On Top

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On Top (Studio One, 1968)


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The Heptones epitomized the rock steady harmony trio in the late '60s and early '70s and did pretty darn well as a reggae trio throughout the '70s.  Still, many people think that they peaked in the rock steady era during which On Top was recorded.   I beg to differ, but they certainly had their share of classics, a few of which are included here.  The quality of simple, sweet-melodied songwriting is apparent in tunes like "Pretty Looks Isn't All," "Party Time" (later improved by Lee Perry's production), and the infectious "I Hold the Handle."  Also solid are "Heptones Gonna Fight," the R&B-influenced (what rock steady song isn't?) "Pure Sorrow," and "Soul & Power," but the remaining songs aren't quite up to snuff.  Still, it's evident why to many, the Heptones defined the rock steady genre.

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Track Listing
1. Equal Rights
2. Pure Sorrow
3. Heptones Gonna Fight
4. I Hold the Handle
5. My Baby Is Gone
6. Soul & Power
7. A Change Is Gonna Come
8. When You Are Down
9. Take Me Darling
10. We Are in the Mood
11. Sea of Love
12. Pretty Looks Isn't All
13. Party Time
14. I Love You
15. Oil in My Lamp 
On Top
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Night Food

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Night Food (Island, 1976)

Back when being signed to Island Records seemingly guaranteed a quality product, this first album on the label from the legendary Heptones is indeed good stuff. This album is a showcase for the group's impeccable songwriting skills, as songs like the classic "Book of Rules" attest.  Though recorded in 1976, many of the songs have an even more old-fashioned feel, something akin to the trios' rock steady roots. They even do a remake of one of their own rock steady hits, "I've Got the Handle," this version slowed to a more reggae-like pace.  Two more classics buoy Night Food: "Country Boy," with its twangy guitar giving it an almost "country reggae" feel, and "Fatty Fatty," with its immortal opening line, "I need a fat girl, fat girl, fat girl tonight. . . ."

Track Listing
1. Country Boy
2. I've Got the Handle
3. Sweet Talkin'
4. Book of Rules
5. Mama Say
6. Deceivers
7. Love Won't Come Easy
8. Fatty Fatty
9. Baby I Need Your Lovin'
10. In the Groove
Night Food
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Party Time

Party Time (Island, 1977)

The Heptones teaming with Lee "Scratch" Perry? 'Nuff said. Despite the "happy" title, the mood of this album is distinctly subdued and serious (aside from perhaps the wonderful title track).  Perry's slow, sublime swimming digital beats permeate this album and combine with The Heptones' gorgeously sad, pleading vocals to create a masterpiece of the reggae genre.  Every piece of the puzzle comes together perfectly in songs like "Mr. President," "Sufferer's Time," and a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released."  As good as their previous album was, it seems as if the trio needed the genius of Perry to bring out their own brilliance.

Track Listing
1. Party Time
2. Crying Over You
3. Now Generation
4. Mr. President
5. Serious Time
6. I Shall Be Released
7. Storm Cloud
8. Road of Life
9. Why Must I
10. Sufferer's Time
Party Time
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20 Golden Hits

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20 Golden Hits (Sonic Sounds, 1992)

This bare bones collection displays the true greatness of the Heptones.  Not exactly the hardest compilation to put together, it combines all of the tracks from Night Food -- except "Mama Say," "Baby I Need Your Lovin'," and "In the Groove" -- with all of the songs from Party Time -- except "Crying Over You" -- and adds 4 tunes: "Soul Power," "Mystery Babylon," and the classics "Pretty Looks" and "Hypocrite."  A rather good selection, as it replaces 4 non-vital songs with two essential ones and two "just-happy-to-be-there's."  "Pretty Looks," incidentally (as well as "Soul Power") is available on The Heptones' On Top album, while "Hypocrite" is on Heptones and Friends.  So, this is a great chance for those who want all of this great material in one package. Be warned, though, that the sound quality isn't quite as sharp as on the albums from which the songs are taken (It's not horrible, though.).  Regardless, true Heptones fans will likely want the individual albums in their collection.

