While the origin location of reggae is well-known even by people who don’t actively listen to it or never had a Bob Marley poster, the best vocal groups in Kingston, Jamaica, didn’t hone their skills in a studio, or even perform for live crowds. Instead, they honed their chops and harmonies in the unforgiving yellow incandescent glow of Jamaica’s streetlights.
The Silvertones, a trio led by Keith Coley, worked on their music in a way that seems like it was written for a movie treatment: like a roving gang or dancers in Michael Jackson videos, they met other groups on the corners of Kingston streets, where they had primordial rap battles determining who could sing the best, who had the best harmonies, and which groups reigned supreme. It was on those very corners, singing some of the songs that would end up on their debut LP, Silver Bullets — this month’s Vinyl Me, Please Essentials Record of the Month — that Coley and the Silvertones got the attention of legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, who eventually had the group cut Silver Bullets in a single night.
In May, we sent the folks at Yours Truly to Kingston to hang out with Coley as he showed them around his city, stopping to talk about the power of music to draw people together, and how roving vocal groups need to make a comeback in Jamaica. The act of hitting the streets and singing together is a lost art that Coley wishes he could bring back, so for the documentary, he tries to do just that.
You can watch the documentary below:
The Silvertones’ Silver Bullets is being newly reissued by Vinyl Me, Please as part of Trojan Records’ 50th anniversary celebration. The album — newly remastered from master tapes — is available for sign up over here.
Andrew Winistorfer is Vinyl Me, Please’s Classics and Country Director, and an editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need In Your Collection and The Best Record Stores In The United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, and co-produced Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.