Friday, August 15, 2008

Shots in the Dark: Various Artists - Ska Face: An All-American Ska Compilation

Editor's note: Shots in the Dark spotlights third-wave 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. Also, the scanner at work is too small to capture an entire LP's cover and I'm too busy to scan it in halves and then Photoshop it all together, so you get what you get and you don't get upset...okay?

The Bands: A who's who of East Coast and West Coast ska bands, circa 1988, including The Toasters, The NY Citizens, The Scofflaws, Bim Skala Bim, Let's Go Bowling, The Donkey Show, The Boilers, Rhyth-o-matics, No Doubt, Crucial DBC, Skankhead (later to become Skankin' Pickle), Thick as Thieves, and the Exterminators.

The Sound: Just about evenly split between bands influenced by 2-Tone and Fishbone, and those following in the steps of the Skatalites and Prince Buster--all gloriously free of ska-punk and punk-ska (both of which were gestating in the studio at the time: the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Operation Ivy were to unleash their admittedly brilliant debut albums in 1990).

The Release: Unleashed on the world from Moon Records in 1988 (though I didn't pick up my copy until early 1989), Ska Face was the first US ska comp to ever hit the record shelves. While the US 3rd wave ska scene was still in its rudimentary phase (it was so early in the scheme of things that like dinosaurs were still walking the Earth) and was quite fragmented and disorganized, this album hinted at some of the amazing things that were to come to fruition by the mid-90s. For the first time, American ska fans had an inkling that something might be going out there beyond the city limits and their parochial ska scene (if there was one!); this was pre-internet/dark ages when ska news, other than word-of-mouth or show listings in your local alternative paper, was really hard to come by (in the late 80s and early 90s, I gleaned most of my ska news from George Marshall's great Zoot! skazine, which was published in England, for pete's sake!).

Side one of Ska Face is terrific the whole way through, from The Toasters' catchily aggressive manifesto "Ska Killers" (with one of my favorite wry lyrics for clueless Americans: "It's the music of Jamaica/and I don't mean Jamaica, Queens/and I heard it on an airwave coming up from New Orleans..."); the Rhyth-o-Matics' wonderfully percussive and horn-charged "Skatalation"; The Scofflaws' first recording of "Rudy's Back" (I made a point of catching them live after first hearing this cut--which is a bit less polished than the version that ended up on their debut record, but perfectly captured the incredible enthusiasm and energy of their shows at the time); the happily stoned laid-back skank of The Donkey Show's "Feeling Nice"; to Let's Go Bowling's great, revved-up, pissed-at-my-girlfriend rant, "Bitch." Side two is a little bit more hit or miss, but standout tracks include The NY Citizens' frenetic "D.A.N.C.E." (from their superb On the Move LP); The Boilers' great trad intstrumental "Bal' Man Jump" (this from Jeff Baker's pre-Skinnerbox band, which released a full-length LP on Oi/Ska Records in the UK, also in 1988); No Doubt's twitchily paranoid "Everything's Wrong" (yes, Virginia, they really started out as a pretty good ska band before going for pop!); and Skankhead's loopy "Circus Skank." (For the record, Bim Skala Bim's label Razorbeat released the second US ska comp, Mashin' Up the Nation, in 1989.)

The Ugly Reality: Not many copies of this LP made it into the hands of ska fans (as few and far between as we were), as one of Moon's main distributors at the time went belly up, swallowing a good deal of Ska Face's pressing with it (and since Moon, run out of Buck's apartment in Chelsea, completely lacked the funds to re-press it, there were no more copies to be had). It may not strike you as such two decades on, but if you were lucky enough to pick up a copy back in the late 80s, this record was frakin' manna from heaven...

(For you nitpickers: Ska Face was later released on CD in the UK by Skank in the mid-90s as Skaville USA, Volume 3. But good luck finding a copy of the LP nowadays...)

The Grade: A-

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I purchased this LP format from a record store above an italian restaurant in Toronto 4/22/01. its Skaville USA 3 SKAR 006 roddy moreno. didn't Skankhead evolve to Skankin Pickle? It always lists for silly on Ebay purely because of the ND.


(after dinner I had bad heartburn I went to the 24 hour mart, used the ATM and bought ENO brand antacids)

Anonymous said...

This was an awesome album, I picked up two LP copies of it at Bleecker Bobs circa '92. One of them has a hand written note on the sleeve saying it is a test pressing. Loved Ska-ta-lation.

Steve from Moon said...

To Anonymous #1: Thanks for your comments. I had a feeling that Ska Face came out on LP from Oi/Ska Records, but a quick Google search didn't confirm this. (You remember the day you purchased this record?!) Yes, Skankhead evolved into SP (I mentioned this early in the posting). And if people discover these other bands because of the No Doubt connection, that's a good thing!

Steve from Moon said...

To Anonymous #2: Thanks for your comments! Yeah, most of my late 80s early 90s ska LPs came from Bleecker Bob's--they had a pretty terrific stock o' ska. Crazy that one of your LPs is the test pressing...

Anonymous said...

You can still pick up a thing or two at Bob's I got the Boilers LP there last year. But surely you had the inside track on getting the LPs didn't you work at Moon?

-Andrew

Steve from Moon said...

Andrew:

Haven't been to Bleecker Bob's in ages...The Boilers' LP is a great find, though. I need to make a trip downtown soon.

Yeah, I have most of the Moon LPs from working there, but even when I started back in '90, Moon was out of the Ska Face LPs...(no idea how many they pressed to begin with, but it seems like some of the titles, like The NY Citizens' "On the Move" did not have large print runs...).

I never picked up a copy of The Boilers' "Rockin' Steady" back in the day...and I regret it!

Thanks.

Steve

Anonymous said...

Happy to say I have the NY Citizens On the Move LP as well. Another great Bleaker Bob's find.

-Andrew

Steve from Moon said...

Damn! I'm going to need to stop by BB's this week to see what all is left there...Thanks.

PS: The NY Citizens were a terrific live act, too. I caught them a few times in the late 80s...

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Can you do a Shots in the Dark for New York Ska Live? Its the one album I have been chasing for years and can't find. Would love to know more about it.

-Andrew

Steve from Moon said...

Andrew:

Sure, I'm happy write up a Shots in the Dark revew of "NYC Ska Live" LP. Actually, I was thinking about it when I was looking through my record collection the other day and came across it...

Steve from Moon

Darryl said...

It's neat to see interest in this album so many years later. I was in Skankhead and played sax, and co-wrote our track on this LP. Josh Michaels and I wrote it at my house during lunch, he played piano, I played sax.

Skankin Pickle's connection to Skankhead is through Mike Park and Lars. Mike was briefly in Skankhead. (I was out of town for this recording session, and he sat in for me. He also played a show or two with Skankhead.) Lars played off and on with early Skankhead.

But the final Skankhead horns were me and Mark on sax, and Don on trombone.

I was in a different band with Mike Mattingly. That's the Skankhead connection to him. So, we all sort of knew or knew of each other. Mike, Mike and Lars met and got the pickle going. But it was pretty much a different band from Skankhead proper.

Bye!
Darryl Sweet

Steve from Moon said...

Darryl:

Thanks for stopping by and for helping to set the record straight about this recording and the Skankhead-Skankin' Pickle connection!

Steve from Moon

Anonymous said...

Any chance those of us who aren't as lucky to have a copy can hear some of the songs? Please? :)