The Music Diaries | The music and sports explosion of 1966
Many may not have been around in 1966 to witness the multitude of events that made that year one of the most exciting and historic in Jamaica's history.
Those who were around may well remember the excitement that was generated by Motown's music; the birth of rocksteady; the visit to the island by two heads of state; and a World Cup campaign that elicited the interest of thousands of fans. Music and sports being inextricably entangled (they both move to a rhythm, and they both have the power to unite people), it was no surprise that most music fans were also sports fans, and almost the entire nation became embroiled in a music and sports explosion never experienced before.
One of Motown's flagship groups - The Four Tops - were riding high on the Jamaican charts and packing dance halls and party joints with Reach Out I'll Be There, It's The Same Old Song and I Can't Help Myself as their fans sang along to the lyrics:
Sugar pie honey bunch
You know that I love you
I can't help myself
I love you and nobody else.
Their label mates, The Temptations, added to the drama with, My Girl, Since I Lost My Baby, and Ain't Too Proud To Beg. While the Supremes had Stop In The Name of Love, I Hear A Symphony, You Can't Hurry Love and You Keep Me Hanging On.
Sportsmania and Ja World Cup Bid
In the midst of this, Jamaica was making its first attempt at World Cup football qualifying - the finals of which would take place in England from July 11-30. The island had its first baptism of Brazilian football fever when a Brazilian coach named Jorge Penna was employed to guide the team on the road to England. Making it to the group's final three with Mexico and Costa Rica wasn't a bad start for the boys, and their fairly good showing was, perhaps, the initial factor that endeared the hearts of Jamaicans to Brazilian football. The 1966 finals in England was a spectacle, which the host country won - albeit not without controversy. As a young boy, I can't recall another sporting event that fired my imagination as that tournament did.
And so the music was like a tranquilliser to calm the nerves of a populace that was almost on the verge of hysteria. And, come to think of it, the rocksteady that was emerging at the time was, perhaps, the perfect music form to provide the remedy. Moving from ska to rocksteady, the music became slower, calmer, and more rhythmically pleasing. But before the rocksteady beat became full blown in early 1967, there appeared in 1966 a set of recordings that set the tone for the transition. They included I've Got To Go Back Home by Bob Andy; Dancing Mood, It's Impossible, and Riding For A Fall by Delroy Wilson; The Train Is Coming and I Don't Want To See You Cry by Ken Boothe; No Good Girl by The Gaylads; and I'm The Toughest by Peter Tosh.
Towards the end of the year, another watershed was reached when Bob Marley returned from the United States with new ideas on the way forward for the Wailers. A new initiative by the trio, which included Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, saw them doing their own production for the first time on the Wail 'n Soul 'm label. It was the most prosperous period in their career thus far. It produced the early rocksteady cuts - Nice Time, Hypocrites, Thank You Lord, Mellow Mood, and others - that became almost like the blueprint for their future exploits at Island Records. Earlier in the year, Marley married Alpharita Anderson, which, ostensibly, became the foundation on which the Marley Empire was built.
Another important musical development in 1966 was the inaugural festival song competition in which Toots and The Maytals won with Bam Bam. Geared at reflecting Jamaican culture, the competition has unearthed talents such as Eric Donaldson, Roy Rayon, Desmond Dekker, and Stanley Beckford.
Also decorating that year in Jamaica was the 8th British Empire and Commonwealth Games, held at Kingston's National Stadium from August 4 to August 13. It gave Jamaica the distinction of being the only Caribbean nation to have hosted the games. The island finished 16th of 22 teams, with eight bronze and four silver medals.
Visits by two different heads of state to a single nation in one year is quite an unusual occurrence. But it did happen in Jamaica in 1966 when Queen Elizabeth II of England and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia visited the island from March 3-6 and April 21, respectively.
The Emperor's visit created ecstatic scenes, especially by the Rastafarian community at the Norman Manley International Airport, while the Queen's visit reinforced her love for Jamaica and its music. She has been here a record six times (1953, 1966, 1975, 1983, 1994, and 2002).
The most startling revelation and coincidence, however, is to learn that the emperor's visit and the Queen's birth share a common date: April 21. She was 92 this year, and again, Jamaican music was in the scheme of things on her birthday when Jamaica-born reggae artist and Grammy winner Shaggy was one of the star attractions at a lavish birthday party in her honour at the Royal Albert Hall in London on April 21.