For their first-ever Record Store Day release, Soul Jazz Records is issuing the Down Beat Special Studio One five 7" box set, which will feature the following singles:
Willie Williams "Armagideon Time" b/w Marcia Griffiths "Feel Like Jumping"
The Skatalites "Addis Ababa" b/w The Eternals "Queen of the Minstrels"
Dawn Penn "No No No" b/w Dub specialist "Hooligan (Dub)"
The Mad Lads "Ten to One" b/w Jackie Mittoo "Totally Together"
Michigan and Smiley "Nice Up the Dance" b/w "The Wailers "Simmer Down"
I have to admit that I'm pretty bummed that this is a UK-only, limited-edition (500 copies) Record Store Day 2015 release, since it's going to be very hard to obtain here in the States and will likely cost an arm and a leg as a rare import (RSD releases in the US tend to be marked up significantly as it is).
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Check out the other ska/reggae related RSD 2015 releases we're interested in here.
First, a brief biographical sketch: The Reggay Lords are an early reggae supergroup of sorts, with members from drawn from such acts as Coldspot 8, The Rudie Crew, The Pinstripes, The Hard Times (RIP), and The Forthrights (RIP), who perform dressed as 18th century English lords (replete with powdered wigs, puffy shirts, embroidered jackets or velvet robes, and the occasional mead-filled chalice) and speak in condescending (and tongue-in-cheek) tones to the ska rabble that gather to receive their musical beneficence. (Read The Duff Guide to Ska review of one of The Reggay Lords' live shows here.)
While their costumes, stage antics, and lordly attitudes are definitely entertaining and engaging (absolutely see them live if you have the chance), The Reggay Lords' music really delivers. Run or Get Down, the Lords' second album (their superb self-titled debut was released in 2013), contains track after track of highly catchy and danceable dirty reggae and is a definite "must purchase"! (Also, it's a vinyl-only release, so this is yet another in a long line of reasons to join us music luddites and dig out or buy a turntable...)
"When I was just a boy on the corner
I never heard them shout in anger
And no man would curse or slander
Everyone had a nice street manner
And if a bully boy him come down
He get beat down by de block
And the only big man that a flash him gun
Was the one, him drunk, a cop
Everybody run or get down
The other (rather chipper and defiant) song relating to the police is "One Day," a clear warning (and an expression of yearning for deliverance) that envisions a time of revolution when the agents of Babylon will no longer be in a position to torment and mistreat the people:
"Oh, and what a wonderful world it would be...
One day I'll rid the world of my oppressors One day I'll live without my oppressors
Blood will run Screams will carry Babylon will run Dreams turn reality
So Mr. Blue in black Stay back So Mr. Blue in black Stay back Soon your black heart will turn blue for you
So, what about the countless victims? The thousands and millions What about the countless children Laid low by you?
So Mr. Blue in black Stay back So Mr. Blue in black Stay back Soon your black heart will turn blue for you
So, c'mon and fight, yeah! And woman fight, too So, c'mon and fight For truth"
The rest of the songs on Run or Get Down aren't quite as heavy (though the "High John" is an awesome supplication to a higher, regal authority/"conquerer" to "protect me now and always do not let my enemies rest--not in a chair, not in a bed!"). "Spirit" wonders how you can come across the ghost of someone who's still alive (the walking dead are not limited to the ranks of the undead: "When a man's not in the ground, yeah/How could you see his spirit, no!"). Propelled by a buoyant popcorn reggae organ line, "Oh Lord" serves as a jubilant theme song of sorts ("You know we're working!/Reggay Lords, that's our job!"). "It's a Game," with its terrific Middle Eastern-sounding, minor-key guitar riff (shades of Dick Dale), has a tense, plodding tempo and feel that reflects the heavy burden the singer's shouldering after realizing he's surrounded by manipulative, pernicious fake friends ("It's a game to them, how they put you down/It a game to them, that's why they're always around/Put me in one spot, they told me not to move about!"). The sweetly nostalgic ice rink organ of "Big Girl" masks the loss of youth, time, and innocence (and the sadness over how the years have transformed the childhood friend--first crush?--into a stranger): "You used to be the little girl I used to play with/You used to be the little girl I used to stay with...Where did you go?"
