Sunday, August 30, 2009

Boris Wakes Up At #1

Given the prevailing winds of popular music during the mid 80s, the gentle, reggae tinged love ballad ‘I Want To Wake Up With You’ has to rate as one of the more anomalous candidates to top the pop charts during 1986/7, but top the British and Australian charts it did, for a then 43 year old Jamaican born reggae artist named Boris Gardiner.

By the time Gardiner’s light and breezy, reggae tinged ballad washed onto chart shores in 1986, Gardiner himself had been cruising around the music biz for over twenty years. Kingston born Gardiner began his singing career in 1960 with The Rhythm Aces, and followed that up with a stint as vocalist/percussionist with one of Jamaica’s top acts at the time, Kes Chin & The Souvenirs. By 1964, he had broadened his music resume to include playing bass, via Carlos Malcolm’s Afro Jamaican Rhythm outfit. Over the next couple of years Gardiner honed his bass playing skills and began penning his own music, but after Carlos Malcolm’s band ended, Gardiner saw the time was right to form his own band, The Broncos, no doubt the band’s name influenced by their residency at The Bronco Club.

1968 was a good year, it was a very good year, and for Boris Gardiner it coincided with a stint as a session bass player at Jamaica’s famed ‘Studio One’ recording facility. Over the next year or two, he contributed to recordings by The Heptones, and Junior Marvin, and is credited with being part of producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s studio ‘house band’, The Upsetters, rubbing shoulders with several future Wailers. By 1969, The Boris Gardiner Happening was happening every week at The Hotel Kingston, in Jamaica, and Gardiner recorded his first single ‘It’s Nice To Be With You’ on the local Federal label, featured on his debut album of the same name. But Gardiner’s career was about to take a curious turn.

In late 1969, Boris Gardiner signed up with the Dynamic Sounds label, and recorded his sophomore album, ‘Soulful Experience’. The album included an instrumental track called ‘Elizabethan Reggae’, which earned a U.K. release via Duke Records. ‘Elizabethan Reggae’ found its way onto the British charts during January 1970, but initially was credited on the charts to one Byron Lee. Who was Byron Lee you ask? Well, in printing up the centre label for the vinyl 45’s, it appears that the name of the track’s producer, Byron Lee, featured somewhat more prominently than intended, and thus chart statisticians took Byron Lee as being the name of the artist. Byron Lee was indeed an artist of note in his own right, having been the front man for the renowned Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, but he was also a much sought after producer, and it was in his capacity as producer that he was associated with ‘Elizabethan Reggae’. After just one week inside the British top fifty, ‘Elizabethan Reggae’ dropped out of the chart, then re-entered a week later, this time credited to Mr. Lee. It took until the song’s sixth week on the British charts for Boris Gardiner’s name to appear alongside as the credited artist, and even then it was misspelt as ‘Boris Gardner’. However, that error was down to the record label itself misspelling Gardiner as ‘Gardner’. So, for the duration of his fourteen week stay inside the British charts during 1970, in which time ‘Elizabethan Reggae’ peaked at #14, Boris Gardiner was not properly credited for a single week. With any luck, Mr. Gardiner would have received the performance royalties at the very least. An album titled ‘Reggae Happening’ was also released in 1970 for the U.K. market, but for a while, for a very long while, Boris Gardiner would have to wait for his name to officially appear on British chart records.

Gardiner maintained a strong presence on the Caribbean music scene throughout the 70s, with The Boris Gardiner Happening touring the region regularly, in addition to forays into Europe and the U.S. The records continued on a regular basis, whilst Gardiner also tried his hand at film score and production work. By the mid 80s, it’s likely that the odds on Boris Gardiner shedding the ‘one hit wonder’ tag in Britain (or technically no hit wonder) would have been astronomical, but chart statisticians will tell you that some extreme anomalies can, and do, occur - take Bobby Pedrick Jr’s comeback on the U.S. charts as Robert John (see earlier post) as just one example. In 1986, ‘I Want To Wake Up With You’ was to do for Boris Gardiner what 1979’s ‘Sad Eyes’ did for Robert John.

