Monday, August 31, 2020

The Specials and Madness in New Go-Go's Documentary!

The Go-Go's in 1980 (l-r: Margot Olavarria, later replaced by
Kathy Valentine, Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey,
Gina Shock, and Belinda Carlisle).
Alison Ellwood's pretty great new documentary The Go-Go's traces the band's start in the late '70s LA punk rock scene that spawned X, The Plugz, The Germs, The Weirdos, Bags, etc. (and they really were punks--see John Doe's book Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk), through their rise to legitimate pop superstars (their 1981 debut album Beauty and the Beat marked the first and only time an all-female act who wrote and performed their own music had a #1 album on the Billboard charts--where it remained for six weeks--and it is considered one of the most successful debut albums of all time, selling over 2 million copies), and inevitable downfall. Of particular interest to 2 Tone fans is that by 1980, The Go-Go's were so popular on the LA scene that they became the house band of sorts at the Whisky A Go Go and opened for Madness and The Specials during their first respective tours of the USA.

Both The Specials and Madness were so completely gobsmacked by The Go-Go's that each invited them to tour with them in the UK later that year. So, The Go-Go's manager Ginger Canzoneri pawned her jewelry and sold her car and anything else of value to finance the trip overseas, and The Go-Go's spent about three months in  1980 opening for Madness and The Specials on various tours of the UK (including The Specials' 1980 seaside tour with The Bodysnatchers), oftentimes enduring hostile reactions from the less open-minded ska fans (particularly NF skinheads). Having said that, The Go-Go's one-off single for Stiff Records "We Got the Beat" sold reasonably well (and helped them secure a record deal with Miles Copeland's I.R.S in the US), and the many romances between members of The Go-Go's and The Specials yielded musical dividends. Terry Hall and Go-Go's rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin's under-the-radar romance led them to co-write "Our Lips Are Sealed," which became a massive hit, first in 1981 for The Go-Go's and then for Fun Boy Three in 1983; and Wiedlin, Belinda Carlisle (Go-Go's singer), and Charlotte Caffey (Go-Go's lead guitarist) were invited to provide backing vocals on much of The Specials' second album, More Specials.

In The Go-Go's documentary, both Madness' Lee Thompson and The Specials' Lynval Golding are featured and sing The Go-Go's praises. Thompson frames how unique The Go-Go's were at the time: "An all girl band who wrote their own tunes--outrageous!" And Golding notes how important The Go-Go's were to The Specials' story and vice versa (and declares that he was so crazy for Go-Go's drummer Gina Shock that he should have asked her to marry him, even though he knew the answer would have been no). Sharp-eyed ska fans will catch Walt Jabsco making a brief appearance in one of the doc's animated segments.

+ + + +

The Go-Go's documentary can be seen on Showtime (and through streaming services like Amazon Prime and Hulu that carry Showtime); the trailer for the doc is here.

+ + + +

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Bullet Points: Rudebeard, Some Ska Band, Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra!

The cover illustration is of a bearded skull wearing a pirate's hat.(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