The Upsetters-like "Nice Shoes" is a tightly-wound, organ-centric instrumental with menacing exhortations about the risks of dressing sharply in dicey neighborhoods: "Nice shoes, my brother!/Lace by lace/Block by block/Gonna take that man's shoes/Gonna leave him in his socks!" There's a Greek myth quality to the warning contained in "There Was a Woman," which recounts the story of a siren-like woman who could lure men to their death, since they could not resist her sexual attractiveness--or see the trap that it hid ("There was a woman/She threw a contest/She don't care for the rules/She don't play by the book/A woman/She threw a contest/And when a man gets speared/All she wore was her hair/The gal could do nothing but win..."). The album ends on a lighter note, with the celebratory, good times "Barrister's Ball": "Down at the Barrister's Ball/Them don't serve no tea at all/Now all the ladies line up in the attic/Across the room and give we a wink/They never wear no funny trousers/You don't what will arouse her." Nice up the dance, indeed.
The ska scene needs more royalty like this! Make sure to hail the Reggay Lords and pick up their Run or Get Down now!
This box set contains thirteen Beat vinyl 45s, from their 2 Tone debut, "Tears of a Clown," to their last Special Beat Service single, "Ackee 1-2-3"--and everything in between: "Mirror In The Bathroom," "Hands Off... She’s Mine," "Best Friend," "Too Nice To Talk
To," "Doors of Your Heart," "All Out To Get You," "Hit It," "Save It For Later," "Jeanette," "I Confess," and "Can’t Get To Losing
You." A 16-page booklet is included, presumably about the band and each single. Only 1,000 copies of this set are being pressed.
It seems a bit odd that this set isn't being given a US release, as The Beat were enormously popular in America during the new wave era (and many of those former kids who bought The English Beat's records are now all middle-aged people who are probably still buying music in physical formats--and didn't have the chance to purchase many of the band's UK-only singles back in the day!). For now, American fans should hit up any family or friends in the UK and ask them to pick up a copy--or get ready to bid a lot cash on eBay...
In the weird, lost years after the flame out of the post-2 Tone NYC-Boston-LA ska scenes at the very end of the 80s and prior to the rise of the mighty Third Wave sometime in the mid-90s, I started reading in Tower Records' "Pulse" magazine about this ska band in Japan, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (TSPO or Skapara to their fans in Japan), that was on Epic/Sony Records (!) and had become as popular as a Top 40 band here in America. So, as a rabid ska fan at a time when there just weren't that many modern ska releases that were easy to obtain (back in the pre-internet era, this sometimes meant going to a bank to exchange currency and then mailing the intriguingly colorful foreign paper money overseas to pay for albums from Unicorn Records and other Euro ska labels), I had to keep my eyes peeled for these Holy Grail-like releases from TSPO at every record store I stumbled upon in my travels both near and far.
One fine day in 1991 at Tower Records on Broadway and West Fourth Street in Manhattan (RIP), my mind nearly melted when I came across a new plastic divider in the bins for Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. Even better, I found not just one, but several TSPO albums for sale! Most of the text on the CDs was in Japanese and, of course, completely indecipherable to me (I still don't know the names of some of the songs on them), and since they were imports, they were a bit pricier than most. But none of this prevented me from purchasing as many as I could reasonably afford (on my pitiful salary as a caseworker to mentally ill homeless people)--and instantly becoming a fan of their wonderfully insane mix of vintage 60s ska, big band music, film soundtracks, surf rock, and anything else musical that happened to inspire them ("Sesame Street" theme song, anyone?).
In 1999, I had the good fortune, during a terrible time when Moon Records was teetering on the edge of oblivion, to meet several representatives from TSPO's label (AVEX/Justa Record) who were in the States looking for a possible partner in the North American market. Moon would have been well-positioned to take on this role, had this meeting taken place several years earlier, when ska was all the rage and the label was thriving (and maybe having TSPO on Moon's roster could have helped prevent its demise?). Even though the brief meeting with the Justa Record people was fruitless (it was obvious that Moon was in its death throes and the Third Wave had long ago crested), they gave me a slew of TSPO vinyl (including this, this, and that) and CDs, as well as a few issues of the brilliant Justa Record magazine, which I still have to this day.
