Late last night came the grim news that Winston Riley—one of the last true living legends in the reggae industry—has died. Riley made musical history both as a singer and a producer over a half-century span. Starting as a founding member of the vocal group The Techniques, he went on to establish the prolific and pioneering Techniques label, which released the instrumental hit “Double Barrel” that went on to top the UK charts. He created the immortal Stalag riddim, a strong contender for the greatest reggae instrumental of all time. He produced breakthrough hits by artists as diverse as General Echo, Tenor Saw, Super Cat, Sanchez, Red Dragon, Buju Banton, and Spragga Benz, just to name a few. He had been attacked at home last November, suffering gunshot wounds in the head and arm from which he never fully recovered. “Turning into a producer is a very good ting,” he told the Jamaica Gleaner in 2008. “Yuh achieve a great goal, but is not an easy road.”
In recent years he’d been working on refurbishing the Techniques headquarters on Kingston’s Orange Street into a museum commemorating the music to which he devoted his life. His efforts were rewarded with senseless violence. Upon hearing the news, the only thing that came to mind was one of the less famous cuts from Mr. Riley’s classic Stalag 17 album:
Brigadier Jerry “What Kind Of World” (1985)
“What type of world are we living in?” Briggy asks, his voice filled with righteous indignation. “Jah know it is a sin…”
In times like this, the only thing that seems to help ease the pain is music. So let’s rewind back in time and pay respect to the man and his music.
The Techniques “You Don’t Care” (1967)
What better place to start than the breakthrough hit for the vocal group that Mr. Riley co-founded half a century ago. With a timeless instrumental and delicate harmonies, this selection can still bust the dance on any given night.
The Techniques “Queen Majesty” (1968)
This rock-steady reworking of Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions’ “Minstrel & Queen,” was a smash hit for Duke Reid that inspired countless remakes, from U Roy’s “Chalice In The Palace” to Tenor Saw’s “Roll Call” and Sizzla’s “Just One Of Those Days” aka “Dry Cry.”
Dave & Ansel Collins “Double Barrel” (1971)
Ansell Collins played the organ and Dave Barker handled the shouting on this bouncy instrumental—suitable for skating rinks and ska raves alike. The song topped the British charts in 1971, spawning the subgenre that’s now known as “skinhead reggae.”
General Echo “Arleen” (1976)
Put one of the greatest dancehall DJs ever on one of reggae’s greatest instrumentals and you have yourself an instant classic. “Beg you rock and come een.”
Sister Nancy “Bam Bam” (1982)
Briggy’s sister couldn’t have made her intentions any plainer: “I’m a lady not a man, MC is my ambition.” Mission accomplished.
Lone Ranger “Collie Dub” (1983)
Riding the dub organizer riddim till the wheels fall off, the Lone Ranger weaves a tale of sensimilla cultivation that’s best played at maximum volume, preferably several times in a row with a Guiness and a spliff.
Tenor Saw “Ring The Alarm” (1985)
One of the first songs recorded by one of the most distinctive vocalists in reggae history, and perhaps the single greatest record in the whole Techniques catalog.
Super Cat “Cry Fi The Youth” (1986)
The flip side to Cat’s 1986 smash hit “Boops” was not as big of a hit, but you could feel Cat’s passion as he spoke on behalf of all hungry children that polite society would rather forget.
Admiral Tibbett “Leave People Business” (1987)
The signature song from one of dancehall’s most consistently conscious singers.
Yami Bolo “Jah Made Them All” (1987)
Another classic on the “Things and Times” riddim, recorded when the Rasta singer was still a tiny tot.
Fowl Brown “Teach Them The Style” (1987)
A little-known sound killer with the power to transform a sound system dance into a sacred space. “Lift your foot and put them down. The place you’re standing is holy ground.”
Red Dragon “Agony” (1988)
Like all great dancehall records, Dragon’s tune was deceptively simple but undeniably effective.
Sanchez “Loneliness” (1988)
One of the first big hits from one of dancehall’s greatest voices, this one still busts the place when Sanchez asks “Why tell me why….?”
Sister Charmaine “Leave The Glamity” (1989)
Long before Saw and Spice, Sister Charmaine was rampin rough.
Stream Via Songzilla
Courtney Melody “Bad Boy” (1990)
The name says it all. “Anytime we come we come dangerous, any time we come we come cantakerous.”
Many of these selections are collected on VP’s excellent double-disc anthology.
Buju Banton “Stamina Daddy” (1991)
The Banton’s breakout tune had girls dialing the fake digits he drops in the tune to the point where some unfortunate soul had to change their phone number.
Buju Banton “Gold Spoon” (1992)
This Bogle-era banger remained a fixture in Gargamel’s live set for decades.
Frankie Paul & Buju Banton “Bring Yuh Body Come” (1994)
An unlikely singer/DJ combination results in an undeniable dancehall smash.
Red Dragon “Yuh Body Good” (1994)
Dragon sounds mightily inspired on this tune as he compliments a lady whose body looks so good “it must be carved outta wood.”
Spragga Benz “You Coulda Deal” (1993)
Portrait of the champion DJ as a young man, flashing his own unique style from early out.