Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Last Reissue: The Special AKA's "In the Studio" Heavyweight Vinyl LP

Heavyweight vinyl LP

It appears that Rhino's and Parlophone's campaign to reissue all of The Specials' albums on heavyweight, 180 gram vinyl will soon be complete with the upcoming release of The Special AKA's remastered In the Studio album on October 27, 2014 in the UK and on November 17, 2014 in the USA. While used copies of this original LP are fairly easy to find, this will be the first time this record will be back in print since 1984.

According to Paul Williams' "You're Wondering Now: The Specials from Conception to Reunion," The Special AKA's In the Studio took two, very difficult years (during which Jerry Dammers nearly lost his sanity and nearly took John Bradbury, Rhoda Dakar, John Shipley, Gary McManus, Stan Campbell, Dick Cuthell, and Rico Rodriguez with him!) and almost half a million pounds to record, which swallowed up the budgets of the three additional albums that the band were contractually obligated to deliver afterwards. (The This Are Two Tone compilation was released in 1983 by Chrysalis in an attempt to recoup at least some of the money that was hemorrhaging in The Special AKA's never-ending recording sessions). Upon its release, In the Studio generated great reviews, but wasn't the hit Chrysalis or the band needed it to be (it only climbed to #51 on the UK charts)--though "Nelson Mandela" made it up to #9 on the UK singles chart and became a worldwide anti-apartheid anthem.

Back in 1984 when I was still in high school, I picked up In the Studio after hearing the incredible "Nelson Mandela" on WLIR, the awesome new wave/modern rock radio station on Long Island that broadcast to the New York City area. Even though it wasn't a ska album (by then I was used to my former 2 Tone heroes moving far beyond ska; Madness and The Beat had already led the way) and "Nelson Mandela" wasn't representative of anything else on the record, I completely loved it. In the Studio was a compelling, sophisticated, and meticulously crafted mix of no wave jazz, reggae, and soul that grew on you and didn't sound like anything else that was unleashed on the UK pop charts in 1984 (i.e., Wham, Duran Duran, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, etc.). The album was claustrophobic (see "Night on the Tiles" and the jab at "Housebound" agoraphobic Terry Hall), full of righteous outrage (see "War Crimes," which was about Israel's invasion of Lebanon), brutally uncompromising in its principles (see "Racist Friend," which urged you to completely disassociate yourself from anyone, friend or family, who held racist views), and yielded what may be the catchiest protest song ever written and recorded, the euphoric hit "Nelson Mandela" (pleading for the release of the ANC leader who had been jailed by the apartheid South African government for decades)--the one moment of pure joy on record that often found the world to be a terribly and disappointingly ugly, petty, predatory, and unjust place (see "Alcohol," "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend," "Bright Lights," "Lonely Crowd," and "Break Down the Door").

In the Studio wasn't the hit pop album that the Chrysalis execs pined for (while facing down all of that red ink on their spreadsheets) or the ska album that Specials fans were expecting following the brilliant Ghost Town EP (though their hopes would have long been dashed by the string of decidedly non-ska singles from this album that preceded In the Studio's release). The Special AKA--defiantly led by Jerry Dammers--stubbornly refused to give the people what they wanted, but delivered what they thought they needed to help them navigate increasingly desperate times. Thirty years on, In the Studio sounds as strikingly unique and innovative as it did in 1984--every song is stellar--and its lyrics still contain their sting and relevance. The music and its messages endure. I only wish that The Special AKA could have found a way forward. I suspect that there was much more musical brilliance to come.

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Here's a live performance of "Nelson Mandela" by The Special AKA (but without Stan Campbell, who had left the band by then) with Elvis Costello, Ranking Roger, and Dave Wakeling that was taped for The Tube in 1984.

And here's the fantastic (and hilarious) video for "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend"...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Duff Review: Radio Riddler "Purple Reggae"

Mita Records
CD/digital download

(Review by Steve Shafer)

As someone who loves all things new wave and who's a member of a band doing ska/reggae covers of new wave/post punk hits, my antennae shot up when I first heard about Radio Riddler's Purple Reggae project, a song-by-song reggae take on Prince and The Revolution's Purple Rain. Back when this record and film were released in the summer of 1984 (following the massive success of 1999--so much so that my dad even used my purple 1999 t-shirt with the title song's lyrics on the back for a cringe-inducing sermon he gave one youth Sunday at our church), Purple Rain was one of those near-perfect albums (take a look at the track list), where almost every song on both sides of the record was stellar. And the songs touched on enough musical genres to have extraordinarily wide appeal--they attracted fans of new wave, classic rock, pop, funk, rhythm and blues, and more.