  • Despite the abundant awfulness of 2020, this year has offered up a few good things: I managed to publish my first book (shameless plug, I know), and Scotland's Rudebeard have offered up their second digital EP since the start of the summer! Rudebeard's Disgrace EP (Digital, F and J Records, 2020) is anything but--it's a mini-masterpiece. The protagonist of "Disgrace" readily owns up to his host of shortcomings ("I’m a drunkard, baby/I’m a stoner, antisocial drinking-on-my-owner/Just a child with an adult’s body and face...I ain't no saint/Just a sinner") on this wild, riff-heavy spaghetti Western modern ska track (the synths and subject matter remind me of Magazine's "A Song from Under the Floorboards"). "Are You Ready" is a jaunty lockdown song (which may or may not have a long shelf-life, depending on humanity's--really America's--ability to act for the common good) anticipating the full reopening of things: "It's gonna be chaos/It's gonna get rough/The night they let us back in the pubs/It's gonna be apocalyptic, baby/Get ready." The band drolly dedicate the song to Scotland's city centre police, who will have their hands full. Yet, Rudebeard are also quite capable of delivering the genuinely moving ska ballad "World Keeps Rolling On," about a friend who's died: "Since you're gone/Well, the world kept moving on/It's pretty quiet down here/But it's pretty lonely." And this brings us back to how 2020 just keeps on sucking. A very good friend of mine, one of the most decent human beings I've ever known, unexpectedly passed away earlier this summer. And this song brought tears to my eyes, as it so unapologetically expresses all the sadness, grief, and permanent hole-in-yer-heart that everyone feels when someone close is gone forever.
    The artwork features the bands name printed on the top of a metal soda bottle cap.
  • Rochester, New York's Some Ska Band have just released two excellent dubs--with Agent J at the controls--of instrumental cuts off their great 2018 debut album It's Going Down: "American Dublines" b/w "Forty Dubs" (Digital, self-released, 2020). For those not yet down with Some Ska Band's album, "American Dublines" (from "American Skalines") is a bright, very '80s, Beat-inspired song, while "Forty Dubs" (from "Forty Thieves") is a Prince Buster (think "7 Wonders of the World") meets Dick Dale mash-up. Agent J's production inserts some sonic distance between the music and listener, removing some of the originals' "Is it live or is it Memorex?" immediacy in favor of the depth of seemingly vast space. Highly recommended. 
    The cover features a locomotive engine billowing a huge plume of smoke.
  • Perhaps in another timeline Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra's extraordinary original track "Bedouin Ska" (Digital, self-released, 2020) was included on the soundtrack to David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia--it's the aural equivalent of edge-of-your-seat action and high drama, being played out in the expansive and exquisite desolation of the Sinai desert, with (to white Westerners) an exotic cast of characters and their mysterious customs and cultures. For all of their Skatalites obsession, this cut makes me realize that WST is really America's answer to Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Bullet Points: Do the Dog Skazine, The Juks, and The Night Owls!

The cover features a 1960's-era photograph of the young Jamaican singer Millie Small smiling at the camera.(Reviews by Steve Shafer)
  • The August 2020 issue of Kevin Flowerdew's Do the Dog Skazine has graced my mailbox with the late and very much missed Millie Small on the cover (side note: there's a great entry for Small in Heather Augustyn's new book Women in Jamaican Music that fleshes out her life and career well beyond "My Boy Lollipop"). As always, Flowerdew's Do the Dog puts my blog to shame, in terms of how comprehensively he covers the worldwide ska scene (though I'm happy to note that there's a fair amount of overlap in this issue with what I've reviewed lately--but we, of course, each offer our own takes on things--including releases from Danny Rebel and the KGB, Megative, The Players Band, Victor Rice, Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra, Rude Boy George, The Officinalis, Steady Social Club, Erin Bardwell, Smiley and The Underclass, Rhoda Dakar and The Dub Pistols, The Skapones, Detroit Riddim Crew, Rudebeard, and The Equators). Kevin also has just released The Ska Librarian's 2 Tone Time Machine, which consists of four zines covering the pre-Rude skazine years between 1979 and 1988. Details for subscribing to the essential, print-only Do the Dog and purchasing The Ska Librarian's 2 Tone Time Machine are available at
  • I missed the release of The Juk's spectacular debut album Way Back (Vinyl LP/digital, J-Beat Record, 2020) earlier this spring (I was sick with what I think was the coronavirus, and NYC was entering its really unnerving lockdown phase, as we all tried our utmost to help stop the spread of this plague and slow down the awful number of deaths--it was a bleak time). This band, which features several powerhouse UK ska musicians including Lenny Bignell on guitar (Pama International, Phoenix City All-Stars, Rhoda Dakar, The Sidewalk Doctors), Louis Vause on keys (Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra, Rhoda Dakar), and Paul Tadman on bass (The Riffs, The Nutty Boys, Rhoda Dakar), creates gorgeously sophisticated, jazzy-rocksteady guitar-focused instrumentals like Lynn Taitt and Ernest Ranglin used to make 'em. The title track, "Gerry Baldly, "Blood Orange," and the fantastically titled "When I Woke...(I Was Still in South London)" are stratospheric highlights. I only wish that this album included a few vocal tracks--an all instrumental album can sometimes be a tougher sell, and this record should get into as many hands as possible.
    The image is of The Night Owls' 45 in a paper sleeve; the paper label is visible through a round hole.
  • Hot on the heels of The Lions' recent ace 45 "The Loser" comes this Lions-Aggrolites side hustle of sorts, the Night Owls. Like "The Loser," the new mind-bogglingly good Night Owls single "Gossip" b/w "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" (Vinyl/digital single, F-Spot Records, 2020) sports two soul classics done in a vintage JA style. The core of The Night Owls is three Lions (Dan Ubick on guitar, Blake Colie on drums, and Dave Wilder on bass) plus an Aggrolite (keyboardist Roger Rivas)--and there are even more Lions and Aggrolites when you include the vocalists. The Lion's Malik "The Freq" Moore knocks it out of the park on Cyril Neville backed by The Meters' 1969 magnificent soul/funk track "Gossip" (and the sitar echoing the original keeps everything grounded in the psychedelic side of the '60s), while Alex Désert (Hepcat/Lions) and Jesse Wagner (The Aggrolites) trade vocals on their amazing cover of The Dramatics' 1971 cut "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" ("Some people are made of plastic/And you know some people are made of wood/Some people have hearts of stone/Some people are up to no good...But baby I'm for real"). The selection of songs covered here is impeccable, and the performances outstanding.
+ + + +