Track Listing
1. Sweet Talking
2. Love Won't Come Easy
3. Party Time
4. Why Must I
5. I Shall Be Released
6. Book of Rules
7. I've Got the Handle
8. Fattie Fattie
9. Hypocrite
10. Country Boy
11. Deceivers
12. Now Generation
13. Mr. President
14. Serious Time
15. Storm Cloud
16. Road of Life
17. Sufferer's Time
18. Soul Power
19. Mystery Babylon
20. Pretty Looks
20 Golden Hits
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The Heptones & Friends

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The Heptones and Friends Volumes 1 & 2 (Trojan, 1995 [orig. released 1971 & 1972])

This double album is a nice value, as it packages together two Joe Gibbs-produced albums featuring the Heptones and a host of "friends" -- some more well-known than others -- in a collection of vintage rock steady and early reggae.  Volume 1 -- the first 12 tracks -- is easily the better of the two, featuring 8 Heptones cuts, including the classic "Hypocrite," with its smooth, typically well-written melody and catchy harmony, as well as "Freedom to the People," "Love Has Many Faces," "Every Day and Every Night," and a pair of strong covers, The Drifters' "Save the Last Dance for Me" and Ruby & The Romantics' "Our Day Will Come."  The other tunes on Volume 1 are not as good, but are still solid, highlighted by Julie Anne's (AKA Judy Mowatt) "The Gardener," Peter Tosh's "Maga Dog," and Nicky Thomas' "Mama's Song."  The hastily put together Volume 2 tried to ride the wave of popularity from the first, but it falls short, largely because only two of the songs are performed by the Heptones.   "The Magnificent Heptones" is a nice medley of the group's earlier hits "Baby," "Why Must I?," and "Why Did You Leave," but the rest of the volume has to fend for itself without the strong Heptones' support.  The best of the rest come in the form of Alton Ellis' soulful remake of Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood," the original version of Dennis Brown's "Money in My Pocket," Jackie Brown's "People of Today," and Peter Tosh's "Them a fe Get a Beatin'."  

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Track Listing
1. Hypocrite -- Heptones
2. Save the Last Dance For Me -- Heptones
3. The Gardener -- Julie Ann
4. Our Day Will Come -- Heptones
5. Have a Little Faith -- Nicky Thomas
6. Freedom to the People -- Heptones
7. Every Day and Every Night -- Heptones
8. Maga Dog -- Peter Tosh
9. God Bless the Children -- Heptones
10. Love Has Many Faces -- Heptones
11. Be The One -- Heptones
12. Mama's Song -- Nicky Thomas
13. The Dynamic Ken Parker:
      a) Prisoner of Love
      b) True True True
      c) My Whole World Is Falling Down
      d) The Chokin' Kind
14. Them a Fe Get a Beatin' -- Peter Tosh
15. The Magnificent Heptones:
      a) Baby
      b) Why Must I?
      c)Why Did You Leave
16. People of Today -- Jackie Brown
17. The Ring -- Ethiopians
18. Let True Love Begin -- Uriel Aldrel
19. Money in My Pocket -- Dennis Brown
20. Knock on Wood -- Alton Ellis
21. I've Got a Feeling -- Heptones
22. Warricka Hill -- Versatiles
23. Baby I Need Your Loving -- Delroy Wilson
24. A So We Stay -- Big Youth
Heptones & Friends
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Rainbow Valley

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Rainbow Valley (Prestige, 1996)

A collection of modern-day tunes that recalls at least some of the Heptones' past greatness, if only for fleeting instances.  Easily the two best songs here are "Beggie, Beggie" and "Between the Sheets," both included in the Serious Reggae Album series.  These two tracks are great, old-fashioned lovers numbers, without modern dancehall rhythms carrying them.  A dancehall beat does permeate "Here Comes the Time" to good effect, but there is a general old-time feel about this album.  Few of the remaining cuts are terribly special, however, although "Tenderness" is nice.  Almost anything from the Heptones has an appealing sound that will draw you in, though.

