Soul Jazz Records – ‘100% Dynamite’

The last few months of my joyful stay in Penzance met with a discovery of some classic new grits and grooves. I discovered 100% Dynamite, an absolute gem of a compilation form London-based Soul Jazz Records. These tracks were the real deal, the absolute cream of original Jamaican funky soul, ska and rocksteady by the likes of The Maytals, The Upsetters and the keyboard kid genius, Jackie Mittoo. Listening to, and being slightly blown away by the quality of the 14 tracks, it felt like my passion for funk and soul was being reignited, and better still it opened up a whole new world of Jamaican music.

The album featured ska and rocksteady versions of soul tracks I already loved. Aretha Franklin’s Rocksteady was given the full on ska treatment by The Marvells whilst Marlena Shaw’s Woman of the Ghetto was given a more gentle reggae tingle by Phyllis Dillon. But, what grabbed my groove the most was Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s house band (and soon to be The Wailers) The Upsetters’ stonking ska blast of James Brown’s Popcorn. Hell yeah, the drums and bass, man… just one killer break.

The Skatalites were well known to me, but not keyboard king Jackie Mittoo whose Stereo Freeze is just another funked up ska stomp. Devouring 100% Dynamite got me searching for more, and it didn’t take long for more Soul Jazz comps to get me. A year or so down the line they released New Orleans Funk and Saturday Night Fish Fry and my obsession with funk and soul kicked in again, invigorated by the brilliance of Eddie Bo, The Gaturs and Roger and The Gypsies immense Pass The Hatchet.

For any fans of funk, soul or ska, if you’ve not found it already, do yourselves a huge favour and dive deep into the Soul Jazz Records back catalogue. Having merged with Studio One, many of the comps feature the label’s legendary history. 100% Dynamite is aptly named. Get on it, and the four blasts of Dynamite that followed.

Dexys Midnight Runners – ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’

When Searching For The Young Soul Rebels was released in the summer of 1980 the UK singles chart was littered with funk and disco; the golden age of both had had their day, but the likes of Chic, Diana Ross, Gibson Brothers, Detroit Spinners, Brothers Johnson and Odyssey were still hugely popular. Soul, however, was a far more distant memory. Not since the heyday of Motown had authentic soul acts really bothered the Top 40. Funk and disco were hanging in, ska and mod was in the middle of a massive revival and then along came Dexys Midnight Runners, bringing with them a new soul vision.

To me, a 14-year old who was soaking up anything and everything, soul was something I’d just dipped my toe into when Geno stormed to No.1 in early 1980. I loved it, the passion, the image, the brass and in particular Kevin Rowland’s uncomfortable, blue-collar cool. There There My Dear was equally magnetic, teaching me valuable lessons I’d never learn in the classroom.

“If you’re so anti-fashion why not wear flares instead of dressing down all the same”.

Soon (not soon enough) I’d be wearing nothing but second hand clobber. I went to work in a ‘trendy’ menswear emporium, but a few of us only laughed at those who simply, stupidly, blindly followed fashion. It was bands like Dexys who taught me to think for myself.

Searching For The Young Soul Rebels had so much to say, politically, culturally and from its opening minute of radio hiss and snippets of The Sex Pistols, The Specials and Deep Purple I devoured it as if my life depended on it, which at the time it pretty much did. Amongst blaring brass and cool keyboard stabs Rowland’s voice was brilliantly painful; harrowing, pleading, so different from what the charts were (by the time this album had its wicked way with me in 1981) becoming – a synthetic, soulless, new romantic upchuck. Whilst their hit singles were upbeat and immediate the album’s slower tracks are those that really reach the soul; The Teams That Meet In The Caffs, I’m Just Looking, I Couldn’t Help It If I Tried and in particular the brilliantly scornful Keep It.

