21. The Paragons, My Best Girl Wears My Crown
(Trojan, 1992 comp. of various recordings 1966-8.)
Without having read up on the relevant history, this is just guesswork, but the Kingston vocal group from whence issued both “The Tide Is High” (the sad violin is really what makes their version, I think) and lead singer/lover’s rock pioneer John Holt is most easily comprehended (to me) as early reggae’s equivalent to The Drifters -- The Paragons have that same capacity to sound simultaneously urbane and innocent. Some material (“On the Beach,” “Silver Bird”) is fairly predictable though thoroughly enjoyable, but two tracks in particular surprised me, in ways that may merely show my ignorance: “I Wanna Be With You” has chromatic harmonies and cut measures (both evoking Bacharach) that I’ve never heard in Jamaican music of this vintage, and “When The Lights Are Low” has a completely non-reggae rhythmic basis -- for the most part it could be the Stax house band pinch-hitting for Tommy McCook and the Supersonics, with some pseudo-Latin congas thrown on top. That tune and several others bear “unknown” writing credits, but most of the rest is either by Holt or the group -- the only credited piece of outside material is an unrecognizable cover of Don Covay’s “Mercy Mercy Mercy”. Much as I enjoy this, I can’t recommend this particular release: I’m quite sure these songs are not presented chronologically, but the liner notes are no help, and most or all of this is evidently mastered from the vinyl -- I could swear the pitch of “I Want to Go Back” wavers, as though it weren’t centered on the spindle. The 2CD On The Beach (2007) is probably the thing to buy, and if I ever see it for less than the listed $50, I likely will.