I wanted to take an opportunity to wish all my readers and visitors a very Happy New Year. I also wanted to take one last look back at some of the best music I wrote about in 2009. I had the wonderful opportunity to interview and talk to some amazing ska and reggae musicians this year and write about their stories and their music and I wanted to highlight some of my favorites from the past year.
This podcast is just under one hour of hard to find and out of print ska and reggae classics from the U.S. and U.K. during the golden era of ska from the late 70's through the mid 1990's.
Here is the podcast play list and a bit about each track:
1. Joe Jackson - The Harder They Come
This cover of the Jimmy Cliff classic was originally recorded and released by Jackson as a non-album single in 1980. Jackson and his band do the song justice mixing in just enough punk energy to make it unique.
2. The X-Streams - Rhythm Of Life
Signature track from an unreleased Warner Brothers demo the band recorded with Producer Paul Wexler in Los Angeles in 1980. They could have been contenders as one of the best American ska bands of the 80's.
3. The Selecter - Return Of The Selecter
In lieu of a full band reunion to celebrate their 30th anniversary, Neol Davies' recorded an update of the original 1979 track and made it available for free on his Web site.
4. Blue Riddim Band - Rock It Sistah (Live)
Talk to anyone who ever saw Blue Riddim live and they will search for words to try to tell you what it was like. The truth is it's hard to describe the band because they were so unbelievably good. Seven white guys from Kansas City who laid down reggae grooves so massive that the speakers shook on their bases. They were the hardest working band in America, traveling coast to coast playing small venues and leaving behind dazed audiences who are still trying to piece together their shattered preconceptions. They weren't just the best white reggae band on the planet they were one of the best reggae bands ever. This track is taken from a live set recorded in San Diego, California in 1981 with the original members and available on the recently released 'Ska Reggae Revival' LP.
5. The Beat - Dangerous (Live Radio Session)
Taken from a live radio session from Ranking Roger's version of The Beat recorded for Mark Lamarr's God's Jukebox show on BBC Radio 2 this past June. Great to hear Roger and his band have written new original songs. Hope we get to see him over on this side of the pond sometime soon.
6. Bigger Thomas - Moving (Live)
Taken from the still impossible to find and never to be re-released NYC Ska Live compilation that was recorded and released in 1990. Still a mainstay of our set, though I'm not sure we've ever played the song as fast and furious as we did that night in March 1990 at the Cat Club in New York City. Joe Massott was a no-show to film the American version of 'Dance Craze'. Ah to imagine what could have been...
7. Big Audio Dynamite - Harrow Road (Ska Mix)
Ultra rare ska mix featuring Ranking Roger on this paean to one of Mick Jones favorite places in London. The two have had a mutual musical appreciation society for many years (Jones was a member of General Public for a minute and Roger guested on a never released version of 'Rock The Casbah' ).
8. Bim Skala Bim - Jah Laundramat
Perhaps the best American ska band of all time who recently reunited for a few shows in their hometown of Boston, MA. Here's to hoping they take the reunion of the road or at least to New York City....
9. The Specials (MK2) - Farmyard Connection
A super rare outtake by the 90's incarnation of the band of my favorite Fun Boy Three song of all time. The Specials take the original which lays out the class inequities of herb production and make the music more muscular and the tone more righteous and angry.
10. The Boxboys - Come See About Me
The first L.A. ska band who help to kick-off the Mod revival centered around the famous O.N. Klub. This cover of the Diana Ross & The Supremes song is sung by Betsy Bitch who went on to bigger and better things in the world of Heavy Metal.
11. The Members - Offshore Banking Business
My introduction to this eerily prophetic track came during a screening of 'Urgh - A Music War' while I was at University in the early 80's. My initial introduction to the band had been through their big U.S. hit 'Working Girl' which was a staple on MTV in 1982. Therefore I was unprepared for the brass and bass-driven skank of the song that featured singer Nicky Tesco toasting “a lesson in home economics” and the unmistakable horns of Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell. An overlooked classic.
12. The Boilers - Brighter Days
The Boilers were the brightest and most talented band to come out of the mid 80's ska explosion in New York City. This sublime track (written and recorded in a mere 4 hours) appears on the long out-of-print and never to be re-released NY Beat: Hit & Run compilation that helped nurture ska in the U.S.
13. Headline - Don't Knock The Bald Head
One of the joys of writing this blog has been the opportunity to discover and pay respects to all the bands that contributed to the entire canon of 2-Tone era ska. One such band that caught my eye and ears was Headline. They were a 6-piece ska-pop band signed to Virgin Records who released several singles, including the catchy "Don't Knock The Baldhead/Highway Hassle" and a self-titled album in 1980. Based on their sound and their look, Headline quickly became UK media darlings, who were noteworthy for their sense of fun as well as their wild stage entrances. Bad Manners went on to cover the song and make it a mainstay of their set.
14. The Terrorists - Hail The Day
New York City's premiere reggae band who sold out shows all over the city club scene in the late 70's and early 80's with their faithful reggae rhythms. The band were so good they attracted the attention of Jamaican producer extraordinaire Lee 'Scratch' Perry who joined them for a short time and produced the 12' track 'Love Is Better Now'. They also claimed Roland Alphonso of The Skatalites as a featured member for a few years.
15. Capital Letters - Do We Really Need a Government?
Capital Letters were one of the main players in the distinctive homegrown British roots reggae scene that emerged in the late 70's and were the first group to be signed to the Greensleeves label. Along with groups like Matumbi, Aswad, Black Roots and Steel Pulse, Capital Letters managed to break down many of the prejudices that reggae music could only be made in Jamaica. This song is taken from the highly sought-after `Bread and Water' 7" EP, a ska-flavored quartet of tracks, which was released in 1980 - a nod to the 2-Tone scene that was taking place in the UK at the time.
16. The Untouchables - Lebanon
While I have always loved each and every 2-Tone band and their take on U.K. life and politics, The Untouchables were the first mainstream American ska band (though signed to Stiff and produced by Jerry Dammers). I was proud to have an American band featuring American themes and accents that I could connect with and look up to. Kevin Long, the lead singer of the band placed the band squarely into an American context. "We're American. We don't sing in English accents. I have no particular affection for Union Jacks. We used to put up an American flag behind us onstage to let people know we're here, this is where we're from and this is where we want to make it." The song 'Lebanon' captures the conflict an American Marine is feeling during an early 80's deployment to Beirut and is still eerily relevant given the numbers of young American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Happy listening and Happy New Year! Hope you will visit again in 2010.