Gregory Isaacs


1951-2010

Bob Marley was reggae’s crown prince, Peter Tosh its dark Lord, and (for three years in the early ‘80s) Black Uhuru was the revolutionary voice of reggae’s largely-unfulfilled future. But in 2010, the reggae artist who consistently spends more time in my ears is Gregory Isaacs—who died October 25 at the age of 59.

Often known in the press as the King of Lovers Rock, Isaacs at his best combined a deep soulfulness with melodies so seemingly effortless that they sound as if he just happened to be standing in the right place when perfectly-formed songs fell straight from heaven and into his heart.

Such a sad irony, considering the mess that was his personal life—which included a long-time addiction to crack cocaine and dozens of arrests, on charges ranging from drug dealing to possession of unlicensed firearms.

Isaacs has been credited by some sources with releasing up to 500 records in his lifetime—which would not be inconsistent with the perception of his creative process as entirely effortless. The Rhapsody catalog alone features about 120 separate releases—most of which I reviewed in preparing a 25-song Playlist of my all-time favorite Isaacs. It was not a particularly rewarding project—given the fact that the two records I’d long considered to be, by far, his best, still have no rival.

Which is why the Playlist below is comprised primarily of songs from the two Isaacs albums without which, for my money, no reggae collection can be considered complete: Extra Classic (1977) and Soon Forward (1979).

Gregory Isaacs playlist

After decades of unabashed New Tunes fandom, Francis Hare is now convinced that pop music is on a lemming-like march to creative bankruptcy.

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