It was inescapable, too. Cuts from Purple Rain were all over radio and MTV--and deservedly so. If you were a teenage consumer of music at the time, Purple Rain had a profound impact. Years on, the album has become a touchstone of your youth and the songs evoke all sorts of sharp memories. You know where you were, what you were doing, and who you were doing it with. I'll always remember how the girls in my circle of friends were all out crazy for Prince--they dug his music, his intense and charismatic performances, and his overt sexuality that was tempered by all the theatricality and androgyny. My girlfriend at the time was the one who scored us tickets to see Prince and The Revolution at Madison Square Garden and it was a pretty great show, even if we were in the last row in the nosebleed seats and could only see Prince through a pair of binoculars.

For the past several years, Radio Riddler--Brian Fast Leiser and Frank Benbini of Fun Lovin' Criminals--have been creating reggae and dub mixes of songs by many of their favorite artists (such as Marvin Gaye). This has led them to take on a reported five-year project in celebration of Purple Rain. (I wonder how Prince feels about Radio Riddler's logo, which appropriates Warner Brothers' logo. He had an ugly and long-running battle with WB, which was just recently resolved...) Timed to celebrate the 30th anniversary (!) of the release of Purple Rain, Radio Riddler's Purple Reggae, featuring guest vocals by Suggs (Madness), Sinead O'Connor, Ali Campbell (ex-UB40), Citizen Cope, Deborah Bonham (sister of the Led Zeppelin drummer), and Beverley Knight (a hugely popular soul/r and b singer in the UK, who has an MBE in recognition of all of her charity work), is an ambitious, ingenious, and throughly enjoyable tribute this classic album.

The most successful realization of this effort may be Radio Riddler's incredible version of "Let's Go Crazy" with Suggs on vocals--his relaxed, assured, and upbeat delivery is the perfect counterpoint to the amped up music and propulsive riddim he's riding. It's always been my favorite track on Purple Rain (I've always thought of it as a "1999, Part II" with its "enjoy yourself, it's later than you think" attitude about our mortality, coupled with the subliminal Cold War-era dread of living with the pretty high possibility of nuclear war--the air raid siren at the beginning and end of Radio Riddler's mix reinforces what was then a very real threat, as does the Pac Man-like "game over" sound effect when the track fades out...). This version uses many of the same elements of the original--Prince's unique, processed electronic drum sound, which is used throughout this album, and the song's emphasis on the repeated organ line--but everything's been revamped with a bouncy and extremely catchy reggae skank and it works exceedingly well. (I'd almost recommend you buy this album on this track alone, but that would give short-shrift to all the amazing songs that follow...)

"Take Me With U" moves into loping reggae/soul territory with Deborah Bonham's impassioned singing (it's no longer a duet, as it was between Prince and Apollonia) and this arrangement sheds some of the original's tightly-wound urgency, but in turn adds more emotional depth and impact. In contrast, "The Beautiful Ones'" tempo is sped up here, giving Prince's mostly breezy, delicate ballad (with Benbini singing falsetto) a bit of worried urgency over whether she'll choose the other guy over The Kid that the source lacks (until the end, of course, when Prince freaks out). Radio Riddler manage to translate the electro-funk of "Computer Blue" into a great horn-driven ska track (with a killer reggae break in the middle, featuring trombone and melodica). Back in the day, I remember thinking that "Darling Nikki" was a ridiculously indulgent (and kind of embarrassing) track (and it still is), marring Prince's otherwise extraordinary album. At least Radio Riddler's cooly seductive dancehall-ish version--with Benbini at the mic--is a much more pleasant/less skanky experience.

