Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

25 April 2024

Beyond the Bassline: Lovers’ rock

Image of Janet Kay singing into a microphone
Janet Kay © Tim Barrow /

(Scroll for exhibition record list)

Following the tradition of Jamaican genres like roots reggae, lovers’ rock was introduced to its audiences by UK sound systems. Its mix of reggae sounds with elements of pop and Black music genres from across the Atlantic, such as soul and R&B, was inspired by audience demand.

The first distinct lovers’ rock releases surfaced in London in 1975. Louisa Mark’s ‘Caught You in a Lie’, produced by sound system operator Lloyd Coxsone and released on his Safari Records, is seen as a crucial moment for the genre’s recording industry. Mark, only fifteen at the time, was somebody the young and predominantly Black British female audience could strongly identify with.

The Lover’s Rock label, founded by Dennis Harris in 1977, gave the genre its name. Dennis Bovell was a key producer and became a crucial influence of the lovers’ rock sound. From the late 70s a trend for so-called reggae disco mixes started, which led to a spike in the production of 12’ singles by labels such as Santic Records or Dennis Brown’s DEB Music. Mad Professor and his Ariwa label played a big role in the production and release of the genre from the mid-1980s.

Lovers’ rock was mostly sold off the high street, by stores whose numbers did not contribute to the official UK charts. Although singles of the new British genre frequently topped the UK Reggae charts, only a small number made it onto the official UK singles chart, most notably Janet Kay’s number 2 hit ‘Silly Games’ in 1979.

Contrary to roots reggae, lovers’ rock was dominated by female voices. The genre also enabled male artists to portray themselves in a softer light, challenging perceptions of masculinity.


Records as displayed in the exhibition, from top left to bottom right:

1 Peter Hunnigale & The Night Flight Band, In This Time, Street Vibes, 1987, 1LP0004833.

2 Marie Pierre, Love Affair, Trojan Records, 1979, 1LP0130617.

3 Kofi, Black…With Sugar, Ariwa, 1989, 1LP0011138.

4 Sandra Cross, Country Life, Ariwa, 1985, 2LP0042560.

5 Carroll Thompson, Hopelessly In Love, Carib Gems, 1981, 1LP0258130.

6 Deborahe Glasgow, Deborahe Glasgow, Greensleeves Records, 1989, 1LP0012797.

7 Sylvia Tella, Spell, Sarge, 1981, 1LP0260999.

8 Louisa "Markswoman" Mark, Breakout, Soulgramma/Bushranger, 1981, 2LP0044577.

9 Toyin, Love 'N' Leather, Criminal Records, 1989, 1LP0261077.

10 Mike Anthony, Short A Nothing, Gussie P Records, 1992, 1LP0261079.

11 15. 16. 17., Black Skin Boys, DEB Music, 1978, 1TH0081635.

12 Tradition, Alternative Routes, RCA, 1978, 1LP0190280.

13 Beshara, Men Cry Too, Mass Media Music, about 1981, 1TH0081867.

14 Jean Adebambo, Paradise, Santic Records, 1981, 1TH0081932.

15 Donna Rhoden, It’s True, Santic Records, 1981, 1TH0081933.

16 Lorna Gee, Gotta Find A Way, Ariwa, 1985, 1TH0025482.

17 Investigators featuring Michael Gordon and Lorenzo Hall, Investigators Greatest Hits - The Rare Grooves, Sweet Freedom Records, 1991, 1LP0261078.

18 The Instigators, Let’s Make Love, Love Birds, about 1980, 1TH0081866.

19 Cassandra, If You Are Not Back In Love By Monday, Lover’s Rock, 1977, 1SE0110507.

20 Victor Romero Evans, At the Club, Epic, 1981, 1SE0110504.

21 Carolyn Catlin, Peaceful Woman, Lover’s Rock, 1977, 1SE0110511.

22 Simplicity, Feeling is a feeling/Been In Love, Music Force/Student, about 1977, 1TH0081930.

23 Janet Kay, Silly Games, Scope/Atlantic, 1979, 1SE0110508.

24 John McLean, If I Give My Heart To You, Ariwa, 1987, 1TH0002969.

25 Ginger Williams, I Can't Resist Your Tenderness, Paradise, 1975, 1SE0110510.

26 Louisa Mark, Caught You in a Lie, Safari Records, 1975, 1SE0110503.

27 Brown Sugar, I'm in love with a dreadlocks, Lover’s Rock, 1977, 1SE0110506.

28 Black Harmony, Don't Let It Go To Your Head, Laser, 1979, 1SE0083165.