John Sutton-Smith

ImageAmong all the great reggae harmony groups during that classic period in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, from the Mighty Diamonds to the Congos to the Wailing Souls, surely the Gladiators offered one of the brightest and most beautiful vocal collaborations of them all. Although their later work on Virgin is better known, the original trio started out in 1965, led by the soulful, distinctive voice of lead singer Albert Griffiths; but it was when Griffiths recruited Clinton Fearon and Gallimore Sutherland in 1969 that they went on to make some of their very best records at Studio One, under the visionary guidance of legendary producer and studio owner Clement “Sir Coxsone” Dodd.

This album, part of Heartbeat’s wondrous Studio One series, offers an expansive, if not complete, selection of the Gladiators’ Studio One singles and dub versions released between 1969 and 1978, as well as some 12" singles released later. Songs like "Bongo Red" and "Roots Natty," which first brought the Gladiators to the attention of reggae fans worldwide, are included among the 23 tracks in all, along with favorites like "Boy In Long Pants," "Beautiful Locks," “Rearrange," "Big Boo Boo Day," "Pretending," "Don't Fool the Young Girls" and "Happy Man."
From the saucy 1969 "Fling It Gimme (Anywhere)" and “Sonia,” their classic take on “Cherry Oh Baby” through a steady flow of roots masterpieces like "Roots Natty” and "Mr. Baldwin," all huge hits in Jamaica, this collection is a treasure trove of classic reggae harmony and dub. The subtle put-down of "Boy In Long Pants" and its dub-style “Long Pants Dub” are also included here, along with "Beautiful Locks," the Gladiators’ and Dodd’s answer version to Lee Perry’s famous "Curly Locks," recorded by Junior Byles. "Dub Ina Babylon" from 1972 is a prime example of early Studio One dub style, showcasing the group’s musical abilities, while "A Prayer to Thee” and "Version of Prayer", from the same year, highlight Fearon’s vocal prowess.

The upful-sounding melody cloaks the dread warning on "Mister Baldwin" and its version "M. Baldwin Part 3," a song also covered by Culture as "Baldhead Bridge." "Big Boo Boo Day," accompanied by its “Version,” is about a girl whose eyes only light up when she sees money! The last four tracks were originally released as 12” singles, and include the powerful "Pretending," followed by the equally strong "Don't Fool the Young Girls,” with its 12” "Version," and the Gladiators' answer version to Sophia Georges' international hit, "Girlie Girlie." Last up is the 12” version of "Happy Man a.k.a. Portrait of a Believer," replete with the then-fashionable disco-style sound effects.

Of all the remarkable Studio One collections that Heartbeat has released over the years, and there have been quite a few now, this collection of classic-era Gladiators songs and instrumental dub versions is simply one of the best. Like great soul music or R&B, this music not only stands the test of passing trends, it sounds even better now in the fullness of time.

Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One sound is as recognizable to reggae aficionados as Motown or Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound might be to classic American pop fans. His inimitable style and sense of rhythm, play and adventure not only gave birth to a distinctive and massively influential sound, but also helped create stars of so many of the classic reggae vocal groups.

Dodd’s strength was his infectious rhythm mixes, wildly wicked dubs and ability to fold three-part harmonies into a wonderful mix of memorable pop reggae songs. First released as a French bootleg, Heartbeat has reissued this authorized edition with improved sound quality, sourced from original masters and rare singles, and the result is an essential slice of classic reggae music at its best.

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