While Prince and The Revolution's mega-hit "When Doves Cry" is a spare drums/keyboard track with no bass line (that endows it with a tension and claustrophobic feeling that reflects the pain and desperate sorrow in the lyrics--as well as a distinctive sound that was unlike anything on the radio at the time), Radio Riddler sneak the bass back in under the bubbling keys (after all, how can you have reggae without the bass?!). And their inventive arrangement (it opens with a marimba and accordion covering the keyboard riff from the original) along with Citizen Cope's wounded singing are completely stellar. Given Sinead O'Connor's past association with Prince (she had an enormous hit in 1990 with the Prince composition "Nothing Compares 2 U") and her well-known love of reggae (in 2005, she recorded the superb Throw Down Your Arms, where she covered roots reggae cuts by Burning Spear, Junior Byles, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, Lee Perry, The Abyssinians, and others, backed by Sly and Robbie), it's brilliant that Radio Riddler were able to feature her on this recording. It's even more fantastic that O'Connor sings "I Would Die 4 U" (where Prince, um, strives to be like/assumes the qualities of the son of God and pledges to sacrifice himself in order to redeem his lover), given her deep religious beliefs and that fact that she's an ordained priest in the Catholic Latin Tridentine Church. She serves up a restrained, but very moving performance, as if she's already carrying the sins of the world on her shoulders and knows what will have to be done to save us.

The slow, but strutting funky-reggae arrangement of "Baby, I'm a Star" provides Beverly Knight the space to show off her gorgeous voice and considerable talent--and so effectively convey the mighty swagger of the lyrics that she gives Prince a run for his money. She owns this. Purple Reggae is capped off by an awesomely melancholic, but defiantly joyful rendition of "Purple Rain" sung by the unmistakable Ali Campbell. If you played this track for someone who didn't know what it was, they'd swear it was a long-lost UB40 cut from the 80s, when they were in their prime.

Radio Riddler's Purple Reggae is a superb (and fun!) re-imagining of this classic record, one that is faithful to the spirit and sound of the original, while successfully transforming these songs into dynamic, new reggae cuts. If you're a fan of reggae and of Prince, Purple Reggae is a must!

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Duff Review: The Bluebeaters "Toxic (One Drop Version)" b/w "Catch That Teardrop"

Record Kicks
7" vinyl single
(Available through Jump Up in the USA)

While I can honestly say I hadn't knowingly heard any version of Britney Spears' 2003 hit "Toxic" until dropping the needle on The Bluebeaters' 7" single containing their wickedly fierce cover of it, I've got to admit that the original is a truly great pop song--I've just watched the borderline NSFW "Toxic" video for the first time tonight...and now feel dirty! (My only excuse for being this out of touch was that 2003 was a particularly tough and weird year for me.) A well-constructed, catchy pop song should lend itself to being interpreted--and still sound great--in whatever musical genre you like (apparently "Toxic" has been covered by many bands of various musical stripes--including Hard-Fi, who mash it up nicely with The Clash's version of Vince Taylor's "Brand New Cadillac") and The Bluebeaters' vintage ska stomp of "Toxic" is nothing short of stellar.

The flip side, "Catch That Teardrop"--and I only know this from reading about it on Record Kick's site--is a Northern Soul track, originally recorded in 1962 by The Five Royales from Winston-Salem, NC. And The Bluebeaters deliver another fantastic Skatalites-like cover with it (and certainly know how to pick great original tunes to play, both famous and obscure).

+ + + +

Here are the lyrics to the chorus of "Toxic" that you'll find yourself singing days from now (get your falsetto in shape!)...

"With a taste of your lips
I’m on a ride
You're toxic, I'm slipping under
With a taste of a poison paradise
I’m addicted to you
Don’t you know that you’re toxic?
And I love what you do
Don’t you know that you’re toxic?"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Life's Little Victories: Record Collecting Edition #4

Editor's note: Forgive me, but this post is a little heavy on nostalgia and my own personal history. Read ahead at your own risk...

I have to admit that every once in a while, when I first slide out a newly purchased used record from its sleeve, I secretly hope that the record's previous owner accidentally left some weird and wonderful surprise in it--like clippings of reviews of the album or some band-related memorabilia--in addition to the original lyric sheet (which is always appreciated). In the past year or so, I've bought used LPs that contained someone's typed (on a typewriter!) and annotated lyrics for The Equators' Hot, as well as the free single that came along with the first pressing of XTC's Drums and Wires that was now in my hands.

