The 'Good Times 30th Anniversary Edition' is the latest in a series of compilations linked directly to Norman Jay MBE, with the initial volumes being framed particularly by the experience of hearing the 'Good Times' Soundsystem at the Notting Hill Carnival. Recent volumes have seen a shift away from this specific cultural and social reference point, with 'Good Times London' (2008) and 'Good Times Australia' (2010) signalling a widening referential framework. Now, with this release, Jay celebrates his 30th anniversary. The question is, are the 'good times' still rolling?
The collection opens with Ted Taylor's 'Ghetto Disco' (1977), described in the liner notes as a Disco classic, possibly included for the inclusive sentiment enjoined by the lyrics, '...there's something for everybody, the cool, the hip and the square'. This represents the groove that Norman Jay has pushed since his broadcasting on the pirate Kiss FM, and is one that listeners to his early shows will be warmly familiar with. Zalmac's 'Dreamin'' (1982) fits within the loose label of 'Boogie', the soulful bouncing synth drenched sound of the early 1980s. The tempo then shifts markedly with 'Forever This' (2010) by Fries & Bridges, featuring the vocals of one Cee-Lo Green. Big, bouncy, and guaranteed to get folks dancing, this is a simple and effective floor filler. Pimp Rekker's 'Mission & 24th' (2008) will likely appeal to fans of the musical style to be found on Freestyle Records, an amalgamation of funk references and a bold driving break, whilst 'Everybody (L.I.F.E)' (1999) by The Basement Khemist provides evidence that Hip Hop once had a care for wider social issues. 'All Night's Alright' (1976) by Honey White & The Night Man is one of the standout tracks, a funk infused groover that deserves wider exposure. Don Downing's 'Dream World' (1978) is the type of record that is often described as 'Disco', but one listen confirms that the sensibility is driven by the earlier mixture of Motown and shades of Philly, with an insistent rhythm that Northern Soul fans will appreciate. As ever the essential component of the UK Black experience reggae is represented, this time with Jacob Miller & Inner Circle's 'Tired Fe Lick Weed In A Bush' (1976).
Fans of Hip Hop will undoubtedly be familiar with Herman Kelly's 'Dance To The Drummer's Beat', but here Jay offers up 'A Refreshing Love' (1978), a lesser known and more melodically driven concern. This is, as the liner notes state, 'one for doze dat know' (sic). Other highlights include tracks by Curtis Mayfield and Terri Wells before the compilation shifts focus again to the more contemporary, with Wild Pursuit (Featuring Gerideau & Shawn Benson) providing 'So In Love' (1996). This is very much of the period, a stabbing piano riding over a bumping house groove. The Detroit Experiment's 'Think Twice' is here presented in a Henrik Schwarz remix, in a form that is hard to recognise as deriving (ultimately) from Donald Byrd's 'Think Twice'. Featuring an insistent piano and lovely trumpet work, this is (subjectively) one of the highlights, an assured and very confident abstract reworking that draws the listener in over time. Attic Tree's 'VOAR' (2005) (literally 'to fly') is a latin influenced groove, whilst Mario Bondi's 'My Girl' (2011) is a brave cover of the The Temptations' classic. Finally the collection ends with Ashley Slater's 'Private Sunshine' (2002), a slowly unwinding Jazz influenced track, that closes the compilation in an entirely relaxed manner.
So. Do you buy?
Unlike earlier 'Good Times' editions this is a single disc issue (unmixed), which may seem odd given that this is designed to celebrate Jay's 30th anniversary, and all previous editions have featured two discs of music. The liner notes provide some explanation as to why this is the case: '...although it's a celebration of thirty years, this collection is not a retrospective, re-compiling from previous albums - we're carrying on in the tradition of Good Times, mixing styles of music and featuring tracks that are tried and tested from my parties....the Good Times motto is 'music without prejudice, music without fear'...'. One could argue that such a celebration would not necessarily mean recompiling tracks from earlier editions, and there is certainly enough music NOT featured previously (and fitting within the 'Good Times' aesthetic) to provide a double disc edition, which may be important given that the price of this edition is very similar to the earlier more generously proportioned issues! This disc has also been issued in a double cardboard sleeve (unlike earlier editions) that may have been used to reduce production costs, but does a poor job (long term) in protecting the disc.
This disc certainly signals the increasing use of 'Good Times' as a generic commercial brand, and arguably the ecelcticism on display could only be carried commercially by a brand linked to someone of Jay's undoubted stature, which is to be welcomed when considering the exposure some of the catalalogue utillised will enjoy. However, when considered as part of the entire 'Good Times' series, there is a sense that the cohesion and purpose of earlier volumes is lacking.
Worth buying and exploring, a 7/10 collection.