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"The Duff Guide to 2 Tone" Is Now Available Worldwide!

The cover features a vinyl record with the book title and author info on the record's paper label.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 available worldwide through Amazon. So, while I'm cranking up the old Duff Guide to Ska marketing machine to promote the book and generate (hopefully positive) reviews, if you're inclined to just go ahead and purchase The Duff Guide to 2 Tone, here are the links to order it via the following international Amazon sites (and you can check out the table of contents, my intro, and Gaz Mayall's foreword through the "Look Inside" feature):

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon AU
Amazon CA
Amazon DE
Amazon ES
Amazon FR
Amazon IT
Amazon JP

Also, he's some info that will give you an idea of what the book is about:

"The Duff Guide to 2 Tone features over 70 reviews of reissues of essential 2 Tone albums from The Specials and The Special AKA, The Selecter, The Beat, Madness, The Bodysnatchers, and Bad Manners, as well as write-ups of their more recent records, gigs, books, and movies—which no self-respecting fan of 2 Tone should miss! (This guide also features reviews of 2 Tone-adjacent releases that you need to know about.) Ska music writer Stephen Shafer was Moon Ska Records “director of propaganda” during the 1990s and played a significant, behind-the-scenes role in making the so-called American “Third Wave” of ska happen. With a foreword by Gaz Mayall (The Trojans, Gaz's Rockin' Records, Gaz's Rockin' Blues, and co-writer of The Bodysnatchers' "Ruder Than You"), The Duff Guide to 2 Tone draws from over 12 years of Shafer’s reviews from his Duff Guide to Ska blog—and this collection not only provides a critical overview of 2 Tone’s ever-growing body of work, it also documents the continuing and largely unwritten history of these bands, as well as 2 Tone’s lasting impact well into the 21st century."

In the coming weeks, I'll share reviews of the book as they come in, and certainly will appreciate reader feedback, if you're so moved (

+ + + +

Saturday, August 15, 2020

"1985: The Year American Ska Broke"

A mock-up of the cover of Wasserman's book "Ska Boom:
An Oral History About the Birth of American Ska and Reggae"
In addition to my forthcoming new book The Duff Guide to 2 Tone, I've written an introductory chapter to Marc Wasserman's superb and absolutely essential Ska Boom: An Oral History About the Birth of American Ska and Reggae (DiWulf Publishing) that's titled "1985: The Year American Ska Broke."

The thrust of my piece is that if three incredibly influential 1985 US ska releases--namely, The Untouchables' Wild Child, and Fishbone's and The Toasters' debut EPs--hadn't come out when they did, the nascent, 2 Tone-inspired American ska scene would likely have flamed out, and the massive 1990s "Third Wave" of ska in the US would never have happened. That's all I'm going to give up here--you'll have to read Marc's book to read my case backing up this claim.

