Jimmy Riley  & Stranger Cole - Voice of the people

A: Jimmy Riley & Stranger Cole – Voice of the people

B: 3rd & 4th Generation band (?) – Voice of the people version


Legend has it Stranger Cole was so shy, he preferred to sing duets rather than solo tracks. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, but the great vocalist did sing a lot duets and harmony vocals in his career. Maybe it was his way of making a living, because standard procedure in Jamaica was (and often still is): you get paid to record a song. I’m not going into whether this was fair or not, but, if anything, this does explain the large amount of songs recorded each and every day on the Jamaican music scene. With an output so vast, it is easy to get snowed under and that seems to have been the case with this recording right here.

Needless to say, perhaps, but if a song is unnoticed it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad tune. It’s just covered up… And the fact that these things happen (for whatever reason), makes it so much fun for record collectors to try and dig them up. I’m not unveiling anything right here, though, but this great track that is “Voice of the people” is still somewhat overlooked. And that is a damn shame.

“Voice” is sung by two men who had both earned their stripes long before this was recorded. Stranger Cole was a hitmaker in both the ska and rocksteady days (and was also doing fine in the early reggae days). Jimmy Riley had been very succesful as a member of both The Sensations and the Uniques (recording classics such as “Watch this sound“). After the latter group broke up, he had a short recording stint with Bunny Lee but moved into self production soon after. One of the tunes he produced was “Voice of the people”, and although, at first, it may not seem to be the fireworks you’d expect with big names like that on the mic, (perhaps this explains why it didn’t hit), it’ll be before long when you realize: it really is all fireworks that is on display here.

Perhaps my love for gospel, blues and soul is due to the fact that this song caught on to me like a gum to a shoe, but I felt right at home with the mood that is set here. The riddim (is it by the 3rd and 4th Generation band?) is plain, tight, bassheavy and also particularly rootsy for a 1971 song, but it’s the moment when Jimmy Riley comes in with “Allow me to tell you about it..” that the song unveils its real beauty: it becomes pure soul gospel. A heartfelt and genuine plea for peace and tranquillity in the land is what follows, with Stranger greatly adding to the excitement with his suberb harmony and intersperses. Soon after this recording, Stranger Cole left Jamaica for England and later on settled in Canada, where he recorded some supreme discs for the Half Moon record label.

Although recorded and unleashed in 1971, I think this record could still hit today. Listening to Jimmy Riley’s son, Tarrus,  – who’s a mega reggae star these days and of whom I’m a big fan – I hear the same influences, the same pronounciation, the shared interest in topics and the same timing and style of singing. Jimmy and Tarrus recorded a few duets, which not only hit the charts but also effectively boosted Jimmy’s career back into shape.

In the meantime  – allow me to tell you about it.. – Pressure Beat’s most devoted fan and friend, Nick Farris, pointed me towards the riddim similarities between Lee Perry’s 1969 tune “People funny fi true” and “Voice of the People.” And indeed, although to these ears it doesn’t sound like a match, they do sound the same. So, perhaps, it’s an update of the riddim? Nick also pointed me towards a Winston Wright organ version of “Voice of the people” which can be found on the back of the ultra rare “Royals – Only for a time” Pressure Beat release. If I ever get my hands on that, I’ll be sure to post it. In the meantime: get on the gospel train.



Label: Pressure Beat (Ja) / Spinning Wheel (Trojan) in the UK.
Release date: 1971
Matrix: DYNA JG 3606 /DYNA JG 3607
Riddim: Lee Perry – People funny fi true (?)

(originally posted on 13-06-12)



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