Friday, June 3, 2011

Duff Review: The Selecter "Big in the Body, Small in the Mind"

How wild is it that in 2011--roughly 30 years after 2 Tone flamed out--we have not one, but two great-sounding versions of The Selecter playing out and making new music? (While it would be fantastic to have one unified Selecter, internal differences have led Neol Davies to form one, and Pauline Black and Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson to team up for another.)

Pauline's and Gaps' incarnation of The Selecter has just released the new digital single "Big in the Body, Small in the Mind" (for vinyl freaks like me, a limited edition 7" single will be available July 23rd with "Back in Black" on the flip side) in advance of their forthcoming album, Made in Britain (to be released September 1st, 2011 on Vocaphone Records). This extraordinary cover of Woody Guthrie's "All You Fascists" (which may remind one of the Special AKA's powerful and uncompromising "Racist Friend" in content and tone) manages to transform a WWII-era banjo-y anti-racist/fascist folk song into an immediately identifiable and eminently catchy Selecter ska cut.

Like Woody's original (which you can listen to below), Pauline and Gaps are brazenly and gleefully defiant in the face of racial/ethnic/class hatred--and they're more than happy to name the names of the enemies of multiculturalism: KKK, BNP, Tea Party, etc., as well as boneheads everywhere. Indeed, even though The Selecter drops Guthrie's bloody lyrical call to arms ("I'm going into this battle/and take my union gun"), which in Woody's day was directed against Nazi Germany and the Axis, very little content (sadly) needs updating (Guthrie's lyrics are listed below). Pauline does swap out a line about "poll tax and Jim Crow" to reflect the Dickensian economic inequality of our times: "Derivatives and hedge funds/Greed has got to go!" Amen, sister!

The Selecter's choice to cover Woody Guthrie's song is a potent reminder of the great potential of language coupled with popular music to effect social change; for examples, see the fascinating book "33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day" by Dorian Lynskey, which I'm reading now. (Seems that with all that's going on in the world we could use a bit more music with a message.) Without a doubt, The Selecter's "Big in the Body, Small in the Mind" continues 2 Tone's vitally important tradition of decrying social injustice--and beautifully celebrates Woody Guthrie's incredible musical/political legacy. The lyrics give your head food for thought; the music makes your body want to dance; and a crucially important, and still relevant, anti-racist message is broadcast far and wide.

This is protest music at its best.

Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

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The Selecter's "Big in the Body, Small in the Mind" can be purchased from Amazon or Amazon UK.

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"All You Fascists" -- Lyrics by Woody Guthrie

I’m gonna tell you fascists
You may be surprised
The people in this world
Are getting organized
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose

Race hatred cannot stop us
This one thing we know
Your poll tax and Jim Crow
And greed has got to go
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose.

All of you fascists bound to lose:
I said, all of you fascists bound to lose:
Yes sir, all of you fascists bound to lose:
You’re bound to lose! You fascists:
Bound to lose!

People of every color
Marching side to side
Marching ‘cross these fields
Where a million fascists die
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose!

I’m going into this battle
And take my union gun
We’ll end this world of slavery
Before this battle’s won
You’re bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose!

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Below is the official Selecter video for the track, along with an abridged version of Woody Guthrie's original song, "All You Fascists."


Marco On The Bass said...

Nice review! Its great to have The Selecter back!

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, Marc! Can't wait to hear the album...