Last week, I picked up a somewhat tattered, cut-out copy of The Untouchables' Agent Double OO Soul LP. I had bought the CD at Tower Records when the album was originally released in 1988, but never purchased the LP (I was in college, didn't have much extra money, and CDs were the special new format!). When I got around to playing the album the other day, not only did I find the vinyl to be in mint condition, but the sleeve also contained an Agent Double OO Soul comic book (which includes the songs' lyrics) and the very same promo poster that I had ordered back in 1988, which I eventually hung framed on the wall of the Moon Records store on East 10th Street (see it in the photo below). At some point in the mid-2000s, the poster was ruined--along with many other ska posters and t-shirts I had collected over the years--in a massive flood in my parents' basement. Water seeped into many of my Rubbermaid storage bins that I had been keeping there. By the time I realized what had happened a month or two later, everything was damp, rank, and moldy. I was forced to throw out bag after bag of ska history. So, I was thrilled to have another copy come into my hands all these years later.

My favorite musician Laurel Aitken at the Moon store on 10th Street
with The Untouchables poster on the wall in the background.
Coming across this record reminded me that I had written a review of Agent Double OO Soul for my Fordham University, College at Lincoln Center newspaper that was paired with my write-up for Moon Records' Ska Face: An All American Ska Compilation (see a screen grab of both reviews below from the 2/22/89 edition of the CLC Observer; you can also find my review of the NY Citizens' On the Move in the 3/23/89 issue). Even though their weren't that many ska fans at my college, The Untouchables were a familiar name to many, as they opened for UB40 at a concert at Fordham's Bronx campus in the fall of 1985 (unfortunately, I did my freshman fall semester at a college out in Ohio before transferring to Fordham in winter of 1986, so I missed this performance).

While my review of Agent Double 00 Soul might have been a bit overly positive and enthusiastic, it certainly wasn't the bomb that many deemed it to be. Like Fishbone's extraordinary Truth and Soul (which was released around the same time), Agent Double 00 Soul is poorly sequenced, burying all of the ska and reggae tracks on side two, many of which happen to be the strongest songs on the album (see "World Gone Crazy," "Cold City," "Shama Lama," "Cool Boy," "Education," and "Sudden Attack"). But, all in all, on Agent Double 00 Soul, The Untouchables had strayed too far from their brilliant and perfectly calibrated balance of Wild Child ska, soul, and r and b.

The UT's comic book!
When what may have been the last NYC Untouchables' date was announced for late April of 1989 at Joey Ramone's basement Downtown club (at the corner of Bond and Broadway), my friend and fellow ska fan Andy was reluctant to see the show, since he'd heard bad things about the record from some of his other friends. But once we were there, he was all in, as The Untouchables unleashed one of most brilliant and energetic live performances I've ever seen (Black Rock Coaltion funk-metal rockers 24-7 Spyz were also on the bill and were extraordinarily good). Much of the set was comprised of cuts from Wild Child, as well as the better ska/reggae songs off Agent OO Soul, but even some of their shakier tracks from Soul sounded pretty awesome in their live versions.

Walking in the rain back up Broadway toward Union Square after the gig (we were already soaked from dancing to the UTs), Andy and I passed a construction site across the street from The Cat Club (where Moon Records' NYC Ska Live would be recorded about a year later) that had a huge, many-layered section of wheat-pasted gig posters that was starting to separate from the plywood wall in the downpour. The Untouchables' poster for their Downtown gig was on the top layer, so we liberated what must of been a three feet wide by eight feet tall section of them (with countless other posters beneath them) and somehow got it back the apartment I shared with four other Fordham students up at 125th and Broadway (where my tiny bedroom was at eye level with the elevated number 1 subway train). This giant, sagging strip of posters was propped up against one wall in my room for the rest of the semester, but ended up in the garbage when our lease was up that summer. I was moving into my first post-college apartment with a bunch of friends and my girlfriend (now wife) and this large, dirty, and unwieldy bit of music ephemera had to go; we just didn't have the space.

My Untouchables shirt that I bought at their gig at Downtown in Manhattan on 4/29/89.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Life's Little Victories: Record Collecting Edition #3

Back in the early 80s, WLIR--the modern rock/new wave/post-punk station on Long Island that broadcast to the New York City metro area (and which brought a host of truly amazing and much needed music into my drab and unhappy adolescent life)--played a fair amount of angular, white-boy, post-punk funk from bands like APB, Gang of Four, Heaven 17, early Ministry, and many others dabbled in this style, from The Clash, the Talking Heads, to Duran Duran. And since new wave served as an umbrella for a host of non-pop-mainstream genres (and there was much more of a willingness for bands to venture into other genres then), I was exposed to--and loved--a lot of different types of music and bands.

