Alton Ellis – Mad Mad

21st September 1967 · 1960s, 1967, Music, Reggae

This is one of the signature songs of the Rocksteady era – the brief bridging period in the mid-Sixties between the bouncy urgency of Ska and the laid-back drum’n’bass grooves and conscious lyrics of Reggae.

Blending the scratchy rhythms of ska with the smoother sounds of American soul and RnB, its style is somewhere between the two.

According to legend, Rocksteady’s innovative beat grew out of an Alton Ellis session where the scheduled bassist didn’t show up, forcing keyboardist Jackie Mittoo to play the bass part himself; Mittoo’s left hand couldn’t keep up with the frantic Ska beat, so he elected to slow down the tempo.

The result was a choppier rhythm that wound up allowing the vocalist to stretch out more, and soon the Rocksteady sound had taken over Jamaican music – albeit for a short period from 1966-68.

With his sweet, smooth and emotional voice, Alton Ellis was its major star – arguably Jamaica’s biggest star until Bob Marley acquired worldwide fame. He moved to the UK in the early Seventies and continued to perform until his death in London, from cancer, in 2008.