Also, I'm working on putting together a companion book to Marc's Ska Boom that will contain reviews of the first releases from the bands whose oral histories are featured, including Beat Brigade, Mephiskapheles, The Toasters, The Hooters, Bim Skala Bim, Heavy Manners, The Untouchables, The Uptones, Skadanks, Gangster Fun, the NY Citizens, Second Step, Blue Riddim Band, The Scofflaws, The Boilers, The Box Boys, The Shakers, Kyber Rifles, and Let's Go Bowling. This book (tentative title: The Duff Guide to the Music of Ska Boom: An Oral History About the Birth of American Ska and Reggae) will be released by Duff Guide to Ska Publishing in paperback this fall/winter.

Lastly, I'd just like to note how groundbreaking and important Ska Boom: An Oral History About the Birth of American Ska and Reggae is. Marc sent me a draft of The Toasters' chapter for my feedback, and I found it to be incredibly compelling and informative--a really great read. I worked with The Toasters for almost a decade in the 1990s and came across many things I never knew about regarding the early history of the band, and (finally) heard from band members whose perspectives have never been previously documented. Anyone interested in ska music will need this book!

+ + + +

Friday, August 14, 2020

Duff Review: Dennis Bovell Dub Band "Get Up Stand Up" (featuring I-Roy) b/w "Stand Tall" and "Versatile Violin" (featuring Johnny T) b/w "Dangerous"

The cover is a pencil or charcoal drawing of I-Roy in a large hat and collared shirt.Old School
Digital singles

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The cover features an illustration of a violin and bow with musical notes flowing out of it; in the background is three slashes of red, gold, and green, representing reggae and Rastafarianism.Dennis Bovell has been using his pandemic time productively, as shown by the release of these two terrific singles. "Get Up Stand Up" was recorded with I-Roy circa 1979, but, for reasons unclear, never issued. Bovell, who's known for mining and repurposing his extraordinary back catalogue, revisited the track and remixed it at Mad Professor's Ariwa Studios in July of 2020, and released it in both memory of the late I Roy and support of the Black Lives Matter movement (of course, Bovell's band Matumbi was actively involved in Rock Against Racism in the late '70s). The backing track is very much in line with the music Bovell was writing for Linton Kwesi Johnson, and, in fact, the horns in "Get Up Stand Up" might have been lifted from "Inglan Is a Bitch" (which was released on LKJ's 1980 album Bass Culture). Both the music and I-Roy's toasting are almost in a loop--with the results an hypnotic mantra to lend strength and focus to those determined to fight for racial equality ("Get up/Stand up/We can take it no longer...Stand up for your rights"). Its fierce dub version "Stand Tall" will stiffen spines marching into the thick of it.

The lovely "Versatile Violin" is a new and improved mix of "Vile and Versatile" featuring Johnny T on violin (which was released in 2008 on Bovell's Arawak Label Showcase). Both are permutations of "Dangerous," the fantastic instrumental version of Bovell and Janet Kay's 1979 Lovers Rock smash hit "Silly Games" (and "Dangerous" itself is the B-side to "Versatile Violin").

+ + + +

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Coming Soon in Paperback from Duff Guide to Ska Publishing: "The Duff Guide to 2 Tone"!

The first Duff Guide to Ska book will be available shortly in paperback through Amazon--and the copy from the back of the book explains it all:

"The Duff Guide to 2 Tone features over 70 reviews of reissues of essential 2 Tone albums from The Specials & The Special AKA, The Selecter, The Beat, Madness, The Bodysnatchers, and Bad Manners, as well as write-ups of their more recent records, gigs, books, and movies--which no self-respecting fan of 2 Tone should miss! (This guide also features reviews of 2 Tone-adjacent releases that you need to know about.) Ska music writer Stephen Shafer was Moon Ska Records "director of propaganda" during the 1990s and played a significant, behind-the-scenes role in making the so-called American "Third Wave" of ska happen. With a foreword by Gaz Mayall (The Trojans, Gaz's Rockin' Records, Gaz's Rockin' Blues, and co-writer of The Bodysnatchers' "Ruder Than You"), The Duff Guide to 2 Tone draws from over 12 years of Shafer's reviews from his Duff Guide to Ska blog--and this collection not only provides a critical overview of 2 Tone's ever-growing body of work, it also documents the continuing and largely unwritten history of these bands, as well as 2 Tone's lasting impact well into the 21st century."