Recently, several decades later, I found myself flipping through the bins at one of my favorite used record stores and came across The Higsons' "Run Me Down" 7" single on 2 Tone Records. I'd picked up their (non-ska) "Tear The Whole Thing Down" single a few months ago (their only other release on 2 Tone) and liked it enough--but not so much that it compelled me to immediately buy "Run Me Down" (it was in mint condition, but priced significantly higher than most of their other used singles--though not outrageously so). Plus, I'm not obsessed with acquiring every single 2 Tone release in all of their iterations...

However, later that day I looked up "Run Me Down" on YouTube and upon hearing it instantly recognized it as one of those post-punk funk songs that WLIR played the hell out of (though I never knew the name of the band that performed it, since the DJs didn't always announce the songs they played). It's track that I really liked then and one that now is very much a new wave classic (at least in the NYC area for a people of a certain age!). So, the next day, during my lunch break, I rushed over to the record shop and was relieved to find that no one had snapped it up (according to Discogs, the 7" single of this release is very hard to find, though the 12" version is still to be had).

"Run Me Down" is a brilliant rejection/put me out of my misery song--something I could relate to back then--but one with wry humor, a great groove, and you have to love the female backup singers' work here (listen to the song below)!

"You came around the corner in your big black car
and the lights danced on the windscreen
Blind behind your huge dark glasses
You slipped a smile that could have killed a cat

You said to me you should have run me down
I had to agree, I had to agree
'Cause we've been through hell to be standing here
On this dusty road with a burnt out future

It all began in that car of yours
It wasn't me you were making love to
You're squeezing me and still you smile
But a good assassination should be silent

I don't want you and you don't want me
So, why hang on to something that's dying?

I think it's sick the way you talk to your car
You won't ever talk to me
(You should have run me down)
The roads are littered with your accidents
Why won't you let me join them?
(You should have run me down)

I don't want you and you don't want me
So, why hang on to something, something that's dying?

(Come on boys, dump the car)
Set another round up on the bar
(Forget the past, forget the future)
Collapse into a drunken stupor

Run me down, you should have run me down
(You should have run me down)
Run me down, you should have run me down
(You should have run me down)
I wanna see it, I wanna hear it, I wanna live it!
(You should have run me down)
The feel of metal against my flesh
You should have run me down"

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NYC Fall 2014 Ska Calendar #17

The Bodysnatchers at the top of the heap!
Monday, September 22, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

The Far East w/Pears

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY

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Saturday, September 20, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

Sweet Lucy, Fortunate Youth, Ease Up, Ground Swell, SensaMotion Band

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15 in advance/$17 day of show
All ages

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Monday, September 22, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Dub Champions Festival Opening Night w/Mad Professor and Francois K

18 Little West 12th Street
New York, NY
$10 in advance/$20 at the door

+ + + +

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 @ 6:00 pm

Dub Champions Festival w/Lee Scratch Perry, Subatomic Sound System

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

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Friday, September 26, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

Dub Champions Festival w/Victor Rice (mixing Dub Side of the Moon), I Grade Dub, Tsunami Bass, Analog Players Society, Liondub, Jr. Volcano and more!

The Paper Box
17 Meadow Street
Brooklyn, NY
$17 in advance/$20 day of show

+ + + +

Friday, September 26, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

Reggae in the Slope w/Brooklyn Attractors and Kevin Batchelor, and Channel One Sound featuring Crucial Selector Shalar

Under the Tea Lounge
837-839 Union Street
Brooklyn, NY

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Saturday, September 27, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

Outlaw Ritual, Radio Jarocho, Skarroneros, The Church Committee, and Consumata

Black Bear Bar
70 North 6th Street
Brooklyn, NY

+ + + +

Monday, October 13, 2014 @ 8:30 pm

Hollie Cook, Rioux, Brittany Campbell

289 Kent Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$12 day of show

+ + + +

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Irving Plaza
17 Irving Place
Manhattan, NY

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Friday, October 24, 2014 @ 10:30 pm

The Scofflaws

Beau's Bar
54 Broadway
Greenlawn, NY

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

3rd Annual Devils Night w/Mephiskapheles, The Toasters, No Redeeming Social Value, and The Ladrones

Mercury Lounge
217 East Houston Street
Manhattan, NY
Tickets: $23.85 (through this link)

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Friday, December 5, 2014 @ 9:30 pm

Beat Brigade, Rude Boy George and special guest!