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Track Listing
1. Rainbow Valley
2. Between the Sheets
3. Here Comes the Time
4. Tenderness
5. Tougher Than the World
6. Backstabbers
7. Head on Straight
8. Beggie, Beggie
9. Crystal Blue Persuasion
10. Susu Pan Rasta
Rainbow Valley
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A Place Called Love/Changing Times

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A Place Called Love & Changing Times (Multimedia, 1997 [orig. released 1987 & 1986 respectively])

A couple of the Heptones' lesser-known albums, they make a perfect double album precisely because they are so obscure and because they are short and were recorded around the same time.  Thus, they have a cohesive sound when played together.  A Place Called Love takes up only the first 6 tracks (although it was recorded after Changing Times), but most of them are quite good.  "Get Up Chant" in particular is great, invigorating roots, while "An African Child" features a solid rootsy melody.  "Nah Lef Yard" is a slow, grinding funky groove, and conversely, "Gee Wee" is a simple, happy tune reminiscent of the old-fashioned rock steady melodies for which the group was so well-known.  Changing Times also mixes roots and love songs, but it throws in an occasional cheesy pop aspect that brings it down a bit.  A remake of Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" sounds like a bad UB40 song (or is that redundant?), and the sappy "Three Coins in a Fountain" isn't much better.  However, the remaining tracks try hard to overcome these two.  "In My Time," though a tad poppy, has an infectiously folksy melody and sincere vocals, while the emotional "Round, Round Up and Down" and the slow, funky love song "Some Day" buoy the album.  "Young Lover" and the righteous roots of "Thank You Lord" are also very nice.   Though not well-known, these two albums extend the legacy of the Heptones well beyond their commercial peak and show that the group can still put out quality stuff without lead singer Leroy Sibbles.

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Track Listing
1. Medley
2. An African Child
3. Nah Lef Yard
4. Gee Wee
5. A Place Called Love
6. Get Up Chant
7. You Don't Know Me
8. Three Coins in a Fountain
9. In My Time
10. Young Lover
11. Do You Really Want to Hurt Me
12. Some Day
13. Round, Round Up and Down
14. Giving Up on Love
15. Thank You Lord
A Place Called Love/Changing Times
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Totally Hep

Totally Hep: The Best of The Heptones (Music Club, 2001)

Any album claiming to be "the best of" The Heptones has its work cut out for it.  I'd wager that for any single album -- such as Totally Hep -- it's virtually impossible to adequately represent the best of one of the greatest groups in reggae history.  If any reggae group deserves a box set that doesn't already have one, The Heptones are the one.  Alas, Totally Hep is not a box set, nor even a double-CD, but it nevertheless does an admirable job of not just gathering the same ol' tracks that the other Heptones albums above do, while still managing to portray a faithful representation of the group's '60s and '70s output.  Big Heptones fans should find intriguing the inclusion of a couple of early tunes recorded before they signed on with Studio One in 1967: the ska track "Gunmen Coming to Town" and "I Am Lonely," later re-recorded (as many of their early hits were later done) as "Crying Over You."  Meanwhile, fans of the Heptones-Lee Perry collaborations will have their interest piqued by 3 such cuts: "Mystery Babylon," "Babylon Falling," and Leroy Sibbles' solo effort "Garden of Life" (also on Trojan's Perry collection Open the Gate).  More rare stuff comes in the form of a couple of remakes of pop/R&B songs, "I'm in the Mood for Love" and "I Do Love You," but of the material not available on the other Heptones albums above, the cream of this crop -- and tracks that indeed should be on any "best of" The Heptones -- are easily "Cool Rasta," "Tripe Girl," the edgy "Drifting Away," and the tender "Meaning of Life."  And, of course, there's the core Heptones standards that we all know and love, but Totally Hep proves valuable by giving us tunes that any Heptones fan should have in their collection but might not until now.

