Saturday, August 1, 2015

Ska Films at Lincoln Center: "Legends of Ska" and "The Liberty of Norton Folgate"!

This coming Monday night (8/3/15), there are two, very unusual opportunities to see ska-related films on the big screen at Lincoln Center. As part of their Sound + Vision 2015 movie series, the Lincoln Center Film Society is screening "Legends of Ska: Cool and Copacetic" by Brad Klein (with a Q and A session afterwards with the director and percussionist Larry McDonald) and Julien Temple's "The Liberty of Norton Folgate."

Here's the LCFS copy about the "Legends of Ska" documentary:
"Whereas second- or third-wave ska bands like The Specials or No Doubt maintain a degree of visibility through North American radio play, the Jamaican originators of the genre often get short shrift. Brad Klein sought to correct this imbalance. On July 12-13, 2002, Klein mounted two massive concerts in Toronto with early-’60s ska superstars like Prince Buster, Derrick Morgan, Stranger Cole, Alton Ellis, Millicent “Patsy” Todd, and the Skatalites. The concert was documented, and, over a decade, shaped into a concert film interspersed with funny and poignant interviews with band members. Also includes a hilarious cameo from Keith Richards!"
And here's "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" blurb:
"A concert film shot during a performance at London’s Hackney Empire, Temple’s inventive approach to Madness’ concept album of the same name connects the iconic ska band with their working-class British roots and a populist tradition of entertainment. The film weaves comical introductions to songs and a tour of various historically seedy London neighborhoods led by Madness’ Suggs and Carl into footage from the concert, whose audience is peppered with burlesque “types” who sometimes steal the show."
I can't make the "Legends of Ska" screening, but my son and I already have tickets to "The Liberty of Norton Folgate!" Read what I wrote a few years ago about Madness' phenomenally good and profound album at Reggae Steady Ska.

Here's a taste:
"While it seemed like their 2 Tone peers had run out of things to say, [on The Liberty of Norton Folgate] Madness were delivering the songs of great meaning that I had wanted from them in my youth—a concept album that promotes/embraces multiculturalism as the only path to real freedom, and the notion that the history of a place and its people has an extraordinary impact on making this possible."


Friday, July 24, 2015

Duff Guide to Ska NYC Summer 2015 Ska Calendar #10

Oreskaband from Japan
Thursday, July 30, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Oreskaband, The Pandemics, The Ladrones, Go Big

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
Manhattan
$25
All ages

+ + + +

Saturday, August 1, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

The Slackers

Rocks Off Booze Cruise
The Nautical Empress
Board the boat at 299 South Street, Manhattan
$30/21+

+ + + +

Monday, August 3, 2015 @ 6:30 pm

"Legends of Ska: Cool and Copasetic" Documentary

Film Society of Lincoln Center
165 West 65th Street
Manhattan, NY
$14

Q and A after the film with the director and percussionist Larry McDonald!

+ + + +

Sunday, August 16, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

Swing-A-Ling Backyard BBQ w/The Frightnrs

Pioneer Works
159 Pioneer Street
Brooklyn, NY
$5.00

+ + + +

Friday, August 21, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Saturday, August 22, 2015 @ 1:00 pm (music from 2:00 pm to 9:00 pm)

Governors Island Seafood and Reggae Beach Party w/Badfish, Cannabis Cup Band, Gary Nesta Pine, Top Shotta Band featuring Screechy Dan, New Breed Brass Band, DJ Jah Culture

Governors Island
New York Harbor
Ferry from South Street

Tix: Music only are $40; music and food are $60.

+ + + +

Sunday, September 6, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

The Expanders, Tribal Seeds, Arise Roots

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17-$20/21+

+ + + +

Friday, September 11, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Mephiskapheles, Inspecter 7, and The Ladrones

Asbury Lanes
209 4th Avenue
Asbury Park, NJ
$15

+ + + +

Sunday, September 20, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Fishbone and special guests TBA

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, October 24, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, Astro, and Mickey Virtue

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
Manhattan, NY
$35/18+

+ + + +

Saturday, October 31, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Halloween Party w/Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!
+ + + +

(Bands: Want your ska shows posted here? Send your NYC area gig dates with all details to duffguidetoska@gmail.com!)

