Crown Prince : Best Of - sleeve

  Sleeve notes for Dennis Brown The Crown Prince CD
Dennis Brown The Crown Prince


Sleeve notes

The world knew about and loved Bob Marley during the 1970s. But the world didn’t know that, beloved as Bob was in his Jamaican homeland, other stars outshone him there, like Big Youth and Jacob Miller. But the singer with the most lasting appeal was Dennis Brown.

Dennis – no second name required – was the vocal hero of the entire reggae listenership, whether tackling roots subjects on songs like “Concentration” and “What About The Half”, or laying lovers on the more romantic reggae fan with “Cassandra” or “It’s Too Late”. And when a song like “Westbound Train” or “Silver Words” came on at a 70s blues party, the floor would fill with heaving bodies, locked in a hip-to-hip embrace. It was the sort of automatic response that Bob Marley’s songs couldn’t generate. You didn’t have to think about what Dennis meant or who he was addressing himself to. He knew his audience and his audience knew him. Intimately.

Dennis, a straightforward, no-bull character in life, was just as honest on record. There was never any doubting the effort and soul he put into his work. And he was the same age as his fans, with the same interests and concerns – we’re talking total identification with this youth dread. He knew what it was to struggle. He also knew that, if he adopted the right way of living, he might prevail.

And prevail he did. Known as The Crown Prince Of Reggae in deference to the international status of Marley, Dennis scored pop hits, yet no one ever accused him of selling out. He launched record labels (DEB and Yvonne’s Special, principally), yet never became too big for his boots. There was no “rich and switch” for Dennis, because he never had to switch – everyone accepted him, no hassles, no sell out, no hype. He was happy within his community, whether in Jamaica, or alongside his wife Yvonne in his modest bungalow in North London.

When Dennis died from respiratory disease in 1999, the reggae world knew what it had lost. Although he spawned many imitators, there was only one Dennis Brown. Here we present the proof –a heap of his classic 1970s sides that stand among the greatest reggae recordings. He was the Crown Prince – and the throne remains vacant in his honour.

Born Dennis Emmanuel Brown in Jamaica, 1957. At the age of 11, he made his first hit, “No Man Is An Island”, following it with “If I Follow My Heart”, both spawning albums of the same title. Although his voice was childlike, his phrasing revealed a marked maturity.

The teenage Dennis spent the early 1970s moving from studio to studio, working for Joe Gibbs, Lloyd Daley and the Impact label before releasing “Super Reggae And Soul Hits” (1972), an potential-revealing album for producer Derrick Harriott. Dennis then shifted allegiance to producer Winston ‘Niney’ Holness, cutting a series of status-affirming singles and three albums, “Just Dennis” (1974), “Westbound Train” (1975) and “Wolf And Leopards” (1977). Dennis began to visit the UK regularly, building a loyal following. At the same time, he also recorded another string of amazing LPs, this time for Joe Gibbs, including “Visions” (1977) and “Joseph’s Coat Of Many Colours” (1979).

Now the biggest mainstream star in Jamaica, in 1979 Dennis hit No 14 in the UK charts with “Money In My Pocket”, an irresistible remake of his 1972 Jamaican hit. He was also running a successful roots label, DEB (his initials) with Castro Brown (no relation), recording himself, Junior Delgado, 15,16,17 and many more. In the early ‘80s he scored two further minor UK chart entires, the swansong for his alliance with Joe Gibbs.

Dennis returned to Jamaican roots to score with “To The Foundation” and “Revolution”, and launched another label, Yvonne’s Special, but in the mid-1980s, struggled to find a niche in the ragga boom. But “The Exit” (1986) for King Jammy’s, proved he could ride computerised rhythms. Further hits, including the massive “Big All Around” duet with Gregory Isaacs, kept him at the top of the tree.

Dennis spent the 1990s as reggae’s elder statesman, again doing the rounds of reggae’s producers, encouraging younger artists and never giving less than 100 percent. However, he was functioning on less than full power: he reportedly had only one lung operational but carried on working to within a few weeks of his death in a Kingston hospital on July 1, 2000, aged 42. He was given a massive send-off by his fans in Jamaica – some 10,000 people paid their last respects.

Money In My Pocket (original version)
The song that became Dennis' first UK chart hit, here in its original version, produced by Joe Gibbs.

Ah So We Stay - Big Youth
Dennis and Big Youth were Jamaica's biggest heroes between 1973-76. Here’s the first of many collaborations.

Dennis’ first heavy roots record (1972) finds him in reflective mood. The subtle production from Derrick Harriott suits the singer’s mellow delivery to a T.

Black Magic Woman
Dennis was a walking encyclopedia of songs and made anything he sang his own. This version of Peter Green's blues classic was a smash for producer Phil Pratt in 1972.

Although the lyric sounds kinky, Dennis took pains in interviews to explain that "this happens in Jamaica -- people steal your clothes off the line because they can't afford their own."

Harvest In The East - Tommy McCook
The steady-rocking instrumental version of "Cheater" by saxman Tommy McCook.

Things In Life
Another spot of Brownian philosophy, recorded for producer Lloyd Daley's Matador label.

One of Dennis' best early performances. The song, originally a doo-wop hit for The Diamonds, suits this inventive skank arrangement by producer Derrick Harriott.

Changing Times
Dennis imagines a better, brighter era over another crisp Derrick Harriott rhythm.

Westbound Train
Dennis' arrival as a mature star was confirmed with his work for producer Winston 'Niney' Holness. The chugging “Westbound Train” was one of Dennis’ landmark hits.

Another massive single produced by Niney. Still played at reggae dances some 25 years on. The opening words are borrowed from Al Green's "Here I Am (Come And Take Me)".

What About The Half
Another raw Phil Pratt production, as Dennis casts his mind back to what he was told as a kid and discovers a lack of black history.

Moving Away
Often assumed to have been originated by reggae singer Ken Boothe, this is in fact written by British entertainer Kenny Lynch. Dennis stamps his distinctive mark on it.

It's Too Late
The Carole King classic given a fresh makeover by Dennis in one of two killer tunes cut for producer Herman Chin-Loy.

The Song My Mother Used To Sing
And here's the other gem Dennis recorded for Herman Chin-Loy, explaining Dennis' adherence to his faith with a powerful vocal performance.

Money In My Pocket (hit version)
The Crown Prince's update of his Jamaican hit for Joe Gibbs brought him a wider audience in 1979, right at the peak of the Rockers era.

© Ian McCann 2000

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