Stay tuned for details!

+ + + +

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Duff Review: Smiley and The Underclass: "The Way to the Bomb" EP

The cover features a tatty, discarded teddy bear on a brick wall, as well as an illustration of a baby wearing a gas mask holding a ball that looks like the world.Timeless Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

This is not an upbeat record. But, given the times and Smiley and The Underclass' passionately held left-wing beliefs, how could it be? By all accounts, things have gotten considerably worse since they unleashed their blisteringly good punk 'n' reggae debut album Rebels Out There in 2017, which I reviewed here (see the mass sickness and death caused by the incompetent response to the global covid-19 pandemic, the rise of white supremacists and authoritarians in decaying democracies, ever-worsening economic inequality, accelerating climate change, etc.). The fury and frustration at our ongoing descent toward personal, societal, and planetary ruin fuels the outrage in Smiley and The Underclass' dark but stellar The Way to the Bomb.

The party kicks off with the catchy and danceable (seriously) "The Return of the Vampire," a Hammer horror take on UK (and US) politicians preying on their own citizens, leaving agony and destruction in their wake: "Britain is in chaos/America is in flames/Nutters and demagogues rule the airwaves...Oh, I've got a smartphone/Now I'm a smart slave/I-man stepping higher to Zion/I'm climbing over barbed wire/I got the pliers/There's fires burning miles and miles/What's gonna happen to the next generation?/All I see: sufferation!" (Make sure to check out the killer, digital-only "The Return of the Vampire (Ronin's Lockdown Dub).")

Continuing with the horror show theme, in "We Are Monsters," both social and consolidated corporate media have been manipulated by predatory capitalists and right-wing goons to reap great profits, amass power, and sow division among the people (whose potential solidarity could easily upend the status quo), transforming us as if by mad laboratory-concocted pathogen into our own enemy: "We're just here for you/To ensure you don't miss the main eulogy/We blow blood bubbles or are they red raspberries/Over the graves of deceased democracies/Killed off by years of tabloid-led hypocrisy/Now tell me truthfully, don't be a liar/Fighting between two vampires for hire/Fangs made of fibre and wires/Mr. Jones, listen--tell me your desires." (The "Mr. Jones" mention might be a nod to The Psychedelic Furs' broadside aimed at the false, yet highly seductive, idealized imagery constructed by Hollywood and Madison Avenue to sell tickets and goods: "Movie stars and ads and radio define romance/Don't turn it on, I don't wanna dance!" Those were simpler times.)

The deeply mournful and angry (and Jam/Clash "Call Up" referencing) "FLAG" notes how the now ubiquitous cruelty and hatred unleashed in one's own country has left everyone hollow inside: "There's no birds/In the garden/Just plastic bottles and a hole in the fence/Used to dream of an English Rose/But he don't dream no more (and he wonders)/What am I supposed to feel?...I can't read the sign of the times." A town called Malice, indeed. Yet, Smiley and The Underclass do offer a glimmer of hope and encouragement to their fellow humans trying to get by in a hostile world. "We All Get Like This" reminds the listener that we're often our own worst critics and shouldn't allow that self-doubt and self-sabotage to get us down: "Nobody's ever sorted/Not if they're really truthful."

Everything ends with the frenzied skabilly cut "Wanna Blow Up the Whole World." It's all bloodlust and sex--expressing humanity's knack for efficiently doling out violence on our own kind, and our innate attraction to self-destruction: "Tear gas in your heart/Razor wire in bed/All I could see was her legs/She played your part/When she breathed in your ear/'Here's what I want from you dear...'"

The vivid images in the mirror that Smiley and The Underclass hold up for the listener sure aren't pretty, but at least to you can readily sing along and dance to their songs. It's a great soundtrack for these seemingly end times.