+ + + +

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Frightnrs on Mad Decent: Free Download and upcoming EP and 7"!

In what is a very significant development for a band from NYC's under-the-radar ska/reggae scene, Mad Decent--Diplo's label (Major Lazer, Santogold, Snoop Lion)--is releasing a digital EP and 7" from Queens, NY's very own Frightnrs in August 2015 (and this is in addition to the band's recent "I'd Rather Go Blind" single on Daptone)!

To help promote this release, you can hear/download The Frightnrs' "Admiration" (expertly produced by Victor "Ticklah" Axelrod), as well as a dubby EDM remix of the track by Toddla T and Cadenza, by checking out the Mad Decent Soundcloud page.

"Admiration" was originally released on The Frightnrs' fantastic 12/21/12 digital EP (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here). This is what I had to say about the track a while back:

"The unfairly-accused narrator (more fool for a pretty face than anti-hero) of the spaghetti Western cut "Admiration" ("They're gonna punish me for something that I didn't do!") is desperately determined to evade his pursuers, since capture will certainly subject him to vigilante justice: "I didn't know her before today/Now, I'll walk across the sand/and I'll sail across the sea/They've got their nooses ready/hanging underneath a tree/With their horses and their guns/they've got this man on the run/But what I have done remains a mystery to me." The precise and relentless beat of this track conveys the pressured urgency of continually pushing forward to stay free and, more importantly, alive--while a ringing, almost shimmering solo guitar line conveys his loneliness as he plods across a bleak, sun-baked landscape that stretches to the horizon and offers no sanctuary."

The Frightnrs are phenomenally good! Here's hoping that Mad Decent bring The Frightnrs the recognition and fans they deserve!

+ + + +

Update 7/24/15: The title of The Frightnrs new six-track EP is Inna Lovers Quarrel and the iTunes pre-order is on now.

+ + + +

Monday, July 20, 2015

Duff Review: Eastern Standard Time "The Dragon" b/w "Miles and Miles"

Self-released
2015
Vinyl 7" single
Available through Jump Up Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Eastern Standard Time's terrific new single "The Dragon" b/w "Miles and Miles" was released to co-incide with their recently completed 2015 summer European tour (Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, and more; it's criminal that they're bigger over there than they are in the USA)--as well as the band's 20th (!) anniversary.

The A side is a crisp, top-shelf, ska-jazz original instrumental (love the vibraphone!) complete with subtle 50s/60s sci-fi/flying saucer effects mixed in--perhaps they're referring to this space dragon? (Note the abstract, 1950s picture sleeve cover art that wouldn't be out of place on the cover of an Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury collection of short stories or an Eisenhower-era issue of Analog.) "Miles and Miles" is I-Peace Unikue's sweet and soulful entreaty to a special someone to spend their life's journey together:

"Let's take a stroll tonight
Leaving inhibitions and cares behind
You and I
I wanna take the long way with your hand in mine

Baby, I'm in love with you
Every day I want you more and more
Let's discuss what I propose to do
I want to make your dreams come true

Cause every time I see your smile
Forgive me if I stare for awhile
But that's because we'll be together until the end of time

Baby take a walk with me
We could walk for miles and miles and miles and miles..."

Eastern Standard Time write great vintage ska songs that are performed with impeccable musicianship--it doesn't get much better than this!

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Ska Music Yearbook 2014 from Reggae, Steady, Ska!

The amazing ska fans at Reggae, Steady, Ska (lead by The Braces' Joachim Uerschels) have issued The Ska Music Yearbook 2014--an impressive and comprehensive look back at what took place in the ska scene worldwide last year. This 107-page (!) digital yearbook includes an extensive list of ska releases in 2014; a detailed calendar of events and ska festivals; interviews with Derrick Harriott, The Aggrolites, Toulouse Skanking Foundation, Buster Shuffle, Rhoda Dakar, ska author Heather Augustyn, Monty Alexander, The Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Alpha Boys School Radio, Style Scott, Rude Boy George, and The Pannonia Allstars Ska Orchestra; a feature on the Coventry Music Museum/2 Tone Trail; lots of ska "best of" lists for 2014; and more, all for a little under 3 euros!

