Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Will Ska Rise Again (Reconsidered)

So (music) history repeats itself endlessly. Just as the 2 Tone acts covered and borrowed extensively from Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, and their ska, rocksteady, and skinhead reggae contemporaries, Kid British generously sample Madness' "Our House" on "Our House is Dadless" (see the video, listen to the tune below) to great effect. They lure you in with the warm familiarity of Madness' 1982 global pop hit, but then grab you by the collar with their extraordinarily catchy take on lower-middle-working class life in the early 21st century UK. Before you scoff and accuse them of greedily exploiting Madness' pop success for their own purposes, remember that in JA this is called versioning--putting your own, improved spin on an established hit tune--and it's part and parcel of a long and grand ska/reggae tradition that makes up the extraordinarily rich and deep ska/rocksteady/reggae/dub back catalogue that we love and celebrate, right?

Sure, this ain't exactly a ska tune--both "House" versions are pop songs that are lodged in a continuous loop in my head--but Kid British, like Madness, is a pop band at the core that incorporates a lot of ska into their mix (check out "Elizabeth" on their MySpace page). And this is what it will take (along with Kid British's major label backing--Mercury Records--otherwise known as big money, which no ska band in the US currently has in their favor) for ska to have a chance at rising again.

For a brief shining moment, the 2 Tone acts--which we third and fourth wavers revere as authentic standard bearers of ska-- were genuine pop stars in the UK (top of the charts, Top of the Pops), without compromising their sound and vision. For ska to rise again in such a meteoric fashion (with all of the socio-political and pop cultural stars aligned just so) may take a true miracle or spectacular sequence of odd coincidences, but surely the key is to bring a pop sensibility to your songwriting (Bucket is a master of this--The Toasters' back catalogue is brimming with tunes that would have been alternative music hits in a more perfect universe), and capturing the essence of your generation's overarching experience. The Specials and The Beat in particular spoke to a majority of unemployed and disenfranchised working class black and white youth "left on the shelf" by Thatcher's England. Ska needs this kind of commonality, not exclusivity, to crawl out of obscurity again.

Lyrics for Kid British's "Our House is Dadless":

Well my house is a mad house/
We'll hardly sit down and watch TV cause we got things to do/
And I got things to do/
Mum talks calmly for a while and then starts shouting/
Clean up the kitchen/
I always say I'll do it later/
Or yeah in a minute/
My house is a hot spot/
Everyday of the week someone will be in my house who don’t live here/
The neighbours ain’t got a problem with us/
Yeah music plays in my house constantly/
Constant noise, but I wouldn’t have it any other way I love my house/
Total chaos, yeah its random/
Off key, different, no house is similar/
But for some reason it works/
My house is crazy you know


Our house, in the middle of our street/
Our house in the middle of our.../
Our house, in the middle of our street/
Something tells you that you’ve got to move away from it

You hold a better conversation/
When born in grimey locations/
And that’s where you'll find my crib/
In the same area where the alkies live/
So I love my street/
You get bare joke when the alkies beef/
And though outside may reek/
Not in my crib no potpourri/
And we've just added new bricks/
So every other house in the street looks shit/
Compared to ours/
But it's hard to get a decent kip when out comes the stars/
Because of all the beef in my avenue/
Neighbours fight so police in my avenue/
So you might catch me in my living room/
Up late writing to beats if I’m in the mood/
Or if not I'll be on the Playstation/
Or better still MSN conversations/
And every one of our houses are dadless/
So no wonder our houses are Madness


Sunday morning my day off/
I can smell that bacon cooking/
And mum's downstairs doing that weekly washing/
Singing along she's got that Motown rocking/
And I'm shouting out ‘mum turn it down'/
Cos i'm tryna sleep right now/
Argh, forget it I was getting up anyway/
Man I can't get a lie in any day/
So i'm downstairs arguing/
Mum chill out I won't have this in our house/
Ok, your house/
Then I had a little moan how the living room's freezing/
And then she starts screaming/
Mum I ain't being rude just turn up the heating/
She said 'move out if you ain't warm enough’/
Coincidently, suddenly I'm warming up!

1 comment:

Steve from Moon said...

No comments about this song? C'mon! Either you love it or are outraged by it! Let's hear it...