For me the album was a springboard to soul and all manner of social references, but more than that it was a genuine inspiration and the more I listened the more I felt enlightened. That said, to love it and believe in it as I did was further evidence of not just a love of music, but an appreciation and acceptance of the fact that music was moulding my life, asking me as many questions as it was giving me answers. Soon I would be gorging on soul as part of an unrelenting 60s binge, but for now Dexys Midnight Runners were – much as Geno Washington was to Kevin Rowland – a perfect inspiration.

The Beat – ‘I Just Can’t Stop It’

By 1980 the ‘second wave of ska’ had firmly found its place in the UK charts. Madness, Selector, Bad Manners and The Specials were having major success, and it was The Beat with their debut album I Just Can’t Stop It who cemented my love of the dance craze. By the grand age of 14 I was already checking out the roots of my chart favourites, listening to soul, ska and sixties, fascinated and obsessed as I was by the history and the culture as well as the music.

The band’s first three chart singles were all taken from this stunning LP. Tears of a Clown, Hands Off She’s Mine and Mirror in the Bathroom were all classic Top Ten singles with the rest of the album littered with covers and blatant nods towards their ska and rocksteady pioneers. As with The Specials, much of The Beat’s own writing was heavily spiced with political and cultural references born out of Thatcher’s Britain. I loved the energy of Click Click and Two Swords as much as the dubby loose-limbed groove of Jackpot and Whine and Grine, and despite some of the overtly political lyrics and cutting social comment this was still most definitely a ‘pop’ album.

It’s with far more than a large dose of dewy-eyed nostalgia that I can listen back to I Just Can’t Stop It, and still love it. I remember a constant stream of happy, innocent days full of naive and romantic positivity, and the sheer voyage of musical discovery was already an all-consuming passion, but quite simply this is an exceptional album, brilliantly of its time and forty years later as socially relevant now as it was then. The only down side – the putrid cover of Andy Williams’ Can’t Get Used To Losing You – despite Everett Morton’s perfect mellow ska beat – I didn’t like it then and don’t like it now. Anyway, kids… buy (download) this album.

The Specials – ‘The Specials’

By late 1979 the musical mix of post punk and new wave was dominating the UK charts, whilst ‘the second wave of ska’ was also fast becoming part of the Top 40 countdown that by now, I was obsessed with. Of course there was dross too, but when isn’t there? Maybe there has to be the crap to fully appreciate the good stuff. If there’s one thing Thatcher can be credited with it’s inspiring a multitude of musicians, poets, and social commentators to wax lyrical; to pour scorn through their chosen medium.

Well, I was yet to read poetry or any literature beyond Smash Hits, Melody Maker or the NME, but one band who were a major part of my cultural learning, of my awareness of social, political and class issues were The Specials. Their eponymous debut album was a masterpiece, and would still rank as one of my favourite albums of all time.

 

Produced by Elvis Costello and released on Jerry Dammers’ 2-Tone label, The Specials was a dance mix of ska and punk; a brilliant homage to their musical heroes including covers of Dandy Livingstone, Toots & The Maytals and Prince Buster whilst capturing perfectly the angst and energy as well as inspiring the youth of the day. Unlike debut albums from Madness and The Beat (brief 2Tone label-mates) the album never veered towards pop, instead the social messages were as persistent as the ska rhythms. At 13 I was totally naive, but my eyes, ears and dreams were being opened up and fuelled by provocative, radical visuals and lyrics.

Political correctness did not exist in ’79 and the album is full of piss-taking and social spikes that seem wonderfully sharp compared to today’s banality, not that The Specials wouldn’t have given a shit anyway.

“I won’t dance in a club like this / all the girls are slags and the beer tastes just like piss” – Nite Club

“The only things you want to see are kitch / the only thing you want to be is rich / your little pink up-pointed nose begins to twitch / I know, you know, you’re just a little bitch” – Little Bitch.

Welcome to being a teenager. The Specials packed a mighty live punch and whilst I had to wait over thirty years to see them live, this album alone was enough to last three decades.