Although, in better days, I had a hand in licensing many of Moon's releases to Tachyon in Japan (which were issued on our sister label, Moon Ska Tokyo), I never was able to hitch a ride along with any of our bands that toured there. And when the bottom dropped out of the ska scene in the USA, any hopes of TSPO doing a victory lap around the US disappeared (or so I thought). Since I had drifted away from the ska scene for a few years to nurse my accumulated wounds after the failure of my ska/reggae digital-download label (7 Wonders of the World Music, 1999-2001), I was completely ignorant of the fact that TSPO performed less than 20 blocks from my apartment at NYC's Central Park Summerstage in 2005 (d'oh)! So, I jumped all over the chance to see TSPO in 2013 at Stage 48, on Manhattan's West Side--watch the videos I shot and read my review of that incredible show here.
Ska Me Forever is Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra's 19th album and has been belatedly issued in the US in celebration of the band's 25th anniversary in 2014 (if you can believe it, Ska Me Forever is TSPO's first release in the USA--through Nacional Records in Hollywood, CA, home mostly to Latin rock acts, like Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Manu Chao, though the current incarnation of the Tom Tom Club also is on their roster). Purchasing the nine-track LP is a nice deal, as it includes a digital download card for those same cuts. An 18-track digital version of this record also is available--and it contains some real gems that I wish were included on the vinyl album, which should have been a double-LP. (A 13-track Japanese edition of Ska Me Foreverwas released on CD in August 2014.)
Side A of the Ska Me Forever LP--which features all new material and reflects their omnivorous taste in music--roars out of the starting gate with the amazing, menacing surf-ska instrumental "Damned" (featuring FPM) and then immediately shifts to the majestic "Horizon," another in a long line of lush ska-jazz cuts that TSPO does so damn well. "Wake Up" (with Asian Kung-Fu Generation) comes off as ska-punk lite, with echoes of the Bosstones' poppier fare; to be blunt, I'm not a fan of ska-punk, so take that into consideration when I tell you that this cut misses the mark (I just don't think it's in their wheelhouse). The gorgeous "Chance" sounds like a sunny 60s AM pop tune (think Carpenters or Bacharach) crossed with JA riddims that segues into a pleasantly light, I'm-totally-buzzed-and-carefree-on-summer's-afternoon dub. When I first listened to the church organ-heavy "The Tennessee Waltz" (which seems filled with nostalgic longing for an idealized home/refuge, much like "Take Me Home, Country Roads"), it seemed vaguely familiar, so I did a little bit of research and learned that it's an oft-covered 1946 pop/country tune by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King that was a massive 1950 hit for Patti Page (and was very popular in Japan).
The flip side of the Ska Me Forever begins with a haunting, dubby, and significantly re-worked instrumental version of Cafe Tacvba's melancholy "Eres" ("You Are," from their 2003 album Cuatro Caminos). Apart from being a wonderfully heartbreaking and melodramatic track (the original is about how devastated the singer is after his love is gone), it's a shrewd move for TSPO to cover a song from one of the most popular alternative rock bands in Mexico, since TSPO have a huge fan base there after playing major music festivals (like Vive Latino). This is followed by what I assume are a trio of new recordings of some of their past (and greatest) all-out ska crowd pleasers (which are here for the TSPO newcomers): "Down Beat Stomp" (from 2003's Stompin' On Down Beat Alley), "Ska Me Crazy" (from 2001's Gunslingers), and "Storm Rider" (from 2010's World Ska Symphony).
The gleefully raucous "Down Beat Stomp," which musically quotes "Dawning of a New Era" (and generally feels like a song The Specials could have written in 1979), sports a fantastic sing-along chorus and should be, not surprisingly, very appealing to fans of 2 Tone. While we're in Specials mode, "Ska Me Crazy" is similar in spirit to a blistering, show-ending rendition of The Specials' "Enjoy Yourself" ("Don't piss me now/Don't cross my nature/I can never get enough/I want something now/Do the rock now baby, yeah/It's time to go/I want to live the night life/Sleep all the morning/Going, getting off the whole night/Nothing would be better/You gotta ska me baby, yeah/Get ready to go!"). The LP proper closes with the incredible, cinematic, spaghetti-Western-ish instrumental "Storm Rider," which has the most bad-ass and sinister bass and bari-sax riffs this side of Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn Theme."