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street
Manhattan, NY
No cover/21+

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Friday, December 19, 2014

The Scofflaws

89 North
89 North Ocean Avenue
Patchogue, NY

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Saturday, December 20, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

The Slackers, Mephiskapheles
149 7th Street
The Bell House
Brooklyn, NY

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Life's Little Victories: Record Collecting Edition #2

After re-reading sections of Paul "Willo" Williams' essential "You're Wondering Now: The Specials from Conception to Reunion" this past August while on holiday, I came across a passage about Specials' drummer John Bradbury's short-lived label Race Records that he ran with Sean Carasov, who was the manager for the all female punk band the Mo-dettes, as well as a roadie and merch guy for The Specials. One of the acts on Race Records that caught my attention was The People, which featured ex-Selecter members Charlie Anderson and Desmond Brown, who had left The Selecter before the recording of Celebrate the Bullet (according to a 2009 interview with Marco on the Bass, Anderson "didn't think it was the right direction for the band"), as well as Chris Christie, who had been in the Coventry reggae band Hard Top 22 in 1977 with Anderson and Brown (along with several other members of The Selecter), and John Hobley from another Coventry band, God's Toys. The People's sole release was a 1981 single: "Musical Man" b/w "Sons and Daughters."

I was intrigued, so I looked up the A side "Musical Man" on YouTube and really liked its reggae/rock sound, which--ironically--wouldn't have been out of place on The Selecter's Celebrate the Bullet--compare the (slightly psychedelic) reggae of "Musical Man" with "Selling Out Your Future." So, I decided to try to track a copy of the single down on the internet. As luck would have it, I was able to purchase a near mint copy of the single for not too terrible a price and am psyched to have this somewhat rare release in my collection.

In addition to the fantastic songs, what makes The People's single particularly compelling is that it's clearly a 2 Tone affair (even if The People's sound isn't). Specials' engineer/producer Dave Jordan produced it (and according to Anderson, Lynval Golding was also involved, though he is uncredited on the release), John "Teflon" Sims designed the artwork (and the illustration on the back of The People's single--the A side is a tribute to Rico--is reprised and further developed for Rico and The Special AKA's "Jungle Music" single picture sleeve, which was issued in 1982), and it was released on Bradbury's imprint (he had set it up as a "musicians' label," according to Paul Williams, lending each band the money to record their music, recouping his loan on sales, and if the release went bust, he forgave the band's debt).

As previously mentioned, "Musical Man" was dedicated to Rico and his musical brilliance and perseverance:

"Musical man
Keeps on blowing down
Got to let it flow
All the time

Some will criticize him
Some will judge him bad
It's the music, the music, the music
Keeps him going

Breaking apart
Right from the start
What keeps him going
I don't know

Musical man
Musical man
Musical man
Keeps on blowing down
All the time"

"Sons and Daughters" is terrific, hard-hitting, socially conscious track (with a bass line reminiscent of The Police's "The Bed's Too Big Without You") and very much in the 2 Tone vein of speaking out about socio-economic and racial injustice:

"I think about my sons and daughters
I start to think about their future
Why they make it just hating
down here?

Some are at the bottom
and some are at the top
Beating the system
With a holy load of mockery

We love our sons and daughters
We're thinking about their future
We love our sons and daughters
And we're thinking about their future

My woman and I we quarrel
For reasons we know why
Weeks and weeks of misery
Can't live our lives on the dole

But we've got to carry on
Yes, we've got to laugh it off
We love our sons and daughters
And we're thinking about their future"

From the vantage point of several decades on, I find both of these track to be pretty great and am somewhat puzzled as to why this release didn't fare better. Certainly, fans of UB40 would have found much to like in The People's sound. But the close association with The Selecter and 2 Tone must have put fans of both off when they discovered that The People didn't deliver a Specials/Selecter-like ska sound. It's a shame that The People didn't forge on--despite the changing UK pop tastes at the beginning of the 1980s--they had a very good thing going...

