Of the numerous cultural crosscurrents that have enriched the tapestry of the UK music scene, few have left as indelible a mark as the rhythms and melodies of Jamaican music. From Desmond Dekker and The Aces to Dancehall megastar Shaggy, we present the Jamaican artists that have held pole positions on the UK Singles Chart.
Desmond Dekker and The Aces
Desmond Dekkers‘ Israelites, released in October 1968 by Pyramid Records in the UK, shot to the top of the UK Singles Chart in April 1969, where it spent 15 weeks despite initial concerns that British listeners wouldn’t fully grasp Jamaican creole. On January 13, 2023, the British Phonographic Industry revealed that the song had been Certified Silver after selling over 200,000 copies. As a bonus, the song, produced by Leslie Kong, even impressed the American market, peaking at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. It reaped similar success in Dekker’s home country of Jamaica – where it was first released as Poor Me Israelites, and in the Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa, Canada, and West Germany.
Dave & Ansell Collins
The musical duo of Dave and Ansell Collins epitomized what it meant to find your moment and seize it. Comprising vocalist Dave Barker and keyboardist Ansell Collins, the duo achieved international fame with their hit single Double Barrel, which was released by Technique Records in 1971. Produced by Winston Riley, the track, characterized by its infectious rhythm and Barker’s distinctive vocal interjections, became the second song by a Jamaican to top the UK Singles Chart. It spent two weeks at No. 1 on the chart.
Carl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting has soundtracked its fair share of Hollywood flicks, from Kung Fu Panda and Beverly Hills Ninja, all the way to Rush Hour 3. The song, more importantly, earned Douglas his place atop the UK Singles Chart for three weeks in September 1974. Though the single ultimately outlasted Douglas’ window of prominence in music, it’s kept his rather brief stint as a star immortalized, particularly behind this most impressive feat.
Ken Boothe (OD)
Ken Boothe, the iconic Reggae crooner born in Denham Town, Kingston, is no stranger to international success. When Boothe released his version of Everyting I Own under Trojan Records, the song’s feathery and melodic delivery earned it instant favor from a British audience that had been somewhat familiar with the track – as it was originally sung by David Gates, co-lead singer of the band Bread. Gates’ version only managed to peak at No. 32 on the charts, while Boothe’s spent three weeks at No. 1 in November 1974. It spent a total of 13 weeks on the chart.
Althea and Donna
Althea Forrest and Donna Reid, aided by Errol Thompson and Joe Gibbs, casually eased their way into making history as the youngest female duo to hit the No. 1 spot on the UK Singles Chart. The duo, only teenagers at the time (Forrest, 18 and Reid, 17), staked their claim at music immortality with Uptown Top Ranking in February 1978, a year after it was released. The song was supposedly an improvised response to Trinity’s Three Piece Suit (1977), and it also sampled Alton Ellis I’m Still In Love With You (1967).
When Musical Youth released their adaptation of Mighty Diamonds’ Pass The Kouchie’ for MCA Records in 1982, the group found near instantaneous success. The then newly-released song, titled Pass The Dutchie, which was done in an attempt to avoid the references to marijuana in the original, debuted at No. 26 on the UK chart in late September of 1982, and rose to No. 1 a week later for three straight weeks. It has spent a total of 15 weeks on the chart, including one week in June 2022 when it was featured in Netflix’s Stranger Things.
The band, consisting of youngsters Dennis Seaton, Michael Grant, Kevin Grant, Freddie ‘Junior’ Waite and Patrick Waite, charmed their UK home audience with a series of covers over the years since, and built on the success of their top-charting hit, which also found success in Australia and Canada. The group, all of whom had Jamaican heritage, also made history as the first black group to appear on MTV.
While Jamaican singer Boris Gardiner had several hits in his early career, it was I Wanna Wake Up With You, a cover of Ben Peters’ I Wanna Wake Up with You, that catapulted him to international fame. The song climbed its way to the No. 1 spot on the UK Singles Chart and held its position for three weeks in August 1986. Its success was not limited to the UK; the track became a hit in several countries, making Gardiner a household name in the world of romantic ballads. The simplicity and honesty of the lyrics were what made the song universally relatable.
No surprises here that Shaggy makes an appearance on this list. The former US Marine has No. 1 on the UK Singles chart multiple times.
Oh Carolina, in March of 1993, became the first of Shaggy’s four tracks to rise to No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, where it spent 19 weeks. Sampling the original Folkes Brothers single of the same name, Shaggy tipped his hat to the past while playfully seducing the future in a foreign audience that would come to especially appreciate his unique sound, even if they couldn’t initially understand it. In spite of that, Shaggy bridges the past and the present in captivating fashion, solidifying what would go on to be a special run on the international scene.
On September 23, 1995, Boombastic became the second song by Shaggy to hit the coveted No. 1 spot on the UK Singles Chart. The title track of the third studio’s album under Virgin Records, Boombastic caught the attention of the masses atop the charts and held it for 17 weeks while it flourished at No. 1.
It Wasn’t Me
Six years later, in March 2001, Shaggy would hold the No. 1 spot on chart again, this time with the global hit, It Wasn’t Me featuring Rik Rok – which spent a whopping 30 weeks at the summit. That single sold over 1.5 million copies upon release, and today is certified quadruple Platinum in the UK – a status it officially achieved on Friday, April 21 this year, having sold over 2.4 million units.
Shaggy’s fourth No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart appeared a few months later with Angel, featuring Rayvon, which hit the No. 1 position on June 9, 2001, where it spent 18 weeks on the chart.
Chaka Demus And Pliers, And Jack Radics And The Taxi Gang
Chaka Demus and Pliers, yet another iconic Dancehall duo, too had their time at the peak of the UK Singles Chart with Jack Radics and The Taxi Gang. Their Island Records-produced Twist And Shout spent 15 weeks on the chart, two of which were at No. 1 in January 1994. The song was a feet-stomping, energetic party-starter which sampled The Beatles’ 1961 song of the name, which The Beatles in turn, adopted from the originators – the band Top Notes.
Sean Paul has just three tracks that climbed their way to No. 1 on the UK chart. The Dancehall legend narrowly missed out on having at least four other No. 1’s, were it not for his songs She Doesn’t Mind, We Be Burnin’, Baby Boy, and Cheap Thrills with Sia, all peaking at No. 2.
Breathe with Blu Cantrell
Paul and Blu Cantrell’s hit song, Breathe – released by Arista Records, was Sean Paul’s first song to reach No. 1 on the UK chart. Breathe would spend a total of 21 weeks on the chart. It also peaked at No. 70 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
What About Us with Saturdays
On March 30, 2013, Paul made his second appearance on the chart with What About Us – a track by Saturdays, on which he was featured. That song spent a total of 16 weeks on the chart.
Rockabye with Clean Bandit and Anne-Marie
Explained as an “ode to single mothers,” Clean Bandit’s Grace Chatto told Billboard that Rockabye was “about doing anything you can to give your child a decent life.” The song spent 41 weeks on the UK Chart, including nine at No. 1 in 2016.
OMI’s Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn remix), which currently sits at over 1.2 billion views on YouTube, spent four weeks at No. 1 in May, 2015. It spent a total of 64 weeks on the chart, and spawned many covers across the internet. Though OMI hasn’t quite recaptured the magic, Cheerleader has certainly made him a name that no one can omit when the most successful Jamaican songs are being discussed internationally.