For more than 50 years, the late Byron Lee and his band, the Dragonaires, brought Caribbean music to the world with their celebrated live show and stylistically diverse recordings. Just released this week, VP Records’ new Uptown Top Ranking gathers 20 rare Dragonaires recordings from the archives of Dynamic Sounds, the label Lee founded in the 1960s on Bell Road in Kingston and operated through the 1990s. Riffing on the 1978 dancehall classic of the same name by Althea and Donna, the title references the popularity of Lee, who made his name on the hotel circuit, among Jamaica’s “uptown,” middle-class crowd.
Today, Lee’s legacy is most closely associated with that of soca and calypso music, Trinidad-born genres Lee helped popularize in Jamaica. (He was the driving force behind the launch of Jamaica Carnival, Jamaica’s own answer to Trinidad’s popular carnival, at which Lee was a mainstay for many years). But the band were also masters of Jamaica’s own homegrown genres who interpreted the American music of their time in reggae, ska and rocksteady style. Among the tracks contained on Uptown Top Ranking are a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” a reggae remake of Hugh Masekela’s “Soul Makossa,” and a version of “Apache,” the 1960 instrumental famously remade by the Incredible Bongo Band in a version that would become known as “hip-hop’s national anthem.” Lee and the Dragonaires put their own unexpected spin on the track in their 1973 version, employing a sitar for the lead melody.
We’ve got an exclusive download below of this previously rare version. Listen/download below, buy Uptown Top Ranking on iTunes here, and, if you’re a collector, look out for the gatefold-sleeve double vinyl edition.