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Track Listing
1. Gunmen Coming to Town
2. I Am Lonely
3. I'm in the Mood For Love
4. Hypocrite
5. I Do Love You
6. Drifting Away
7. Book of Rules
8. Tripe Girl
9. Meaning of Life
10. Love Won't Come Easy
11. Party Time
12. Cool Rasta
13. Mystery Babylon
14. Babylon Falling
15. Garden of Life

Totally Hep
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Deep in the Roots (Heartbeat, 2004)

Those expecting to hear the buoyant, soul throwback sound of The Heptones' rock steady, lovers rock, and light roots output of the '60s and '70s might be surprised at what they find on this album.  As the title suggests, a significant portion of Deep in the Roots is devoted to a deep, heavy roots reggae style that is edgier than most of the legendary group's previous work.  Perhaps this edge results from the change in the line-up when Leroy Sibbles left the group in the late '70s and was replaced by Dolphin "Naggo" Morris (If you had to choose which was the nickname -- Dolphin or Naggo -- which would it be?).  Certainly, the steady hand of Winston "Niney the Observer" Holness -- perhaps best known for his work with Dennis Brown -- didn't water down the roots angle any.  These tunes were culled from the Niney-produced Heptones albums Better Days and King of My Town, both circa 1979, and include several unreleased alternate mixes and extended tracks.  Highlights include "Temptation, Tribulation & Botheration," "Everyday Life," "Oh Jah," and the dynamic "Jah Guide," presented in a spectacular extended format.  "African Child" is solid, but not as strong as the version included on Jack Ruby's Black Foundation compilation, and this mix of "Book of Rules" likewise doesn't live up to the one on Night Food (and frankly their cover of Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" isn't the equal of Anthony Johnson's).  Still, roots fans should have a field day with Deep in the Roots, and even fans of the group's softer lovers rock will find solace in "Crystal Blue Persuasision," "Ready Baby," and "Land of Love."

Track Listing
1. African Child
2. Temptation, Tribulation & Botheration
3. Jah Guide [Extended Version]
4. Crystal Blue Persuasion
5. Jah Bless the Children [Alternate Mix]
6. Children Dub
7. Land of Love
8. Move On [Alternate Extended Mix]
9. Everyday Life [Extened Mix]
10. Oh Jah
11. Oh Jah Dub
12. Through the Fire I Come [Alternate Extended Mix]
13. Suspicious Minds [Alternate Mix]
14. Book of Rules [Single Mix Version]
15. Ready Baby
Deep in the Roots
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Unreleased Night Food & Rare Black Ark Sessions (Auralux, 205)

*GUEST REVIEW*
If the word "unreleased" appeared on a Jamaican Recordings album, I would generally avoid a purchase.  However, the Auralux imprint, run by Dave Katz, has much better quality control.  The eleventh release on his label is a Heptones special featuring outtakes from the recording of the album Night Food.  My vinyl version has 5 tracks and 5 dubs. The CD version has a few more tracks for the music fan who don't like to blow dust of the stylus.  These Black Ark rarities are serious growers which took me around 5 or 6 listens before they made real sense.  The first five tracks manage to combine a heavy and unpolished production with some lovely harmony.  An adapted version of a Simon & Garfunkel track also gets an airing.  Sweet roots rough reggae if you like.  The dubs are credited to the Wailers All Stars and expose the riddims bare.  Not the first Heptones album you should purchase, but an interesting peek behind the scenes of the Black Ark and Harry J's place.

- ragudave

Track Listing
1. Poverty in the Ghetto -- The Heptones 
2. Salt Dub -- Wailers All Stars 
3. Warden -- The Heptones 
4. Warden Dub -- Wailers All Stars
5. Garden of Life -- The Heptones
6. Shake Up Dub -- Wailers All Stars
7. Richard Khoury -- The Heptones 
8. They Say Dub -- Wailers All Stars
9. Living Up On a Hill -- The Heptones
10. Hill and Dub -- Wailers All Stars 
11. Party Time [Extended Mix] -- The Heptones 
12. Come Into My World [Extended mix] -- The Heptones 
13. Mystery Babylon [Extended mix] -- Heptones & Ranking King 
14. Sorrows [Extended Mix] -- Heptones & Ranking King
Unreleased Night Food Sessions
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