The Ska Music Yearbook 2014 is a fantastic resource for the casual ska fan who wants to catch up on what he/she missed in 2014, as well as the ska obsessives amongst us who need to know everything!  Support the ska scene--and this labor of love-like coverage of it--by picking up this yearbook now!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Duff Review: The Meow Meows "Friends on Benefits" EP

Jump Up Records
2015
Limited Edition 7" single on orange vinyl

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Brighton, UK's ferociously good Meow Meows have followed-up their stellar debut album (read The Duff Guide to Ska's review of The Meow Meow's Somehow We Met debut album here) with the equally amazing, Prince Fatty-produced Friends on Benefits three-song vinyl EP.

While this overtly political and progressive band with a Specials meets Deltones sound continues its terrifically barbed criticism of Prime Minister David Cameron's conservative policies and their deleterious effect on everyday Britons on the wonderfully catchy title track, astute Americans on this side of the Atlantic with an ounce of empathy in their hearts will recognize the cruelty and shame intentionally inflicted by Republican politicians on people down on their luck who have no other choice but to go through the purposefully humiliating experience of relying on the (meager) benefits of the welfare state.

"Oh take a seat
Wait for your name
Wait for your number, await your fate
'Cause it's a waiting game

Don't show your hand
Don't show your pride
Just tick the boxes, lock your options
As you die inside

That plan you had
Where has it gone?
Lie down, get up, jump down
Stick out your hand, you scrounging scum

Would you smile if I gave you a hand?
A little something that would make you a man
Friends on benefits, you're selling this
Hear my nemesis, reaping all the benefits

Run a mile, gotta make new plans
Force a smile, gotta shake some hands
Friends with benefits
I'm getting it, check my blemishes
Keeping all the benefits"

And in these days of extraordinary economic inequality, with everything rigged to benefit only those at the top and its dearth of decent non-fast food/Walmart type jobs, those fortunate to find employment oftentimes are stuck in drone-like, dead end positions that deny people their hopes for their lives...

"And here I am
Chained to a desk
Pushing my pen around
How did my life become grotesque?
Ignore the hurt, squash down my dreams
Drown out the stats and facts, and tear them down with angry screams

What about all my plans, where've they gone?
Wake up, shut up, don't moan
Be grateful you've a job at all"

I'd be remiss if I also didn't point out the cheeky double-entendre at play here--friends with/on benefits--and the implication that a little physical companionship might just help keep the unemployed friend feeling human enough and give them the psychological strength to face another day on the dole!

The menacingly dark and haunting "London Road" may refer to the 2006 Ipswich serial killings of five sex workers (who earned their money along London Road) committed by forklift operator Steve Wright (who also lived on London Road). It takes a very sympathetic view of the sex workers' plight (and the circumstances and addictions that led them down this path)--during the bridge of the song, one of the women laments, "Hello? I'm lost, can you help me? I'm lost on London Road..." The final lyrics of the song urge the women to get away from the very real perils of that red light district (as well as that "life") before it's too late.

On "Tits and Hatred," the conservative tabloids come under The Meow Meows' spot-on and withering fire for preying on the very worst instincts in humanity to turn a profit (and serving a hateful, bigoted agenda)--with no concern of how this affects the people or the policies of the nation. (Implicit in this criticism is how the tabloids have abandoned their basic mission of accurately informing the public of events in the world around them and, in a system of checks and balances, serving as a watchdog/source of reliable information on governmental activities, so that the citizens of a nation can be fully informed, in order to effectively participate in the political process.)