The digital version of Ska Me Forever (which includes all of the songs on the LP) opens with a new, manic recording of the instantly familiar Russian folk song "Peddlers" ("Korobeiniki")--the first track on TSPO's 1989 self-titled debut EP. The Ramones-ish "One Way Punk" isn't half bad (though that may be because it reminds me of "Blitzkrieg Bop") and the catchy "Senkou" (with 10-FEET), which manages to be both uptempo and introspective-sounding, is a testament (despite the rap break) to the Bosstones' far-reaching and lasting impact (also see "Nagareyuku Sekai No Nakade" with MONGOL800). The bittersweet "Sunny Blues (7 inch)" finds TSPO back on traditional ska footing, as does their soused and happy cover of the classic Mexican folk song, "Cielito Lindo" (with its "Ay, yai, yai, yai" chorus that you may have heard sung by Desi Arnaz on "I Love Lucy" or, um, in an old Fritos commercial that trades in racial stereotypes).
"For the Goal" is a pretty great calypso-y footie chant ("Why don't we all share the finest moments/Why don't we laugh at the greatest feeling/Let's all hope together as we're shooting for the goal!") that would sound great on the terraces in Japan (if it isn't already being used there). TSPO's fantastic rendition of Beethoven’s "Ode An Die Freude" ("Ode to Joy") from "Symphony No. 9" (familiar to contemporary pop audiences via the first "Die Hard" movie or the brutal "A Clockwork Orange"--and to churchgoers as the hymn "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee") begins with the melody played on a melodica (with ska percussion beneath) before dramatically building to an epic, Monty Python-esque (or PDQ Bach-esque, if you like), cast-of-thousands finale. "All Good Ska Is One" is a pretty wonderful (and show-ending) soulful vintage ska cut (which I first thought sounded like Angelo Moore fronting The Senior Allstars while covering a choice Prince Buster or Laurel Aitken track--and it turns out that Angelo is singing lead on this track, which comes from the 2011 Sunny Side of the Street EP!) with a message that is awfully hard to argue with: "We can do it, now/Meet the world with an embracing heart/Nothing can ever stand in your way/We can all unite, like all good ska music...Come together, all good ska is one!"
As always, on both versions of Ska Me Forever, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra create some of the best and most enjoyable ska in the world, with something to please ska fans of every persuasion (vintage ska, modern ska, ska-punk, etc.). Live long and prosper, TSPO!
What They're Saying About My Book "The Duff Guide to 2 Tone"
“An essential read…Stephen's eye for detail is incredible and his love for 2 Tone oozes from each page.” — Kevin Flowerdew, Do the Dog Skazine
“Written with a personal touch and with great passion about the bands and releases while giving a lot of emphasis to the lyrics, Stephen’s book is a great guiding hand to navigating your way to some great new music.” — Peter Walsh, 2-Tone.info
“It's some of the finest Madness analysis I've ever read.” —Donald Trull, Stateside Madness
“Steve's own story would make a great book, but instead he's written The Duff Guide to 2 Tone, a 250+ page collection of 2 Tone-related pieces from his blog. There are reviews of original pieces, but the book's real purpose is to show how the 2 Tone sound and—more importantly its ideals—carry on today...Get this book right away!" — Charles Benoit, Reggae Steady Ska
"...Shafer has definitely not forgotten how socially conscious issues were at the root of Ska even from the beginning. He makes certain to thread the political issues that motivated the development of Ska throughout his narrative; painting a picture that took both the oppressive political environments and the often ecstatic musical content into account. And in that, he nails down for me what the enduring pull of Ska was to its many fans. Was there ever a more upbeat dance music that combined its boundless energy with a push for progressive social values and calling truth to power?" —Post-Punk Monk
"...[The Duff Guide to 2 Tone is a] chatty, informative and knowledgeable work, one that you can either sit down and read or use as a reference source..." —Nik Skeat, Scootering Magazine
"During the reading of the book it is dangerous to have a screen open next to you with Discogs. I have found lots of ‘new music’ via the stories in The Duff Guide to 2 Tone which I must have." -- Peter Vrakking, Blue Beat & Ska
In the mail today, I received the first copy of my new paperback book The Duff Guide to 2 Tone --and am thrilled to announce that it is now...
