Skanking To The Oldies

Specials

Memory and music travel hand in hand, popping up in strange places, creating feelings associated with a certain time period, song or band. One of the musical high points in my life came in 1979 with the arrival of punk, new wave and ska in my neighborhood. Bands like Devo, the B-52s and Talking Heads are now forever associated with the passion and joy generated during this explosion of musical creativity.

The three-headed monster of punk, new wave and ska (and there were many other exploding heads as well) came at me from many directions. Punk was simple, loud and fast, often political and associated with outlandish fashions. New wave was a bit broader in spectrum but often boiled down to synth-based poppy dance music, often with a quirk, and Flock of Seagulls hair (eyeliner optional). Ska was the least prolific of the three in the US, developing a small fan base of pork-pie-hat-with-black-and-white-houndstooth-clad enthusiasts. This music originated in Jamaica in the late 50s as reggae’s peppier cousin, re-exploding in the late 70s faster than ever (thanks to punk) with a strong emphasis on off-beats. Bands involved in this ska rebirth included The Specials, The English Beat, Madness and The Selecter.

ska fashion

Tastes change over time and 40 years later I no longer enjoy some of the music that made 17-year-old me twist and contort like an enraged emu (some called it dancing). However, certain bands still hit 54-year-old me as hard as they did those many years ago. The Specials are one of those bands. In fact, if I was forced to choose my favorite song ever, it might well be A Message to You Rudy off of The Specials self-titled first album. With the first few notes of the introduction I’m transported to the summer of 1979, a “new wave” dance party and an enchanting time of musical discovery. It’s still one of my go-to songs in gloomy times.

Musically, The Specials features the Caribbean influences characteristic of early ska (especially in the drums and walking bass lines) mixed with fast tempos, percussive guitar, cheesy keyboard, and a general miasma of happiness (even in the face of serious lyrics). Unemployment, poverty and racial tension affected many Brits in the seventies, and youth used music, particularly punk and ska, as a means of illuminating and combating these issues. The Specials were known for their stand against racism, and they actively tried to racially integrate their listeners. Their song lyrics reflected racial and other divisions.

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While racism is a topic in many of the album’s songs, clashes between other contentious groups are also addressed.

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For those who don’t speak British, teds, or teddy boys, are associated with rockabilly, natty dreads partake of reggae, mods listen to rock rooted in the early 60s, skinheads are militant punk rockers and the National Front is a far-right political movement. Tensions between groups simmered just below a boil. But, ideally, they could all come together in the world created by The Specials.

For me this music is happily nostalgic, but it’s also intoxicating, dance-inducing and highly listenable. Check this one out. Toe tapping is required, skanking is optional.

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Skanking

April New Music Picks

Peru Bravo coverSpring has been a busy time for new releases and reissues. We’ve been keeping busy with great patron requests and staff discoveries alike. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the new arrival highlights from this month. Place your holds now!

Peru Bravo: Funk, Soul, & Psych from Peru’s Radical Decade (Tiger’s Milk Records). Basically what it says on the tin: almost an hour of awesomely funky psychedelic rock. My favorite track on the CD by far is the Jeriko cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe.” Dim the lights, don some paisley and velvet (or velvet paisley if you can manage), and have yourselves a dance party.

sings-kidjo2Angélique Kidjo Sings (SLC LLC). This album is a delightful fusion of Kidjo’s bold and distinctive vocals with a full orchestral backing. Listeners journey through a rich musical landscape that can be dramatic, dreamy, or festively dancy depending on the track.

Pimp a Butterfly coverKendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (Aftermath Entertainment). Jazz, hip-hop, funk, spoken word, slam poetry – an entire spectrum of art forms are covered. At times thought-provoking and at others just entertaining; To Pimp a Butterfly is packed full of powerful tracks and is sure to become a classic.

Viet Cong CoverViet Cong – Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar). A solid post-punk release that grabs you from the first track and holds your attention all the way through the epic 11-minute long final cut, “Death.”

War on Women – War on Women (Bridge Nine) Loud, gritty, hardcore punk with a healthy dose of righteous feminist fury.

2ne1 crush cover2NE1 – Crush (YG Entertainment) K-Pop girl group 2NE1 blends hip-hop, reggae, RnB, and EDM to come up with a great mix of dancefloor-friendly tracks and slowjams.

The Skints FM coverThe Skints – FM (Easy Star Records) Laid out like a day at a London pirate radio station, the Skints make good use of their ska, reggae, ragga, hip hop, dub, and grime roots. FM proudly represents the musical melting pot that thrives on the underground airwaves of the UK.