Laurel Aitken

b. 1928, Cuba

ONE OF JAMAICA’S most versatile and popular singers in the ’50s, Aitken was also one of the first to emigrate to England.

During the ’50s he sang and recorded in various styles borrowed from American black music, notably the boogie tunes of Louis Jordan. Titles in this vein included ‘Back to New Orleans’ and ‘More Whiskey’. When the Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation set up the island’s first chart in 1959, Aitken’s ‘Boogie Rock’ was one of the first records to reach No. 1. Other hits followed, including ‘Little Sheila’, for Chris Blackwell’s Starlight label (a forerunner of Island), which was the first Jamaican recording issued in Britain.

At the beginning of the ’60s he moved to Britain (where several of his records had been issued on the Melodisc label since the mid-’50s). There he recorded some of the earliest ska songs for Island and then for Doctor Bird. Aitken tended to follow currently popular themes and styles, cutting Rastafarian anthems like ‘Haile Selassie’ and ‘Deliverance Will Come’, rude reggae (‘Pussy Price’), skinhead themes (‘Skinhead Train’), songs of social commentary (‘Landlords and Tenants’) and even reggae versions of white pop such as the songs of the Everly Brothers.

Aitken’s only pop hit came at the height of the Two-Tone music phase in 1980. Backed by Unitone, he sang ‘Rudy Got Married’ (I Spy), an answer record to the Specials’ ‘Message to You Rudy’.

© Phil Hardy, Dave LaingFaber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, 2001

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