"We're all going to hell
And you're welcome for the ride
My handcart's almost full
Because it's filled with national pride

So tell me the story
It better be gory
Or sex is implied

Some of my best friends are black
And that makes it OK
As long as it's not in my face
Don't mind if you are gay

But behind the curtains
Different versions
Give you away

More salacious allegations
Fear and loathing, immigration
Can we get some degradation
Titillation, desperation
We don't need no education
Add a little provocation
Accusations, defamation
Tits and hatred
Sell the papers

Romanians are swarming
And there's nothing we can do
I read it in the paper
So, it's definitely true

They're coming over here
Taking all our jobs
For minimum wage

And women when you're walking
Be cautious what you wear
It's not the rapist's fault
Because you need to take more care

And what about Page Three?
Oh, they have dignity
You're kidding yourself

More salacious allegations
Fear and loathing, immigration
Can we get some degradation
Titillation, desperation
We don't need no education
Add a little provocation
Accusations, defamation
Tits and hatred
Sell the papers
Tits and hatred"

Brighton's calling--and though the news may be bleak, we all need to hear the message.

+ + + +



Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Duff Guide to Ska Spring/Summer 2015 NYC Ska Calendar #9

Friday, June 19, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The Reggay Lords, The Rudie Crew, The Far East

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$8 in advance, $10 day of show/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, June 20, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Rude Boy George, Pidgin Droppings

Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center
4 Boland Drive
West Orange, NJ
Free!

+ + + +

Sunday, June 21, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Mephiskapheles (Record Release Show!), Voodoo Glow Skulls, Slow Children

Rocks Off Booze Cruise
The Jewel
Board the boat at East 23rd Street and the FDR Drive, Manhattan
Tix: $25 in advance/$30 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Friday, June 26, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The Pietasters

Rocks Off Booze Cruise
The Jewel
Board the boat at East 23rd Street and the FDR Drive, Manhattan
Tix: $25 in advance/$30 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Saturday, June 27, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

The Last Show at The Swamp w/The Reggay Lords, Top Shotta Band, The Ladrones, Skarroneros, plus Grace of Spades on the decks!

The Swamp
Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Email us for specific address: revqc@eastrev.com
Please NO BYOB!
J/M to Lorimer or L to Montrose
$12-$15 (partial donation to EastRev project)

+ + + +

Saturday, June 27, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Hub City Stompers, 45 Revolutions, 45 Adapters, Vinny Hooliganz

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Melbourne Ska Orchestra, The Pandemics

BB King Blues Club
237 West 42nd Street
Manhattan, NY
$15 in advance/$20 day of show
All ages

+ + + +

Thursday, July 9, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Brown Rice Family

DROM
85 Avenue A
Manhattan, NY

+ + + +

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 @ 6:30 pm

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Streetdogs, The Interrupters

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
Manhattan, NY$27.50/18+

+ + + +

Sunday, July 26, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

Swing-A-Ling Backyard BBQ w/The Frightnrs

Pioneer Works
159 Pioneer Street
Brooklyn, NY

+ + + +

Thursday, July 30, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Oreskaband

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
Manhattan
$25
All ages

+ + + +

Saturday, August 1, 2015 @ 6:00 pm
The Slackers

Rocks Off Booze Cruise
The Nautical Empress
Board the boat at 299 South Street, Manhattan
$30/21+

+ + + +

Friday, August 21, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Sunday, September 6, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

The Expanders, Tribal Seeds, Arise Roots

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17-$20/21+

+ + + +

Sunday, September 20, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Fishbone and special guests TBA

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, October 24, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, Astro, and Mickey Virtue

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
Manhattan, NY
$35/18+

+ + + +

Saturday, October 31, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Halloween Party w/Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Duff Guide to Ska Spring/Summer 2015 NYC Ska Calendar #8

Friday, June 5, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

Cumbia Reggae Party w/R-Tronika, The Far East, The Abruptors

The Swamp
Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Email us for specific address: revqc@eastrev.com
Please NO BYOB!
J/M to Lorimer or L to Montrose
$8-$12 donation

+ + + +

Saturday, June 6, 2015 @ 2:00 pm

Skarroneros, Joey Steel and the Attitude Adjusters, Soothsayer, Toys in Trouble

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$9/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, June 14, 2015 @ 4:00 pm