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ska Crowd Funding: Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers!

Rhoda Dakar demonstrating her moves.
Here's an interesting ska crowd funding project that we're planning to support! In recognition and celebration of The Bodysnatchers' 35th(!) anniversary (it's important to note that they were 2 Tone's only all-girl group), vocalist Rhoda Dakar is recording an album of unreleased and unheard Bodysnatchers material, most of which she wrote or co-wrote back in the day. (Dakar stresses that The Bodysnatchers are NOT reforming, this is her project in tribute to the band--think Rhoda Dakar sings The Bodysnatchers' unreleased songs.) If you're interested in funding this project, there are digital downloads, CDs, vinyl records, etc. available at various pledge levels--all the details are available on her PledgeMusic page.

Word from Sean Flowerdew via the Specials' fan site is that these songs will be recorded with a full band and produced in a manner that will attempt to be faithful to The Bodysnatchers' original sound. And when I checked in with Ms. Dakar, she confirmed with me that, indeed, the songs will be captured in the studio with a full band, but due to the tight deadline and availability of musicians she's asked to accompany her, she's understandably reluctant to announce who else may be involved in her project until the album is in the can.

Apart from two great singles ("Let's Do the Rocksteady" b/w "Ruder Than You"--which was co-written with Gaz Mayall before he became a Trojan--and "Easy Life" b/w "Too Experienced"), a track on the soundtrack to the 2 Tone film Dance Craze, and inclusion of these songs on various 2 Tone compilations, The Bodysnatchers didn't leave much recorded music behind after their break-up (of course, Rhoda went on to join The Special AKA, while other members went on to form the pop group the Belle Stars--and this band later begat the brilliant ska group The Deltones in the late 1980s). So, this is an amazing opportunity to see what might have been, had The Bodysnatchers soldiered on after the flame out of 2 Tone mania in the UK, instead of dissolving.

Also, if you're in the UK, Rhoda Dakar will be performing a one-off show of these songs at an "Invasion of The Bodysnatchers" gig at Camden Town’s legendary Jazz Cafe this coming Halloween.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Duff Review: Supertonic Sound Club Meet Dave Barker "Scheherazade" b/w "Little Boy"

AMTY Records
7" vinyl record/digital download

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Dublin-based ska/reggae crew Supertonic Sound Club return to the scene (they've been on hiatus since 2010) with a spectacular new single featuring skinhead reggae great Dave Barker (of Dave and Ansell Collins fame). "Scheherazade," a tribute to the mythical Persian queen and storyteller of "One Thousand and One Nights," is a great, propulsive, Middle-Eastern-influenced ska track that recounts the legend with Barker narrating the story with his spoken/sung vocal exhortations. (If you're not familiar with "One Thousand and One Nights" AKA "Arabian Nights," Scheherazade avoids being killed by Shahryar, Persian for king--who has been marrying a new virgin every day and consummating the marriage each night, but having them beheaded the next, since he was so profoundly hurt by his first wife who had been sexually unfaithful to him--by telling him a series of fantastically compelling stories each night, but stopping at dawn in the middle of each story with a cliffhanger, so that Shahryar would be compelled to spare Scheherazade's life in order for her to be able to finish the tale that evening; this is repeated night after night...)

"A king broken-hearted, in anger and pain
For the women he met before were slain
Then you came along
And helped to make things right
You turned his darkness into light

Truly, the king's delight
In one thousand and one nights
You made everything right
You made him laugh
And you made him live
Gave him all the love
You had to give

A human of substance
Truly a woman of class
Such a woman of grace
Who made the king forget the past

A woman so great
With so much love to give
Shared it all with the king
And truly, truly lived

Truly a woman of heart
And the king saw your beauty
Right from the start
You took him from death
And gave him life
Became his queen, his love, and, yes, his life"

"Little Boy" is a sweet ska ditty (though a Brill Building heart is beating somewhere within), with the fantastic Shelly Bukspan on vocals, about a troubled kid headed down the wrong path in life:

"Hey, little boy
Tough to break out of the scene
With no dad
With no dad and no dream

Always missing school
Struggling with all the rules
Hey, little boy
Just turn around

But you cannot say
What you wanted to say
And you struggle with it every day
Fighting his words, just to prove yourself
When the only one you hurt is yourself

Will you ever be at peace?
Can you find the release?
Little boy
Oh, little boy..."