About Your Duff Guide
Steve Shafer/The Duff Guide to Ska For most of the 1990s, I was the promotions, marketing, production guy for Moon Records (RIP). It was one of the best jobs I ever had. Seriously, I miss it badly. During 1999/2000, I ran 7 Wonders of the World Music, the first digital download-only ska label that was too ahead of the curve for its own good (RIP).
I filmed and edited this Toasters video for $2,500, which made its debut on MTV's 120 Minutes. I also put together these compilations for Moon: the first three Skarmageddons; Ska United: A Global Ska Sampler; Skank Down Under; This Are Moon Ska I, II, and III; and Moonshot!
Here's an old interview with Adam Monkey from Read Magazine that covers my days at Moon and 7 Wonders. I also did a somewhat more recent interview with Read Junk.
I've been interviewed about ska music and Moon Records for The New York Times, Heather Augustyn's "Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation," Aaron Carnes' "In Defense of Ska," Kenneth Partridge's "Hell of a Hat: The Rise of '90s Ska and Swing," and Marc Wasserman's "Ska Boom: An American Ska & Reggae Oral History" (I also wrote the introductory chapter "1985: The Year American Ska Broke" for Wasserman's book).
And I'm the author of "The Duff Guide to 2 Tone," which can be ordered from Amazon--and is available in the US from Jump Up Records, and in Europe from the 2 Tone Village Shop (Coventry, UK), Champion Sound Records (Hull, UK), Aggroshop (Nijmegen, Netherlands), and Copasetic Mailorder (Hamburg, Germany). Plus, my book was on sale in the museum shop for the "2 Tone: Lives & Legacies" exhibition (May 28 - September 12, 2021), curated by Simon Reynolds, Cory Barrett, Pete Chambers, Jennifer Otter Bickerdike and Daniel Rachel, at the Herbert Art Gallery Museum in Coventry, UK.
I'm now working on my next book, "Calling All the Rude Boys: The Duff Guide to The Toasters, 1981-1992," to be published in 2023.
If you have a ska or reggae release that you'd like me to consider reviewing, please send an e-mail to Steve at email@example.com. You should know that I am old school and prefer music in tangible formats (plus I might use your music when I DJ ska events). I'd also appreciate any news or tips you may have about bands.
All reviews and interviews posted on The Duff Guide to Ska are copyrighted and are the sole property of Steve Shafer. Please contact me for permission to reproduce anything on this blog.
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The Go-Go's in 1980 (l-r: Margot Olavarria, later replaced by Kathy Valentine, Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Shock, and Belin...
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Check out The Duff Guide to Ska Video Channel for footage of ska bands in action in clubs around NYC, as well as unusual and rare ska videos from the 90s! Bands featured include The Toasters, The Bluebeats, The Forthrights, Across the Aisle, The Caroloregians, The Moon Invaders, The Rudie Crew, Tip the Van, Hey Stranger, Beat Brigade, Bigger Thomas, King Chango, The Scofflaws, UB40, The Hard Times, Jah Love and the Valentinians, The Shifters, Rudies Don't Care, Big Audio Dynamite, Stranger Cole and Patsy with Crazy Baldhead, Queen P of Ocean 11, King Hammond, The Snails, King Django, Doomsday! The Ultimate Tribute to Mephiskapheles Consisting of Former Members of Mephiskapheles, Destroy Babylon, The Frightnrs, The Pandemics, Los Skarroneros, The Bullbuckers, The Scofflaws, The Reggay Lords, The Copacetics, Rude Boy George, Dave Hillyard and the Rocksteady 7, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, The Specials, Roddy Radiation and Lynval Golding, The Ladrones, Chris Murray, Radio Riddler, UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, Astro, and Mickey Virtue, Barbicide, The Twilights, Bim Skala Bim featuring John Bunkley (Gangster Fun), The Pomps, and more!