Last Shows at The Swamp w/Super Hi-Fi, Beat Brigade, Boomshot Riddim Collective, Rudie Crew, Outernational, Princelionsound, The Oneness, Subtropico Militia Heavy Sound

The Swamp
Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Email us for specific address: revqc@eastrev.com
Please NO BYOB!
J/M to Lorimer or L to Montrose
$15

+ + + +

Friday, June 19, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The Reggay Lords

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

$8 in advance, $10 day of show/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, June 20, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Rude Boy George, Pidgin Droppings

Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center
4 Boland Drive
West Orange, NJ

+ + + +

Sunday, June 21, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Mephiskapheles, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Slow Children

Rocks Off Booze Cruise
The Jewel
Board the boat at East 23rd Street and the FDR Drive, Manhattan
Tix: $25 in advance/$30 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Friday, June 26, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The Pietasters

Rocks Off Booze Cruise
The Jewel
Board the boat at East 23rd Street and the FDR Drive, Manhattan
Tix: $25 in advance/$30 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Saturday, June 27, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

The Last Show at The Swamp w/The Reggay Lords, Top Shotta Band, The Ladrones, Skarroneros, plus Grace of Spades on the decks!

The Swamp
Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Email us for specific address: revqc@eastrev.com
Please NO BYOB!
J/M to Lorimer or L to Montrose
$12-$15 (partial donation to EastRev project)

+ + + +

Saturday, June 27, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Hub City Stompers, 45 Revolutions, 45 Adapters, Vinny Hooliganz

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 @ 6:30 pm

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Streetdogs, The Interrupters

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
Manhattan, NY
$27.50/18+

+ + + +

Friday, August 21, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Sunday, September 6, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

The Expanders, Tribal Seeds, Arise Roots

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17-$20/21+

+ + + +

Sunday, September 20, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Fishbone and special guests TBA

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, October 24, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, Astro, and Mickey Virtue

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
Manhattan, NY
$35/18+

+ + + +

Saturday, October 31, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Halloween Party w/Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Frightnrs To Release Single on Daptone!

The Frightnrs, who play an amazing mix of rocksteady, reggae, and rub-a-dub and are one of my favorite bands on the NYC ska/reggae scene (they hail from Queens, like The Ramones!), are releasing a new single--a phenomenal cover of Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind" backed with a dub version by Victor "Ticklah" Axelrod--on Daptone Records on June 30, 2015. You can pre-order the single here (in addition to standard black vinyl, there's a limited edition of 100 copies on translucent orange wax for the collectors--I've ordered mine!).


For some background on The Frightnrs, check out The Duff Guide to Ska reviews of some of their previous releases: The Frightnrs six-track EP and the four-track 12/21/12 EP. Both are highly recommended.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Shots in the Dark: Desmond Dekker "Black and Dekker"

Editor's note: Shots in the Dark spotlights ska releases that should have been massive hits on the scene but, due to bad timing, poor luck, or a fickle record-buying public, were lost in the fray. 

(By Steve Shafer)

The Release: Desmond Dekker's Black and Dekker (Stiff Records and Stiff America, 1980)

The Band: The UK-based Desmond Dekker was backed by an array of top musicians, including The Pioneers (which included Dekker's half brother, George Agard), Jackie Mitoo, The Rumour (who often backed pub rocker Graham Parker), The Equators, and The Akrylykz (featuring a certain Roland Gift on sax, who would later join Andy Cox and David Steele of The Beat to form Fine Young Cannibals).

The Sound: Black and Dekker contains many of Dekker's instantly recognizable rocksteady and skinhead reggae hits of the late 60s and early 70s (plus some really fine new tunes)--all dusted off, revved-up, and purposefully fashioned to appeal to the 2 Tone ska fans of 1980. 

