By 1973 Toots and The Maytals had their rabble-rousing bar-room reggae down to a fine art. Funky Kingston, recorded at Dynamic for Warwick Lyn and distributed by Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, ramps the soul side of their sound for one of the most uplifting albums of all time.
The Maytals were a favourite of rock critics of the 70s and listening to Funky Kingston, it is easy to hear why. The muscular rhythms, Fred “Toots” Hibbert’s hoarse exhortations and his simple, slightly surreal lyrics harked back to the spirit of a more fundamental age that rock music had lost.
This is illustrated perfectly by the group’s extended cover of Louie Louie. The goofy garage anthem becomes both fiery sermon and dance-til-you-drop marathon. And, thanks to Toots’ soulman’s disregard for verbal meaning, the words are, if anything, even harder to discern than in the Kingsmen's version.
He linked up with the equally distinctive sounding Mathias and Gordon to forge an association that lasted through the ska era, survived their leader’s jail term for marijuana possession, and resulted in some wonderful up-tempo reggae work for the producer Leslie Kong.
It has been alleged that Chris Blackwell wanted the group as Island’s flagship reggae act, but settled instead for the Wailers. Certainly, success of a Marley-sized nature eluded them thereafter. But if you’ve checked Bob and wish to investigate his roots contemporaries, this album is your next port of call.