It was the phenomenal success of the Inspirations’ “Tighten Up” single, that launched Trojan’s legendary reggae series. Quickly cashing in with the astutely titled “Tighten Up” compilation, the rest is history.

That’s the accepted version of the story, the actual one is more mundane, and much more calculating. Trojan had so far failed to interest the British public with its albums, and three excellent single-artist compilations released in 1968 excited little attention. In desperation, a market research study was conducted; the results were a wake-up call, for what reggae fans really wanted was a cheap sound system experience in their front rooms. Trojan responded in 1969 with a budget-priced album featuring an eclectic mix of recent tracks, kicking off with “Tighten Up” itself. The reaction was phenomenal, so much so that a follow-up set was released before the year was out.

“Tighten Up, Vol. 1-2” brings these two seminal sets together on a single CD. The first volume was surprisingly the weakest, and weighed down with reggae-fied pop covers. David Isaacs’ “Place in the Sun” is the best of the batch, the two instrumentals the most fun, and the Uniques’ “Watch This Squad” the oddest. Of the original numbers, “Tighten Up” itself (now inexplicably credited to producer Lee Perry) is the obvious draw, but equally crucial are Derrick Morgan’s soulful, skinhead fave “Fat Man,” and Brother Dan All–Stars’ sweet “Donkey Returns.”

In contrast to this shaky start, the second volume was stuffed with smash hits and acknowledged classics. The trio of instrumentals are absolutely lethal, with the biggest, the Upsetters’ “Return of Django” having moonstomped its way into the U.K. Top Five. It’s obvious this set held pride of place in many future 2-Toners record collections, with the Pioneers’ “Longshot Kick de Bucket,” Clancy Eccles’ “Fattie Fattie,” and the Upsetters’ exuberant “Live Injection” all providing inspiration. From calculating Casanovas to the outright rude, from sufferers to celebrators of the new sound, in Britain “Them a Laugh and a Ki Ki” when presented with reggae in all its wonder. Great music never goes out of fashion, which is why this series’ popularity has never faded.            

VA – Tighten Up Vol. 1 & 2 (Trojan)
(192 kbps, front cover included)

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