Sunday, April 20, 2014

Duff Review: The Specials "Sock It To 'Em J.B. (Dub)" b/w "Rat Race (Dub)"

2 Tone/Chrysalis
Vinyl single in 2 Tone sleeve
Exclusive Record Store Day 2014 release

(Review by Steve Shafer)

After spending an hour and forty minutes just waiting to get in the front door (about 200 people were in line in front of me), I managed to snag the last Specials Record Store Day single at Rough Trade in Brooklyn--and then had to face the grim 15+ minute line for the cash registers (later that morning, I spotted several more Specials singles at another record store in Greenwich Village in Manhattan that I happened to pop into on a whim--it had no lines at all--and bought The Stranglers' "Peaches" single and Joy Division's "An Ideal for Living" EP, both of which were on my RSD want list and nowhere to be found at Rough Trade).

Of course, both of these tracks are versions of songs off The Specials' second album, More Specials. While these dub mixes come from the same 1980 sessions as the album, they've remained in the 2 Tone/Chrysalis vaults until now. Of the two, John Bradbury's dub of The Specials'  awesome cover of Rex Garvin and The Mighty Cravers' Northern Soul right hook "Sock It To 'Em J.B." is by far the more inventive, successful, and enjoyable. Instead of just shouting out the names of  various James Bond films as they do in the album version of this cut, Neville Staple and Lynval Golding name check various spy/law enforcement agencies (MI5, Interpol, Scotland Yard, Secret Service, FBI, CIA, KGB, etc.) and chat about a special assignment rooting out one's inner weakness by blowing one's mind on ganja. I prefer this version to the original, as it's not as repetitive (with the "Sock It To 'Em" refrain visited over and over) and the dub effects bring it more into the ska/reggae realm.

Jerry Dammers' dub mix of Roddy Radiation's incredible "Rat Race" doesn't fare as well. It starts out promisingly enough, with a driving bongo beat, John Bradbury's drumming, the signature plucking of the piano strings, and some great keyboard lines dropped in here and there to remind us of the melody. But then the track fails to really go anywhere and doesn't use any of Terry Hall's vocals, Roddy's or Lynval's guitar licks or chords, or Sir Horace Panter's bass lines. As a result, it feels like it's not fully formed (which is a shame, since what's here is a great foundation to build on...) and seems very tenuously related to its source material. With More Specials, Dammers was very much about stretching the band's sound beyond 2 Tone ska to explore and incorporate other musical idioms, a goal that was much more fully realized with The Special AKA's discordant, no wave jazz/pop/reggae on their darkly brilliant In the Studio--where "Rat Race (Dub)" would have been far more at home.

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