Bunny Lee is a bad man. There isn’t too much more too it. After getting into the recording business in 1967 “Striker” went on to record a string of hits throughout the ever changing world of Jamaican music for the next 3 decades, but important for us is his output during the rocksteady and early reggae era many of which saw release in the UK on the Unity label. Lee wasn’t the only producer for the label but he produced some of its biggest hits. But we can’t forget the work of cats like Harry Robinson and the legendary Derrick Morgan. So let’s delve a little deeper into the label and see what gems we can find for ourselves.
First off, a disclaimer. All our choices are simply are own opinion. We don’t claim to be taste makers or have opinions which are more important than anyone else. We just know what we like and thought we’d share some knowledge. The first single, “On Broadway” by Slim Smith quite possibly was never actually released, on a labelled 45 at least. That said it’s not something we’d particularly recommend anyways. The second single “Last Flight To Reggae City” by the never disappointing Tommy McCook and Stranger Cole is the first must have on the label. Lovely flute and organ instrumentation is complimented by Stranger Cole talking over it. Get it.
This was followed by another must have outing courtesy of Stranger Cole, “Bangarang”. On it he’s once again accompanied by a accomplished sax man, this time Lester Sterling. Truly sublime sax work on this one. Flip it over and Cole is going through a pleading rocksteady number, this one produced by Derrick Morgan. Worth every penny.
To continue the role the label was on the next release was probably the most famous on the label and one of the top tunes in reggae history. Max Romeo with the legendary “Wet Dream”. We don’t need to further elaborate on this one. It’s a shame if you don’t actually have it in your collection yet.
The label continued to roll on next with “Everybody Needs Love” by Slim Smith backed with “Come Back Girl” by Junior Smith. Another stone cold classic from one of the most beautiful singers in the history of Jamaican music. Luckily you can score it for cheap. “Reggae on Broadway” produced by Derrick Morgan and performed by Lester Sterling, is another one you should be able to pick up for fairly cheap. Not necessarily a track you’d play out, but as the night winds down it would certainly fit in just fine. “Love Can Be Wonderful” on the flip, performed by The Clique, is a bit more uptempo if that’s your bag and a seldom played out track. Might as well be the one to break it!
With all the class coming out on the label in its first few releases you had to know Tommy McCook wasn’t about to let the label slide into mediocrity. So out he came with “The Avengers”. Magnificent sax work on this one. Laurel Aitken makes his debut on the label with “Donkey Man” on the flip. Someone made Laurel mad. The next few releases were a bit of a letdown til you get to another Lester Sterling instrumental, this time the wonderful “Spoogy”. Him and Tommy McCook always seem to be trying to one up each other over and over again.
Slim Smith and “Everybody Needs Love” is the next tune to seek out, as is most of his work. Both sides of this are lovely vocal cuts. It also started another good run, being followed up by Max Romeo “Wine Her Goosie” backed with “Fire Ball” by Karl Bryan and credited to King Cannon. One gets the feeling Bryan was eagerly waiting his chance to strut his stuff on the label with Sterling and McCook putting out so many killer sides. He kills them with this one, with maybe the best instrumental on the whole label. Beg, borrow and steal for this one.
It was about time Bunny Lee’s cousin, Don Tony Lee, made an appearance. One of the best DJ’s in the business, his double sided monster featuring “Peyton Place” and “Red Gal Ring” will pack a dance floor out every time. Roland Alphonso does the honors on the sax over the “Try To Remember” riddim for these classics. How does it get better? Obviously Prince Buster shows up with a throwback track.
Quite why “Thirty Pieces of Silver” was re released in 1969 one cannot be sure of. But this is pure ska madness, and one of the finest examples of the genre. Frenetically paced to say the least. Flip it over and throw on “Everybody Ska” and watch the crowd collapse from exhaustion trying to keep up with the pace. More reggae royalty would soon show up as Peter Tosh tried his hand at a bit of organ with “The Return of Al Capone”. Not the best track on the label but still interesting all the same.
Of course even more greats had to show up shortly. This time it’s The Hippy Boys with “Dreams To Remember”, the organ getting mashed out over the Wet Dream riddim. Reggae heaven. To take you to a near delirious joy, it wasn’t long before The Reggae Boys put out “What You Gonna Do”. A storming vocal over the Wet Dream riddim, getting all the mileage you can out of it, this is too good to pass up.
It wasn’t long before Tommy McCook was back with another big tune, this time “Peanut Vendor”. Quite simply just more magic from one of the finest. Up until this point Derrick Morgan has only made production appearances. But “Derrick Top The Pop” is his first performance appearance. While it’s good, you want this for Glen Adams organ workout “Capones Revenge” on the flip. Get ready for some moon stomping madness.
Tunes on the “Wet Dream” riddim were not quite finished and the Bunny Lee All Stars give their take on “Daydream”. Not the sort of thing you’d step over your mother for but good. Of course two singles later they put out the classic “Ivan Itler The Conqueror”. One of our all time biggest tracks, getting a copy this year was an achievement in record collecting. Good luck finding a copy, but you need one.
This concludes part one. The label is so vast with so many big tunes we’ve decided its best to break it up and two parts. Believe it or not all these tunes only cover 1969. 1970 continued the roll, as you’ll find out next week. Besides, your wallet will need a break we figure.