This week we take a look at the short-lived style called “Pop-a-top” which existed from around 1968 to 1970. It seems that Derrick Morgan was the originator of this style, or so he says, which features an upbeat tempo in some tunes, in others is slower. The feature that makes it pop-a-top is the keyboard. It is, what I would describe, a sound like a carnival carousel—not a calliope, but the organ. Other have identified the sound as a “bubble organ.” It is a novelty style. It was neato, didn’t last long, and you can really only listen to it in small doses.
Here’s what I was able to gather historically about pop-a-top. The only editorial I could find in the Daily Gleaner archives didn’t come from the era of poptop, but from years later in an article about Derrick Morgan. “By 1968 . . . Morgan was responsible for the hugely successful pop-a-top series of songs, when the rhythm of his re-recorded version of Fatman was extensively used.” So perhaps it was around 1968 when this phenomenon started, and it seems to have ended completely by 1970, as far as I can tell.
Here’s what Derrick Morgan told me back in 1996: “You have to remember, ska music is a foundation. What is ska? It is the guitar and the piano. That is what you call ska. And rocksteady is the same guitar and piano but it is the bass and the drum that changes and make it slower and we call it rocksteady and still we didn’t like the name rocksteady and we try for another one. We try for another one. ‘Pop-a-top, pop-a-top,’ you know? We tried that one but it did not last long. I only made ‘Fat Man’ with pop-a-top rhythm. It took off a little in England but it didn’t last for long so we have to go ahead looking for another name,” says Morgan who then spoke about reggae.
I have learned after a healthy debate on the Pama Forum, that the term “pop-a-top” comes from a Canada Dry commercial at the time that may have inspired the style of music. Pop a top means to pop the top off the bottle, or as some have pointed out, to pop the pop tab off the can. Some music aficionados are careful to point out that this was not a genre, not a subgenre, and instead was a style of reggae or maybe nothing at all. You be the judge. I am throwing this out there for discussion which is why I include it as a blog post, not a scholarly dissertation–it is fascinating to me, and I hope it is for you too! Have a listen and chime in below.
Here is a list of pop-a-top tunes compiled by my great friend and collector Si Gains (thanks Si!). Have a listen and add yours to the list:
Sour Ofrus, “East Me Up Officer” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoCPDSZmoYE
Andy Capp “Popatop” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ts-TrLH2PEw
Derrick Morgan “Fat Man” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZ8InkIPgXQ&list=PLR9vn98_oC5o9efhMwGVVkfhPa9v6cwDu
Ernest Ranglin “Pop-A-Top” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXALNnfNsSE&list=PLR9vn98_oC5o9efhMwGVVkfhPa9v6cwDu
Fitzroy & Harry “Pop a Top Train” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsZFD6Rl1g4&list=PLR9vn98_oC5o9efhMwGVVkfhPa9v6cwDu
The Maytones “Billy Goat” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIra8QTbKgs
Joe Gibbs and the Destroyers “Nevada Joe” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=315LlD3oqm8
The Creations “Mix Up Girl” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cey-8dIRdII
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