+ + + +

Friday, August 7, 2020

Duff Review: Prince Fatty and Shniece Mcmenamin "Funkin' for Jamaica (N.Y.)"

The cover features a silhouette of a woman wading in calm ocean waters, with the sun setting in the background.Evergreen Recordings
Digital single

(Review by Steve Shafer)

"Funkin' for Jamaica (N.Y.)" is Prince Fatty and Shniece Mcmenamin latest effort in their ongoing collaborative project of creating reggae versions of their favorite soul songs from the '60s, '70s, and '80s (see my review of their recent Disco Deception EP). This extraordinary, ecstatic 1980 funk-jazz-soul track was originally written and recorded by jazz trumpeter Tom Browne and singer Toni Smith as a tribute to Browne's hometown of Jamaica, Queens (and was #1 for a month on Billboard's R&B chart and made the top 10 UK singles chart). While "Funkin' for Jamaica" has been sampled and covered by many hip-hop and soul artists, Prince Fatty and Shniece Mcmenamin's recording is believed to be the first reggae version (and with a song title like this, it certainly calls out for one). Both renditions open with a high, sustained trumpet note, but the Friday night, good times funk and magnificent jazz improvisations at the edges of the original are traded in for a more sedate, late night, "Quiet Storm" riddim track--though Shniece's showcased vocals give Smith's impressive (Chaka Khan-ish) take a run for their money.

+ + + +

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Duff Review: Detroit Riddim Crew "Do Something" b/w The Skapones "The Girl Inside"

The cover artwork features both the American and British flags with a checkerboard pattern over them; and both band's logos.Abbey Productions
7" picture sleeve single/digital

(Review by Steve Shafer)

It's absolutely fitting that the boss new release from the Detroit Riddim Crew and The Skapones is a split single. Not only is this format a throwback to the DIY 1980s, the sounds captured within will remind one of that era in ska, too (if I told you that both songs are from one of Unicorn's Skankin' 'Round the World comps, and you didn't know better, you'd believe me). The Detroit Riddim Crew's  awesome "Do Something" is a heady mix of Gangster Fun (also from Detroit!) and The Toasters circa Skaboom!--and is a call to action to get involved (vote, volunteer, advocate) and change what's wrong in the world around you: "Get off the ground/Quit doing nothing/Put down the bacon/Get off your ass/Do something!" (A portion of the proceeds from this single will go to the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.) The UK's Skapones are heavily 2 Tone-influenced (their singer Paul Willo, of course, wrote The Specials' biography and runs their fan site) and their poignant track "The Girl Inside" is about loving someone who's struggling with addiction and other demons, and the heartbreak of not being able to fix it for them: "I pray for your strength to find/The hell that you go through...The girl inside has no idea/Of why she keeps holding on to her fears/You're so far away from me/But come what may/I'll love you 'till my dying day." Hopefully, we'll see more of these kind of singles from Abbey Productions in the future!

+ + + +

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Duff Review: Mato "Also sprach Zarathustra" b/w "Maiden Voyage"

The artwork reproduces the paper label of a vinyl single with the printed information of this release (this Stix logo, a take on the Stax logo, features a hand holding a joint).Stix Records
7" vinyl single

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Mato is the stage name for the French producer Thomas Blanchot, who transforms classical, hip-hop, and pop works into wonderful reggae/dub creations. This incredible single is spun off his 2019 digital-only album Classical Dub (check out his rendition of "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" from Bizet's opera Carmen that is around the 1:36 mark in this video!) and features Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra," which, of course, is forever associated in popular culture with Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi movie 2001. This version dispenses with the widescreen grandeur of the original, but holds onto its dramatic flourishes in an endearingly '70s cheesy fashion--the results are a cross between the theme for the Bigfoot/UFO obsessed In Search Of... TV show and a classic King Tubby dub production. The flip side unexpectedly contains an out-of-this-world version of Herbie Hancock's 1965 jazz classic "Maiden Voyage" (over the sea, as opposed to space, time, and existence), making this one mighty double-A sided single.

[This 45 is available through]

+ + + +