Jul 08

ALTHEA AND DONNA – “Uptown Top Ranking”

FT + Popular69 comments • 7,499 views

#417, 4th February 1978

Even a dilettante like me is aware that the late 70s were a storied age for Jamaican music. The flow of talent and money between Kingston and London was starting to open up world markets to reggae, with Marley a superstar and punk drawing social (and increasingly musical) inspiration from roots and dub. In London, the sweeter sound of Lovers Rock was scoring occasional, deathless pop hits. In Jamaica, a fresh generation of MCs and singjays were starting to make waves, men who would become the stars of early dancehall. And in New York, techniques imported by reggae DJs were setting trends in motion that would transform pop’s vocabulary.

So far, so historical. And then sneaking past the Kintyre titan for a week in the wintry sun was this, the most wondrous of one-hit wonders. If you want proof of the appeal of “Uptown Top Ranking”, try this: I have never once, that I can remember, seen anyone decry it as inauthentic, or sold-out, or frivolous or unrepresentative of Jamaican music. Nobody resents it, in other words. How could they?

The appeal of Althea and Donna is double-edged. Look at the Top Of The Pops performance: two gawky teen girls in their khaki suit an’ ting, trying to groove rather than giggle to the house band parping its way through a Joe Gibbs rhythm track. They are adorable, but in that setting not too far away from Baccara – and that’s the context which probably pushed “Uptown” from a Top 20 hit to a Number One. God bless novelty, when it gives us this!

On record, though, the girls are significantly blanker, more reserved – cooler than anyone who might be listening. They bite at lines – “seh mi in mi halter back / seh mi give yuh heart attack” – and they hit that zone where awkwardness suddenly morphs into supreme confidence, the telepathic forcefield of front that makes girl-gang pop from the Shangris to Shampoo so irresistable. I used to listen to this thinking “no pop no STYLE” was a dismissal – of whatever grown-ups or squares or bores might be listening. My comprehension might be off, and those enemies might be straw men, but it still sounds like the most joyful put-down on record.



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  1. 51
    Mark G on 24 Jul 2008 #

    “I don’t feel like dancin with the captain”, its just a matter of time…

  2. 52
    DJ Punctum on 24 Jul 2008 #

    The Bunny wants a word with yous.

  3. 53
    Mark G on 24 Jul 2008 #

    ah now you have pointed out something I did not.

  4. 54
    Waldo on 24 Jul 2008 #

    Bunnykins is gonna do the pair of you. He’s hard like that. Any excuse will serve a tyrant.

  5. 55
    DJ Punctum on 24 Jul 2008 #

    Not me, pal. The real Spoiler Bunny has yet to wreak untold havoc on Popular, but it’s coming, it’s coming…

  6. 56
    Drucius@home on 25 Jul 2008 #

    “For John, people were only worthy if they remained in the shadows as far away from the chart (which he despised as much as its champion Tony Blackburn) as possible. There were exceptions but Peely was happier on the fringe. I remember him championing the embryonic Lena Lovich to the rafters only to drop her like a hot coal once she broke through, although her star shone only briefly.”

    Oddly, I can’t remember any of this.

  7. 57
    Waldo on 30 Jul 2008 #

    You MUST have remembered it. You’ve just quoted it word for word.

  8. 58
    mike on 30 Jul 2008 #

    I don’t remember Peel championing Lene Lovich, either – and I was an almost nightly listener in the late 1970s. However, my trusty Garner guide tells me that Lene did in fact record a Peel session in November 1978, followed by a second session in December 1979 (i.e. well after her chart breakthrough).

  9. 59
    Malice Cooper on 12 Aug 2008 #

    the “Top of the pops” performance, singing live with the BBC Orchestra was hilarious. The one who resembled a chi-lite missed her cue at least 4 times. It is a great single

  10. 60
    Pete Baran on 12 Aug 2008 #

    I think this is that Top Of The Pops performance with tedious TOTP2 Elvis Costello fact (since I’m on Youtube duty today).

  11. 61
    DJ Punctum on 12 Aug 2008 #

    with tedious TOTP2 Elvis Costello fact

    There, fixed.

  12. 62
    Malice Cooper on 16 Aug 2008 #

    brilliant clip thanks Pete :-) George Berry was obviously better at football than singing along with the BBC concert orchestra!

  13. 63
    Malice Cooper on 18 Apr 2009 #

    Considering I am the real Malice Cooper, I really think this sucks. Someone impersonating me now? Well, I’ve never screwed up anything so. http://www.mypsace.com/malicecooper see the real deal. Then talk smack later. Sheesh

  14. 64
    therealMaliceCooper on 22 Jan 2011 #
  15. 65
    Mark G on 24 Jan 2011 #

    Well, ideas being ideas, the only time I considered a wacky internet alias, I came up with “Bela Lugosi’s Dad”, to some humorous appreciation from some folks. So, I did the honourable thing and googled it, and yep: Not the most original alias. So, I sacked the idea before using it.

  16. 66
    richard thompson on 2 Feb 2011 #

    The lyrics to it were in record mirror, It would have been number one longer if it hadn’t been for that totp performance so our geography teacher said at the time

  17. 67
    Mark G on 3 Feb 2011 #

    There was nothing wrong with the TOTP appearance!!!

  18. 68
    Brendan on 24 Sep 2012 #

    I remember this being number 1 but I think 6-year old me was probably quite baffled about it at the time having never heard any reggae before let alone anything as authentic as this with the patois along with the syncopated rhythm. Now, of course, I’m in total agreement with everyone – it’s fantastic – 9 for me too.

  19. 69
    hectorthebat on 23 Jul 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Blender (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Songs to Download Right Now! (2003)
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1970s (2001) 16
    Pitchfork (USA) – The Pitchfork 500 (2008)
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 712
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Jamaican Poll – The Top 100 Jamaican Songs of 1957-2007 (2009) 60
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 40

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