Lovers rock is a style of reggae music noted for its romantic sound and content. While love songs had been an important part of reggae since the late 1960s, the style was given a greater focus and a name in London in the mid-1970s. Despite the name, lovers rock is neither a rock subgenre nor related to it.
The roots of lovers rock lies in the last days of the rocksteady era and early days of reggae, with Jamaican and American singers such as Ken Boothe, Johnny Nash and John Holt enjoying international hits with versions of well-known love songs.
A style suited to the London reggae scene, lovers rock represented an apolitical counterpoint to the conscious Rastafarian sound dominant in Jamaica at the time, a continuation of the soulful and commonly love-themed rocksteady style, based on singers like Alton Ellis, who were not very optimistic about the rise of rastafarian reggae. It combined the smooth soul sounds of Chicago and Philadelphia soul with rocksteady and reggae bassline rhythms. Rooted in the sound systems of South London, the style had particular appeal amongst women and produced many female stars including Carroll Thompson. Louisa Mark was aged 14 when she had a major lovers rock hit with her version of Bobby Parker's "Caught You in a Lie" in 1975. This spawned the distinctive young girl female sound associated with early lovers rock. Simplicity formed in 1975 and released their first hit "To Be in Love" produced by Coxson; the B-side was the Emotions classic, "A Feeling is a Feeling". They were headhunted by Neville King who produced their hits "Loving Kind", "Waiting" and "Black is our Colour". This was followed by the husband and wife production team of Dennis and Eve Harris who then had a big hit with T.T. Ross's "Last Date". Dennis Harris then set up a new record label, Lover's Rock, at the south east London premises on Upper Brockley Road along with John Kpiaye and Dennis Bovell, which gave the new genre a name.
South London trio Brown Sugar (including a young Caron Wheeler, later of Soul II Soul) pioneered a subgenre, 'conscious lovers', with songs such as "I'm In Love With a Dreadlocks" and "Black Pride". Others who released records in this subgenre included the Battersea songstress Winsome and Kofi. Lovers rock became a staple of London's sound systems such as Chicken Hi-Fi, Success Sound, and Soferno B.Neil "Mad Professor" Fraser would be a key lovers rock producer, working with Deborahe Glasgow, while Bovell would produce one of the genre's biggest hits, Janet Kay's "Silly Games", which reached number 2 in the UK Singles Chart in 1979. Although noted for the preponderance and youth of its female exponents, the new style produced male stars as well, notably Trevor Walters, Honey Boy, and Winston Reedy. The trend also saw the emergence of many male groups, including Tradition, The Investigators and the Birmingham group Beshara, who in 1981, had the emotive reggae chart hit "Men Cry Too".
Subsequently, numerous well-established Jamaican acts came to try their hand at the new sound. Most successful among these were Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Sugar Minott, and later Freddie McGregor. Brown's "Money In My Pocket" (#14 in 1979) and Minott's "Good Thing Going" (#4 in 1981) were both big hits in the UK Singles Chart.
Seminal punk/rock/ska/reggae crossover band The Clash popularised the term, introducing it to a wider mainstream audience, by including a song called "Lover's Rock" on their 1979 signature double LP, London Calling.
The popularity of lovers rock has continued, and in the 1980s the Fashion label was successful with UK audiences, and the Revue label had a major hit in 1986 with Boris Gardiner's "I Wanna Wake Up With You". In the 1990s, the likes of Mike Anthony, Peter Hunnigale and Donna Marie enjoyed success with the genre, and several British stars have performed at Reggae Sunsplash. The 21st century has seen lovers rock being exposed to more audiences by impresario Orlando Gittens, who has pioneered the "Giants of Lovers Rock" series of concerts at London's O2 arena.
Because the majority of both its performers and audience were women, and it tended to have a romantic influence in sound and lyrics, lovers rock was often seen as intrinsically apolitical, where roots reggae and the black masculinity associated with it had clear political messages of emancipation and liberation. While not as explicitly politically conscious as other subgenres of reggae, lovers rock was indeed political, however, "never [steering] too far away from the politics of romantic love and heartbreak". Lovers rock, being indigenous to Britain with strong Jamaican influences, emerged with regard to the cultural and political environments of the time for Caribbean people in the United Kingdom. It engaged with politics for the female face of the genre, as well as for the male dominated production and ownership of the genre. It portrayed patriarchal discourses through its creation of politically contentious erotic spaces that challenged racism, while also encapsulating the struggles of gendered oppression dealt with by women. Though much more subtle than other politically outspoken music, lovers rock did portray its own stance on the political climate of Britain in the mid 1970s.