Music News

Lovers' Rock Giant

Within reggae, few people could argue that Beres Hammond is revered as one of the greatest balladeers to ever live — if not the best. His honey-coated voice and soul-jarring lyrics have united lovers for years, and he practically redefined the lovers' rock subgenre with his classic albums Love From a Distance and Sweetness. Since the beginning of his career in the mid-'70s, his songs and melodies have been powerful enough to make rudeboys dance yet sultry and seductive enough to make love to day or night.

Picking a top ten Hammond list, therefore, is never going to be easy. But any job that requires you to listen to Beres Hammond nonstop for a day is nothing to complain about. So here goes:

10: Double Trouble

Two-timers, beware: This song is a message to you! In one of the most melodic and sensible anticheating songs ever, Hammond lays out, in a realistic way that anyone can relate to, all the problems of having two lovers. With Steely and Clevie handling production, Hammond croons on behalf of the scorned and speaks to that scandalous dog living in some of us. Whether you've experienced it or not, "Double Trouble" definitely makes you think twice about cheating.

9: Putting Up Resistance

Coming from the album of the same name, this three-and-a-half-minute ditty is so catchy, just thinking about it for a few seconds is enough to get it stuck in your head. The song is a sufferer's anthem for Jamaicans and those trapped in ghettos around the world, and it's one of the first tunes to show that Hammond can excel at more than just love songs.

8: Give It All You've Got Today

There's a reason local radio disc jockey Luther Mack closes his show every day with this number. It's inspiring, melodic, honest, and beautiful from start to finish. The message of the song is simple: Tomorrow isn't promised. But the way he delivers it over the crisp horns and double-time jangly keyboard samples is what makes it a true classic. He's not preaching but rather teaching, in typical Hammond style. And the song's silly line "It might be too late to realize, you never grow past chicken and fries" has always put a smile on my face.

7: Don't Play With My Heart

Instead of serenading a woman, which Hammond is already known for, he comes from the other direction and complains about lovers who waste each other's time. He produced the track himself for his own Harmony House label in 2002, and his maturity at the time definitely carries over into this tune. It's still "relationship music," but it comes from a different perspective that's refreshing and much-needed.

6: Tempted to Touch

For me, this is one of the best lovers' rock songs ever recorded. Many a child has been conceived while this song was careening through bedroom speakers. When the original 45 first came out on the Penthouse label in 1991, it was an international hit almost immediately. Tony Rebel used the same riddim a year later for his "Fresh Vegetable" tune, but Hammond is still the best to sing over this beat. And even though its opening line, "Hey little girl, each time you pass my way, I'm tempted to touch," has always been a tad creepy, it's Hammond (who seems like he'd never hurt a fly). So you just pray the song doesn't have a double meaning.

5: Sweet Lies

Since Hammond is always keen to send a message, this song is for ladies who fall for smooth-talking men. And the way he flips an Otis Redding line, "It's hard to look your best, wearing that same old shabby dress," is a nod to the American soul standards he grew up listening to. Even though the tune is about guys who lie, men and women love it just about equally, which shows how universal his songs really are.

4: Sweetness

This is probably the "cutest" song in Hammond's catalog. Typically, such a description wouldn't necessarily be a compliment, but this ode to the female species is one of the best ballads in all of reggae. He's showering a lady with compliment after compliment (the way it should be done); any wannabe paramour could learn a lot from this one. By the time he gets around to the chorus and calls his woman "sweetness, niceness, and sugar dumpling" several times over, you'll understand why, to this day, women still toss their skivvies at Hammond when he performs live.

3: Can You Play Some More? (Pull Up), featuring Buju Banton

It's one of the most uptempo rockers in Hammond's repertoire. With the spitfire lyrics of Buju Banton anchoring the track, this one is still a hit some ten years after its release. With its catchy refrain, "Lift it up, jack it up, pull it up," and Donovan Germain-produced dancehall beat, "Can You Play Some More?" is a no-brainer for the top half of this list. If audiences are lucky, we'll get to see Buju and Hammond do this one together this weekend.

2: They Gonna Talk

Here's a jam that always makes couples feel proud to be together. With laid-back production, romantic lyrics, and a positive vibe that wraps itself around you, "They Gonna Talk" is the essence of why lovers' rock is so popular. While it didn't come out until 2000, some 25 years after his career started, you can still hear that smooth-crooning technique Hammond is known for. In fact, his voice sounds more polished here than on earlier material, and whenever the song comes on, whether you're hugged up or single, you can close your eyes and fall in love for a few minutes.

1: Angel Eyes

There's something about this jam that makes love seem absolutely infallible. It perfectly captures the moment when a man falls in love with a woman, and as Hammond sings "Why shouldn't I cherish the ground you walk on?" you can almost hear women swooning around the world. Debate it if you want, but for me, this is Hammond at his best.

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Jonathan Cunningham