The Album: As the first batch of 2 Tone singles commandeered the UK charts in 1979 (The Specials' "Gangsters" b/w The Selecter's "The Selecter" reached #6; Madness' "The Prince" b/w "Madness" topped out at #16; The Selecter's "On My Radio" b/w "Too Much Pressure" rose to #8; The Specials' "A Message to You, Rudy" b/w "Nite Klub" made it to #9; and The Beat's "Tears of a Clown" b/w "Ranking Full Stop" grabbed the #6 spot), other labels were left scrambling trying to figure out how to capitalize on the 2 Tone craze that had so swiftly captivated Britain's youth. Dave Robinson, the maverick head of gonzo indie Stiff Records--who had already signed Madness and was starting to reap the rewards of that hit single-generating act (which would help keep the label afloat for years to come), as well as the Birmingham-based Equators, who were playing 2 Tone-like ska before The Beat and The Specials (and ended up heavily influencing LA's The Untouchables--another Stiff signing a few years later--when The Equators performed in California in 1981)--wanted a bigger piece of the action and was willing to bet that Desmond Dekker's great popularity with the late 1960s/early 1970s mods, skins, and pop fans (in 1967, "007 (Shanty Town)" hit #14 on the UK charts; in 1969, "Israelites" hit #1 in the UK and #9 in the USA; in 1969, "It Mek" reached #7 in the UK; and his cover of Jimmy Cliff's "You Can Get It If You Really Want" went to #2 in 1970, two years before The Harder They Come film soundtrack was released) could be fairly easily replicated in the 2 Tone-era. The climate was certainly right. 

(Robinson wasn't the only label head interested in promoting an authentic 1960s ska star during the 2 Tone years. Secret Affair's Ian Page signed Laurel "Godfather of Ska" Aitken, another artist very popular with late 1960s/early 1970s mods and skins, to his I-Spy label soon after Dekker went with Stiff; Aitken, backed by The Ruts, toured the UK and enjoyed his one 2 Tone-era hit, "Rudi Got Married"--#60 on the UK charts--in 1980.)

After all, the late 70s ska revival was steeped in overt references to 60s ska and skinhead reggae, even though 2 Tone was clearly an organic evolution of the genre's sound/attitude--a hybrid of the rebel music cousins of reggae and punk. The 60s references gave the late 70s' ska scene a foundation and context--acknowledging 2 Tone's roots and close connection to the Jamaican immigrant community in the UK, while tacitly--and later, explicitly--endorsing racial/cultural diversity and tolerance. The 2 Tone bands clearly revered the 60s ska originators (and Dekker was Jamaica's first international ska/early reggae star, well before Jimmy Cliff or Bob Marley) and had grown up hearing their songs (many of which had topped the UK charts) alongside the sons and daughters of Jamaican immigrants, and felt a deep connection to the artists (leading The Specials to collaborate with Rico Rodriguez, who had worked with The Skatalites, and The Beat to ask Saxa, who had played with Prince Buster, to join their band). 

In tribute to--and to honor the legacy of--their musical forefathers/mothers, The Specials, Selecter, Madness, The Beat, and The Bodysnatchers all performed and recorded ska and early reggae hits of yesteryear (the 60s JA ska musicians often covered contemporary pop songs themselves, sometimes renaming them in the process--see The Skatalites' "Independence Anniversary Ska" AKA The Beatles' "I Should Have Known Better" or Prince Buster's/Yusef Ali's "Uganda" AKA Don Drummond's "Green Island," etc.). One suspects that, at times, this compensated for a dearth of original material (indeed, that was one of the great criticisms of the late 70s ska revival), though the 2 Tone bands often redeemed themselves by repurposing the covers--imbuing them with new meaning for the present day and following the tradition of 60s ska of decrying social/political injustice. Lloyd Charmers' naughty "Birth Control" was transformed by The Specials into "Too Much Too Young," which disparaged teen motherhood and advocated the use of diaphragms and, one would assume, condoms; The Selecter borrowed The Pioneers' "Time Hard," renaming it as "Everyday" ("...thing are getting worse"), to comment on Thatcherite England; and Andy and Joey's "You're Wondering Now" in The Specials' hands became an ominous warning to the racists and National Front supporters lurking in Britain's shadows: "You're wondering how/You will pay/For the way you did behave..." 

