Shinehead celebrates 40th anniversary of ‘Billie Jean’, his birthday

English-born singer Shinehead.
Photo by Allyson Ione

Happy times are spilling over for Shinehead, who is celebrating both the 40th anniversary of his debut record “Billie Jean” and his birthday.

“The classic recording on the African Love label signifies Shinehead’s unprecedented foray into the world of recorded music from sound systems,” Caribbean entertainment publicist Flair Lindsey, of Acclaim PR, told Caribbean Life on Monday.

“Notably, the Michael Jackson cover, along with other vibrant songs from Shinehead on the classic riddim, helped catapult Shinehead to international stardom,” she added. “There’s a lot of rich history behind ‘Billie Jean’ and the riddim, which Shinehead is anxious to share during the year-long celebration.”

Shinehead said: “To be blessed with a record, which has played a pivotal role in reggae and dancehall music and culture for 40 years, and another year of life in my youthful 60s are truly milestones to me.”

Lindsey said Shinehead, “a multihyphenate, who was born in England and raised in Jamaica and the Bronx,” got his start performing live with Tony Screw’s Downbeat the Ruler sound system and later African Love.

She said Shinehead wowed new immigrants from Jamaica and other Caribbean nations with a combination of his rapid fire deejaying, crooning of pop ballads, rapping Hip Hop style and even whistling.

“As ‘Billie Jean’ was first performed by Shinehead live on a sound system, the then rising artist incorporated the respective techniques into the debut record and ultimately his entire brand,” Lindsey said.

“The ‘Billie Jean’ riddim was a seamless match for Shinehead’s many skills, as he filled the sparse riddim with his infectious musical styles,” she added. “Both sides used different mixes of the same riddim. The riddim was minimal, incorporating a drum machine driven simple pattern, heavy snare accents, offbeat fills and some keyboard stabs.

“It was the powerhouse bassline that rocked many a dancehall with its jarring and unexpected effect — the riddim had an intense ‘Jamaican’ sound, but the slap of the snares had a layer of Hip Hop grit,” Lindsey continued. “The Shinehead effect was indeed organic. The creative unimaginably transformed two massive US radio hits into something that was uniquely Shinehead, and moreover, uniquely New York Jamaican.”

She said Shinehead gained notoriety with the “Billie Jean” cover and went on to release his debut album “Rough & Rugged” in 1986.

Lindsey said this LP included another Michael Jackson cover, “Lady in My Life,” which was also based on the “Billie Jean” riddim and featured a whistle channeling Fiddler On The Roof’s “If I Were a Rich Man!”

She said “Rough & Rugged” scored widespread popularity in New York and eventually reached mainstream listeners in the US, the UK and Jamaica.

As a result of this success, Lindsey said Shinehead became the first New York-based reggae artist to sign to a major label when he signed a deal with Elektra Records.

In addition to the 40th anniversary of “Billie Jean”, other 2024 milestones include the 30th anniversary of his album “Troddin” and 25th Anniversary of the album “Praises,” Lindsey said.

The charismatic entertainer, who released the bangers “Never Had a Dream Come True” and “The Makings of You” during the pandemic, said he’s overdue for new music.

“While Shinehead envisions a Rocksteady project this calendar year, he is also set on more live shows, especially following the buzz of his landmark ‘Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise,’” Lindsey said.