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
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
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
Things In Life
Another spot of Brownian philosophy, recorded for producer Lloyd Daley's
One of Dennis' best early performances. The song, originally a doo-wop
hit for The Diamonds, suits this inventive skank arrangement by producer
Dennis imagines a better, brighter era over another crisp Derrick Harriott
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.
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.