The Dawning of a New Era

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

My period of music magazine reading lasted from maybe 1986 to 2010? I am not sure about that end date, as things just sort of petered out. At no point, though, did I read MOJO regularly. But I did come across their compilations at the used record stores, and I picked up a few of them. As noted before, I used to slot all of them in the “M” section, but now I don’t think that makes as much sense as going by title.

What I Think of This Album

I love love love ska, and this is a wonderful collection of what I believe to be both popular and obscure ska tracks from the 1950s to the 1990s. The conceit was that this featured original versions of songs recorded by the Specials (hence the title, taken from a Specials song), but I think only two tracks fit that description. Who cares? This is a fun fucking album; almost every one of the fifteen tracks is excellent.

The first rarity is “Skinhead Moonstomp” by Symarip. They were a British band (whose members were all of Afro-Caribbean descent) formed in the ‘60s. The track was released in 1969 and then again in 1980, to capitalize on the Two-Tone movement. The original version of the song – “Moon Hop”  – is also from 1969, and was written and released by Derrick Morgan. The spoken intro by Symarip is modeled on Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You.”

The Desmond Dekker classic “It Mek” is next, but I already owned this one on my Dekker comp. “Monkey Man” is also a pretty well known song, by Toots & the Maytals from 1969; and this was covered by the Specials. The other definite Specials cover is “A Message to You Rudy,” here in its original 1967 form by Dandy Livingstone, with future Specials collaborator Rico Rodriguez on trombone. The Livingstone original also features a saxophonist named Pepsi. The track was originally titled “Rudy A Message to You.”

A Bob Marley & the Wailers track follows (“Concrete Jungle” but not the Specials’ subsequent original of the same name), which is not ska at all but rather reggae, and I don’t like reggae. So. Also not ska is “Babylon’s Burning,” by the Ruts – this is just punk, and doesn’t fit at all with the other songs on the disc.

“Gangsters” is here as performed by Neville Staples, but this is a straight up Specials song. This version is admittedly different from the Specials’ recording, but I do not believe for a second this is the original version. Not cool, Mojo. What is VERY cool is the sound of “I Spy (for the FBI),” by the Untouchables, a Los Angeles band formed in 1981; they played with X and were in the film Repo Man (as a scooter gang), and this song was produced by Jerry Dammers of the Specials. I do need to acknowledge that the lyrics get a little stalker-ish towards the end.

The Belle Stars were an all-woman band who opened for the Clash; their song “Hiawatha” was produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley (Madness), and is one of the weaker tracks on this comp. Rico Rodriguez’s instrumental version of “Sea Cruise” (on which he is backed by the Specials) is from 1980; “Sea Cruise” was originally a Huey Smith song recorded by Frankie Ford in 1959, and has been covered a lot, including by Jerry Lee Lewis, John Fogerty (CCR), Dion, the Beach Boys, and Yo La Tengo.

Legend Eddy Grant gets a song on here – “ Baby Come Back” – as recorded by the Equators, a 1977 British band with a core of three brothers (Donald, Leo, and Rocky Bailey) whose parents emigrated from Jamaica; the song was first released in 1966 by the Equals. The Godfather of Ska, Cuban-born Laurel Aitken, is represented with his song “Skinhead.” I am not sure what the original release date of this song is. Aitken worked with producer Duke Reid and recorded with the Skatalites. Rancid covered his “Everybody’s Suffering.” He died in 2005.

Judge Dread was actually a white dude from England named Alexander Hughes who sometimes worked security for the Stones. He holds the record for most songs banned by the BBC. “Skin Lake” has a horn part based on some classical piece I can’t recall the name of right now; I also can’t tell what the release date is.

Perhaps the most entertaining song on the album is Arthur Kay’s “Play My Record,” which he delivers in a Cockney accent not far removed from Ian Dury. This is a 1980 song, and Kay (born Kitchener) was a session bassist for the Trojan label in the ‘60s. The last track is the odd but catchy “Dambusters March,” by the JJ All Stars, which was the one-off alias of British band the 4-Skins, who were around from 1979-84; the alias is apparently a tribute to the backing band of the same name from the late ‘60s who worked with producer JJ Johnson.

The Best Thing About This Album

ALL of it (well, almost).

Release Date

April, 2008

The Cover Art

I sort of like this – the pink, in particular, is nice.

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