Co-produced by Coxsone Dodd's cousin Syd Bucknor (who learned his trade at Studio 1), Black and Dekker starts out promisingly (and safe) enough with a brisk and jaunty--if, um, a little stiff--ska version of Dekker's "Israelites." Stiff also released this song as a single, paired with the phenomenal new track "Why Fight?," which marked the third time "Israelites" was issued as a single. In 1969, it hit #1 on the UK charts and was the first Jamaican reggae single to crack the Top Ten in America, and when it was re-released in 1975, made it back into the UK Top Ten. The 1980 ska version of "Israelites" failed to chart in the UK, though it made it to #15 in Belgium, according to Richard Balls' "Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story" (what a punk rock name: Dick Balls!). Dekker's unmistakable and incredibly sweet falsetto is in terrific shape on the album and The Pioneers provide gorgeous and impeccable backing vocals and harmonies (as they do throughout). It also should be noted that The Pioneers were a favorite of The Specials, who covered "Long Shot Kick De Bucket"--The Pioneers' 1969 best-seller produced by Leslie Kong (who also was Dekker's sure-fire hit producer, until Kong's early death in 1971)--during their "Skinhead Symphony" on The Special AKA Live! EP, which was a #1 single in the UK in 1980.

"Israelites" is a potent sufferer's lament with an explicit reference to Rastafarianism (Rastas believe that they are one of the lost tribes of ancient Israel, something that I can't imagine most Americans in 1969 were aware of when they snatched up that single). Since the lyrics are often misheard, they're worth printing here:

"Get up in the morning, slaving for breads, sir
So that every mouth can be fed
Poor me, Israelite

Wife an' ma kids, dem pack up and a-leave me
Darling, she said, I was yours to receive
Poor me, Israelite

Shirt dem a-tear up, trousers a go
I don't wan' to end up like Bonnie and Clyde
Poor me, Israelite

After a storm, there mus' be a calming
You catch me in ya palm, you sound ya alarm
Poor me, Israelite

I'm wandering I'm working hard, too
A poor, a poor, a poor
Me, Israelite
I look a-down on a-me, sir"

Of all the new tracks, "Why Fight?" (with Jackie Mittoo on piano!) is the obvious hit to this listener--and one has the feeling that Stiff knew this too, but hedged its bets by pushing "Israelites" as the first single from the album and appending "Why Fight?" to its b-side. For all of Stiff's eagerness to reach the 2 Tone fan base, they seem to have been completely oblivious to how "Why Fight's" message was very much in line with what The Specials, The Beat, The Selecter, et al were propagating--that the racial hatred, violence, and discriminatory political/social/economic policies directed at Britain's non-white population had to end--and had the track been given Stiff's promotional push, it would have been well-received by the late 70s ska fans, who appreciated the very relevant messages that often came with the music:

"People all over the world
Why fight?
When we should unite

Right from the start
We're part of creation
So, why can't we all
be one nation?

Why fight?
People all over the world
Why fight?
When we should unite
When we should unite...
we fight
People all over the world

It's a shame to know
That we are the most intelligent
of all animals
And it hurts so bad
to know that we are acting
like cannibals

This a world is a beautiful world
Nothing all wrong with it
But a man know a try
to change it and rearrange it

I know that we understand
how to make peace upon this land
And we can
Peace
And we can
Yes

Why fight?
People all over the world..."

After "Israelites" failed to chart and became the albatross around "Why Fight's" neck, Stiff chose the undeniably catchy and lighthearted "Please Don't Bend" (backed with the terrific new tune "Work Out") as the follow-up single (another in a string of Dekker's songs to admonish women for their dress or behavior): "Girl, the dress you are a wearing/Is a bit too short/Don't misunderstand me/I'm not an astronaut/Girl, whatever you do/I said, please don't bend/Girl, if you do/We're gonna see rear end!"