Hey, little boy
You're not the same
Thinking outside the box, now
You don't play the game

Hey little boy,
No need to run
You will find your way, now
But tomorrow there'll be hell to pay"

The Supertonic Sound Club are clearly a gifted and thrillingly original band. Get this single and keep your eye on this band--you're going to want to hear what they do next!

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(Check out the terrific video for the Supertonic Sound Club's "Scheherazade" by Declan Moran--and learn how to pronounce her name while you're at it!)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Duff Review: Spatial AKA Orchestra: "Ghost Planet" b/w "Free Nelson Mandela"

Ska Boots Series
7" single on purple or red vinyl

If you've lost the thread on Jerry Dammers over the past few years (he refused to be part of the spectacular Specials reunion tours of 2010, 2013, and 2014, but has been regularly DJing at clubs in the UK and continues to be involved in anti-racism organizations and activities, like Love Music, Hate Racism), you may not be aware that he has a new-ish group, the Spatial AKA Orchestra, which Dammers formed in the mold of--and as a tribute to--the late cosmic/free-form jazz pioneer Sun Ra (read what I wrote about The Spatial AKA Orchestra a few years ago here).

While some may be puzzled by Dammers' latest musical incarnation, the evolution from the muzak/lounge-influenced ska of the More Specials album and Ghost Town EP to the mix of no wave jazz, soul, reggae, and world beat of The Special AKA's In the Studio to the cosmic jazz of the Spatial AKA Orchestra shouldn't be that unexpected or jarring (Dammers himself has been quoted as saying, "Ska to Ra is not such a big leap. The best instrumental ska consists basically of a sort of dreamy, spiritual jazz, over a street rhythm.”). The Spatial AKA Orchestra (a brilliant 25 piece band that counts amongst its members ska legend/Specials and Special AKA member Rico Rodriguez, Madness collaborator/member of 2 Tone act The Higsons and saxophonist Terry Edwards, poet Anthony Joseph, and a slew of top UK jazz performers) has been gigging somewhat regularly in the UK and Europe (they played in London this past July), but they haven't officially released any recordings to date (nor is there any information out there about plans to go into the studio from the elusive Mr. Dammers).

So, it looks like the unnamed people behind the Ska Boots series are filling what demand there may be for recorded music from The Spatial AKA Orchestra (as a former ska indie label guy and current member of a band I'm generally very reluctant to purchase bootlegs--bands should get paid for their music--but the obsessive music/vinyl fan in me sometimes overrides my ethical concerns). The Spatial AKA Orchestra's "Ghost Planet" b/w "Free Nelson Mandela" 7" single is derived from live TV performances of the band--"Ghost Planet" is from a 2010 "Later...with Jools Holland" show and "Free Nelson Mandela" comes from a Channel 4 BBC TV appearance.

The Spatial AKA Orchestra's "Ghost Planet" is an even angrier and more searing version of The Specials' extraordinary 1981 hit "Ghost Town" and its updated lyrics--as one of the members of The Specials' fan site so accurately and succinctly describes it--are "a damning summation of decline."

"Ghost Planet"

"This town is coming like a ghost town
All the buildings have been torn down
This place is coming like a drag place
A dead place
Wipe the smile from a child's face

This world is coming like a ghost planet
Man a feel like an ant on this here planet
If you treat man like mouse he will breed
Treat man like fly and he will swarm

This world is coming like a rubbish tip
It coming like a cesspit
That's feeding on its own vomit
Coming like a rubbish dump
In need of a stomach pump

This place is coming like a disgrace
A child's smile turned into a ghost place

This place was a back-stabbing, greedy, corrupt place
What, what is that, what is that sweet, sickly smell?
Is it heaven turned into hell?"

The reggae groove of the original has been worn down to a plodding (death) march to oblivion in this version, but it's as haunting and powerful as the original--maybe even more so, since humanity is still plagued by many of the same formidable problems we were facing back in 1981 and then some.

"Free Nelson Mandela" is a much happier affair--musically, not too dissimilar from the original--and presented as an instrumental, perhaps because the lyrics are no longer relevant, with Mandela long-ago freed (and now free of this mortal coil), and the South African apartheid system of governing peacefully dismantled years ago.

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