Archive for the ‘The Specials’ Category

Bob & Earl

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

Harlem Shuffle / Bob & Earl

Harlem Shuffle / Bob & Earl

Listen: Harlem Shuffle / Bob & Earl
Harlem Shuffle / Bob & Earl

Talk about a period piece. ‘Harlem Shuffle’ makes me feel like I’m listening to late, well, very late night 60′s radio, when music this raw and blues based was kept off the air during the day…or more like, kept off the air almost entirely.

Released in ’63, then still considered race music, this record never got heard by white America. Wasn’t just the obscure English groups that had to sneak through via the late night airwaves ghetto, RnB had to as well. Growing up near Syracuse, we picked up AM stations from Boston and Ft. Wayne on our transistors, for rock that is. But we also managed a black station from Philadelphia and another from Baltimore. Not exactly Alabama or Mississippi, yet still very risky business for white bred upstate New York.

Got to hear a lot of seminal stuff that way, transistor under the pillow. In particular, Bob & Earl’s ‘Harlem Shuffle’, which still feels like a night time record with every time it gets a play. This single created a fantasy world, whereby living on the wrong side of the tracks seemed way far away and rather dangerous to venture too near.

The single had a deserved second life around the early 80′s, when a batch of this type stuff was reissued by some UK labels and the hip college DJ’s were mixing it in with ska revival bands like Madness and The Specials. Earl Lee Nelson had a pretty big hit ‘The Duck’ a few years later (’65) as Jackie Lee.

The Ethiopians / Roy Shirley / Lyn Taitt & His Band / King Perry

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Listen: Train To Skaville / The Ethiopians
Train To Skaville / The Ethiopians

Trains infatuated me as a kid. My Dad would take me to the nearby railroad yard, where we’d watch the freight trains being assembled, a work engine pushing various cars to the top of the hump, then releasing them down the hill where the switching tracks would route each onto the correct train. As they’d crash into the most recent stationary car in the chain, their hooks would couple and so on and so on. Before long, a proper freight train would materialize and eventually, a pair of main diesel engines would tug them away, beginning their journey.

This was in Minoa, NY. I believe those train yards are long gone. Disassembled during the early 70′s when train travel was pretty much exterminated in the US.

Like most kids in the 60′s, I had a few sets of Lionel trains. Actually, still do. They reside in my parent’s attic. Haven’t touched them since high school. Lionel trains were like heroin. I knew if I messed with either, I’d be whisked into serious addiction. So instead, I decided to o.d. on records.

As late as ’85, New York City’s last standing Lionel train shop was still open for business. Corinne and I were casually walking along East 23rd Street one Sunday shortly after moving to town, and there it was. A time warp. Inside, several large city/country landscape displays with trains chugging through miniature towns and mountainsides were clattering away. Behind the counter, shelves lined with Lionel’s signature cobalt blue and orange boxes, full of model train cars and engines, were stacked to the ceiling. I got the shakes. I wanted to buy everything. It was a wonderful and horrible moment all at once.

So the train fetish is real, and anytime there’s a song about trains, I’m intrigued.

The Ethiopians ‘Train To Skaville’ by most accounts, fits into the sunny day bounce typical of ska records, but I always chose to imagine it recapping a risky journey through Jamaica by night. Way more unsettling.

Listen: Hold Them / Roy Shirley with Lyn Taitt & His Band
Hold Them / Roy Shirley with Lyn Taitt & His Band

Listen: Doctor Dick / King Perry
Doctor Dick / King Perry

Thanks to The Specials and Madness, the pioneer Ska and Rock Steady labels from the 60′s began reissuing these classics in the late 70′s. With a sought after gem always gracing Side A, many times something more obscure or collectible landed on the flipside.

In the case of Island, two tracks made up Side B of all their re-releases, both the Ska/Reggae ones on the old red and white label, as well the RnB reissues on Sue.

I was reminded of all these details having stumbled on a fantastic site, 45-SLEEVES. It’s a bible for those of you who, like myself, can’t sleep when a record isn’t housed in it’s correct, time period specific company bag.

The Fun Boy Three

Monday, June 29th, 2009

fb3lunaticsps1, The Specials, The Fun Boy Three, Chrysalis

Listen: The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum / The Fun Boy Three FB3Lunatics.mp3

I never bought into Terry Hall’s vocals with The Specials. He may have been sincere, but his pouty photos were a put off, plus I preferred the ska originators over the revivalists.

This all may have been a bit harsh on my part looking back. Even at the time, it only took one listen to ‘The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum’ and my whole view did an about face. In fact, that first play, coming out of Radio 1 early one rainy morning in Howard’s Hammersmith flat on Agate Road, set the perfect scenario.

I remember it vividly. Hot tea in hand, I just stood there until the record finished. It sounded so different, maybe even groundbreaking as they say, a bit like The Dixie Cups ‘Iko Iko’ mashed up with David Essex’s ‘Rock On’, although I doubt either played any part in it’s creation. I dare say it still stands out today.