Thursday, March 6, 2014

King Hammond "Revolution '70" and "Tank Tops and Hot Pants" CD

Limited edition CD

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Back in the late 80s, Bad Manners' bassist and prolific songwriter Nick Welsh followed up on his stellar work for their 1989 Return of the Ugly album (Nick wrote "Skaville UK," "Since You've Gone Away" and "Memory Train"--and co-penned "Rosemary" and "Return of the Ugly"; this album remains one of Bad Manners' best) with a persona and record that celebrated the late 60s/early 70s skinhead reggae explosion in the UK: King Hammond's Revolution '70 (released on Buster Bloodvessel's then newly-revived and licensed Blue Beat label). At first, almost on a lark, Nick promoted King Hammond's debut album as a long-lost Jamaican gem of the skinhead reggae era, but he quickly fessed up about the charade in order to lay claim to all of the accolades the album was (deservedly) receiving.

After reading George Marshall's review in his essential (and very much missed) "Zoot" skazine (see the scans below from my personal copy), I mail-ordered the Revolution '70 LP from Unicorn Records and when my needle hit the record was immediately struck by Welsh's fully-realized sound and vision for King Hammond. The organ-centric music (in more ways than one!) pays loving homage to the skinhead reggae keyboard greats like Harry J, Jackie Mittoo, Winston Wright, Glen Adams, Ansel Collins, et al, while sounding thoroughly original (which it is--the cuts here are all Nick's). In fact, two of the vocal tracks on Revolution '70--"Stay with Me Baby" and "Oh Lorna!" are really pop-hits disguised in boots 'n' braces (Nick revisited "Stay with Me Baby" on his terrific Soho Sessions album, where he re-worked many of his greatest ska songs from the 80s and 90s on acoustic guitar).

George Marshall's review in Issue 13 of "Zoot" (1989)
Thematically, these songs cover skinhead reggae appropriate pop culture topics--which Nick clearly relishes--such as Sergio Leone spaghetti Westerns ("One Dollar Hotel" and "Hammond's Showdown"); Bruce Lee/martial arts films ("Enter the Dragon"); gothic horror movies, no doubt, of the Hammer Horror variety featuring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing ("The Satantic Rites of King Hammond" and "King Hammond vs. The Exorcist"), the soft-porn pop songs (with lots of sexually suggestive moaning) of Serge Gainsbourg (did you know that in 1979 he released a decent album of French reggae songs with Sly and Robbie called Aux Armes et Caetera?), and the hilarious rude records (for those of us with dirty minds to read into all of the double-entendres) of Lloyd Charmers (AKA Lloydie and the Lowbites), Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, Judge Dread, et al (sample lyric from King Hammond's, ahem, "Pussy Power": "You must succumb-ah to my cucumb-ah").

From "Zoot" Issue 13, 1989
All of these keyboard-heavy tracks (most which include all sorts of wonderfully over-the-top spoken, shouted, or sung exhortations--many sublime in their outrageousness) are top-notch and were particularly unique back in 1989, when most bands were in the vein of either The Specials or The Skatalites. No one was doing skinhead reggae (with the exception of the now late, but always great, Laurel Aitken--though even his recordings at this time with the Potato 5 and the Pressure Tenants were typically 60s-style Jamaican ska, even if the arrangements sometimes took on more contemporary elements). While I love all of the tracks here, the two that are my favorite are probably "The Satanic Rites of King Hammond" ("Take off your hot pants and suck...This is the Hammond House of Horror, dig the beat, kids...Let me take you to a deserted graveyard, where the bones lay rotting...I will lay you down on a grave and I will raise...raise with me baby! You may be Dracula, you may be Frankenstein, but nothing can save you from King Hammond! I'm coming to get you!") and "The March of the Skinheads," which opens with an air raid siren and briefly salutes The Ethiopians' skinhead reggae anthem "Train to Skaville" before heading off on its own course (Nick was also honoring his father here, who co-wrote a song for the Artie Scott Orchestra with the same title--and I can only describe it as the type of quirky instrumental pop song you'd hear on a light Doris Day-type movie soundtrack from the 1960s).

King Hammond's follow-up, Tank Tops and Hot Pants, didn't see a proper release (mostly due to the demise of Buster's Blue Beat label and Nick's split with Bad Manners for the reformed Selecter with Neol Davies and Pauline Black), but one of Trojan Records' subsidiary labels Receiver Records (which released the excellent live Selecter Out in the Streets CD) issued the mega 25-track CD Blow Your Mind in 1992, which contained both the LP-only Revolution 70 and the newer cuts, though the track order jumbled up songs from each album (interestingly enough, this reissue drops a few cuts--"King Hammond's Magic Roundabout," "Crossroads," "Kinky Version," "Baby Version," "King Hammond Shuffle," and "Right On King Hammond," the last two were featured on Skank Records ska compilations). I really wish Tank Tops had come out on its own on vinyl--look at that cover art by Steven Friel (who provided ska-themed comic strips for "Zoot!," illustrated many of Unicorn Records' album covers, as well as Bad Manners' Return of the Ugly and King Hammond's Revolution '70)!

Tank Tops picks up right where Revolution left off, with more stellar skinhead reggae songs about sex ("Psychedelic Pum Pum" and "Pussy Got Nine Lives"), Westerns ("Hammond Rides Again" and "Spaced Out Cowboy"), blood suckers ("Dracula AD 72"), and simply great tracks with suggestive names ("Confessions of an Organist," "Suck/Lick It Up," and "Soul Up"). The album ends with the only sung song--"Skinhead Revolution"--a brilliant, funky and soulful, power-to-the people early reggae track with a great "nah, nah, nah" chorus right out of early 70s ("Skinhead on a violent street/dances to a different beat/Get ready, get ready!/Revolution on the floor/To the sound of '74/Get ready, get ready!/Nah, nah, nah/Skinhead revolution/Tank tops and hot pants everywhere/Sexy skin chicks with skin cut hair/Get ready, get ready... "). After hearing this, you'll be eager to sign up for King Hammond's musical movement, too.

The Blow Your Mind is a hard CD to find and fetches a high price on the collector's market (as does the Revolution '70 LP). One expects that this limited-edition version of Revolution '70 and Tank Tops and Hot Pants will be similarly valued and very much treasured by ska and skinhead reggae fans, too.

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