In late ‘85, Boris Gardiner and his band had a regular gig at the Inter-Continental Rose Hall. Local Kingston producer Willie Lindo approached Gardiner after a gig one night with the idea to record a handful of new tracks. One of those was a slow love ballad titled ‘I Wanta Wake Up With You’, originally recorded by country crooner Mac Davis on his 1980 top ten album ‘It’s Hard To Be Humble’. Lindo and Gardiner decided to do a slow, seductive reggae take on the song. However, ‘I Want To Wake Up With You’ wasn’t the first choice single from the recording sessions. A reggae cover of the Jim Reeves’ song ‘Guilty’, and another Mac Davis tune called ‘Let’s Keep It That Way’ missed the boat, though the latter did achieve #15 on the local charts. Around the same time, the Jamaican music scene was swept up in the latest incarnation of dancehall reggae, with the digital driven ‘ragga’ variety dominating the club scene and radio airplay. Flying in the face of cutting edge fare, Boris Gardiner’s gentle, lilting reggae ballad ‘I Want To Wake Up With You’ displayed sheer staying power, and outlasted the local ‘Boops’ craze (part of the wider dancehall scene) to eventually reach the top the local Jamaican music charts.

‘I Want To Wake Up With You’ came to the attention of Phil Mathias, an England based distributor for Jamaican artists. Mathias heard the potential for a hit record and initially backed the pressing of 500 copies. The pilot run sold out quickly, as did a follow up pressing - both pressings this time correctly crediting the artist as Boris Gardiner. When ‘I Want To Wake Up With You’ opened its eyes at #196 on the British charts during July of ‘86, the bigger distribution muscle of Creole Records was enlisted to keep up with a growing demand. Around the same time, Chris de Burgh’s ‘Lady In Red’ proved a slow, seductive ballad could achieve gold on the British charts. Gardiner arrived in Britain to begin the standard promotional tour as his single made steady progress up the charts. By August of ‘86, the alarm bell rang and ‘I Want To Wake Up With You’ woke up at #1 on the British charts, having unceremoniously dumped some lady in red to #2. 16 years and 87 days after Boris Gardner last wooed the British charts with his ‘Elizabethan Reggae’, Boris Gardiner finally reached the chart summit with ‘I Want To Wake Up With You’. To that point, only one Johnny Mathis, and the great Stevie Wonder, had experienced a slower ride from British chart debut to British #1. Within six months, Boris Gardiner would be pushed back to #5 on that list by Jackie Wilson (with ‘Reet Petite’), and Ben E. King (with ‘Stand By Me’) - that’s pretty illustrious company to be in. What set Boris Gardiner apart on that list, was the fact that his first hit was an instrumental - Stevie Wonder’s ‘Fingertips Pt. II’ wasn’t strictly an instrumental, and didn’t actually chart in Britain anyway. Other artists to reach #1 in Britain, and also score an instrumental hit, are Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, The Shadows, Russ Conway, and Manfred Mann.

With three weeks at top spot, and nine weeks inside the top ten, ‘I Want To Wake Up With You’ notched up sales of over half a million in Britain, making it one of the biggest hits of 1986 in the U.K. European sales were also solid, and the track was named the ‘Top Reggae Single’ of the year at the Canadian Music Awards. I recall hearing ‘I Want To Wake Up With You’ for the first time late in ‘86. It was the height of summer here in Australia, and the tracks breezy Caribbean flavour leant itself well to a lazy, hazy sunny afternoon’s playlist. The track was actually released in Australia under the title ‘I Wanna Wake Up With You’, but the adjustment did nothing to hinder its chart performance. During a mammoth 35 weeks stay on the Australian charts, Boris Gardiner reached #1 during March of ‘87, and scored one of the hits of the summer.

As ‘I Wanna Wake Up With You’ made its slow and steady climb to the pinnacle of the Australian charts, Gardiner scored a follow up hit in Britain with ‘You’re Everything To Me’ (#11), followed by a minor Christmas hit, ‘The Meaning Of Christmas’ (UK#69). ‘I Want To Wake Up With You’ and ‘You’re Everything To Me’ were both featured on Gardiner’s album ‘Everything To Me’ (OZ#45), produced and arranged by Willie Lindo, and featuring the drumming talents of one Sly Dunbar.

Gardiner signed with RCA and continued to release albums into the 90s, including ‘Let’s Take A Holiday’ and ‘Reggae Happening’, but he didn’t wake up next to anymore international hits. Known affectionately as ‘The Ladies Man’, Gardiner has remained a popular figure on the Caribbean music scene, and though now well into his 60s, he continues to perform regularly and record new material.

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