Stiff records had been producing promotional films for their bands years before the advent of MTV in 1981 (according to Ball's book, Robinson had always believed "pop music and short films as being complementary"). By the time Black and Dekker was released, Stiff had shot short films for The Damned's "New Rose," Ian Dury and the Blockheads' "Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll," Lene Lovich's "Lucky Number," Madness' "One Step Beyond," and many others, in addition to live footage of the Stiff package tours. Instead of a funny or subversive take on the lyrics, the video for "Please Don't Bend" is dunderheadedly and embarrassingly sexist--full of leering men ogling a woman in a very short dress, with multiple shots of her derriere. The video makes it plain that Dekker doth protest too much: Please bend away, ladies!



Despite its theme of corporeal punishment (the singer begs his mother to intervene with his father, who has been beating him so severely that he's developed some sort of nervous hiccup), "Lickin' Stick" becomes an incredibly upbeat (and almost joyful) song in The Equators' hands--they help transform this track and "Hippo"--two of Dekker's skinhead reggae-era favorites--into modern, 2 Tone ska songs (and make one wonder why the powers that be just didn't have The Equators back Dekker for the whole album, instead of this rotating cast of dozens of musicians--though The Rumour do a very good job on "Problems" and "Rude Boy Train").

In fact, most of Dekker's reworked hits for the 2 Tone era on Black and Dekker--"It Mek," "Hippo," "007," "Problems," "Rude Boy Train," "Pickney Gal," and even his soulful cover of Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" (which was released as the third Stiff single, backed with "Pickney Gal")--sound good to pretty great. But from the consistent high quality of new material on the album ("Why Fight?," "Work Out," "Please Don't Bend," and the US-only "Juliet"), it's clearly evident that Dekker's songwriting was as strong as ever and makes one wish that there were additional new tunes (and fewer re-worked ones). And with the ready availability of the beloved original versions of Dekker's late 60s/early 70s hits (on Trojan compilations like 1978's Dekker's Sweet 16 Hits)--and their treasured place in the hearts of ska and reggae fans everywhere--it's questionable as to why they were re-recorded in the first place.

The Ugly Reality: It's a sticky proposition to tinker with one's own legacy. Dekker's late 60s/early 70s skinhead reggae hit singles were practically sacrosanct to legions of mods and skinheads--and still very well-known to many 2 Tone fans of all ages in the UK. By re-recording his hits, Dekker and Stiff risked alienating the very same crowd they intended to reach. Stiff and Dekker hoped that the perceived nostalgia/demand for 60s ska during 2 Tone would carry the day for Black and Dekker (instead of trusting Dekker's prodigious songwriting skills to produce new hits). But it was such a weird approach for such a renegade label--trying to have Dekker recapture past glories instead of creating new ones (which may have struck some as inauthentic and a calculated grab for cash).

It also suggests that Stiff and Dekker didn't really grasp why the old ska covers were being re-worked and incorporated into the 2 Tone bands' sets and recordings. It wasn't about nostalgia. The original ska and skinhead reggae songs were being appropriated in order to lend context and connection to what The Specials et al were doing with the ska genre in the late 70s/early 80s. The covers usually were supplementing/secondary to the incredible original material that the 2 Tone acts were creating and promoting. And, unlike Dekker, the 2 Tone artists' covers weren't retreads of their own material.

On balance, Black and Dekker remains a great album and it certainly deserved the love and attention of ska fans in 1980 (indeed, listening to it many decades later, much of it holds up quite well and makes one wonder why it wasn't a bigger success). According to the liner notes by John Reed for the 2013 Cherry Red/Pressure Drop reissue, sales of Black and Dekker were decent enough for Stiff to have reason to bankroll a second album (this time, of all new Dekker material), to be recorded at Island Records label head Chris Blackwell's studio in the Bahamas with Robert "Addicted to Love" Palmer producing (and Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare on rhythm section). Unfortunately, this pairing of producer and artist/genre was disastrous (according to Jo-Ann Greene's review in the All Music Guide, Dekker's material is great, but virtually every production choice Palmer made was flat-out wrong and killed the album in the studio) and, apart from a few so-so albums of reggae covers for Trojan in the 1990s (including one with several members of The Specials), Compass Point marked the ignoble end of Dekker's mostly stunning recording career.