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Glyph

Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right). Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.

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36 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The question I always asked Maribou after listening to some ska is “they have a horns section with 12 people. How do they get paid?”

    She always responds with something to the effect of “they’re probably session musicians.”Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

      I remember in the early/mid 90s, when ska had taken off a bit again, seeing a some aspiring acts who were touring with a horn section and wondering the same thing.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

      For these original guys, who knows if any of them got paid. Jamaica’s music business historically as I understand it is so full of corruption, scams, skullduggery and violence that it makes the American music business look like Sunday School.

      When the English Beat (who were awesome, BTW) split up, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger explicitly said monetary reasons in such a large band were a factor – they figured that as they were the principal songwriters and singers, they could just go off on their own, and not have to split the money so many ways. But it was never the same without Saxa.Report

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    I don’t know what this means, but while not much of a fan of ska (Jimmy Cliff is awesome, though), I am a fan of most of its derivatives: dancehall, ragga, and reggaeton make up a substantial portion of my listening, especially while I’m writing or doing statistics (keep me awake and don’t require a lot of verbal working memory), and I’ve spent enough time at reggae shows to have a permanent contact high.

    And to repeat, Jimmy Cliff is awesome. I think I’ve seen him 3 or 4 times.Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    DICK CLARK
    Johnny, some kids on the show yesterday mentioned a new kind of music, ska. You know anything about it?

    JOHNNY THE SNITCH
    How should I know?

    (Dick Clark slips him a ten. Johnny looks around to be sure no one is looking, and speaks in a confidential whisper:)

    JOHNNY THE SNITCH
    Nothing but a modern offshoot of reggae, updated white rock influences, definitely upbeat. It’ll never become really popular because even though they’ve made the back beat more conventional, it’s still too exotic for mass acceptance.

    DICK CLARK
    Johnny, I also need some more of that secret formula eternal youth cream you have.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Heh. I remember that (and Police Squad was awesome). But Johnny the Snitch has the history backwards, reggae came from ska (though to be fair, given when PS aired, he’s probably referring to the second wave/Two-Tone bands, which definitely took rock into the equation).Report

      • Avatar aaron david in reply to Glyph says:

        I thought a big chunk of it came from toasting, which is also one of the bedrocks of Rap.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        Toasting just refers to the act of DJs sort of chanting, talking or storytelling over the records and was part of ska’s first wave, and therefore subsequently also in ska’s descendants reggae/rocksteady/dub/ragga.

        And the African tradition, for ex. griots (sort of a poet/bard), is older than that; and yes, this is in large part where rap comes from – Jamaican immigrants brought this tradition to NYC.

        Check out “Judge Dread” by Buster:

        Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Very cool stuff.

    I have a soft spot for the ska of the 90’s. But that is rather different than what is offered here. Is that incorrectly called ska?Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

      The name has stayed with it, but it’s probably more properly called a fusion – most of the stuff you are probably familiar with is a ska-pop-punk hybrid (and yes, as I note at the OP start, original ska was also a fusion; but run with it).

      OLD MAN RANT COMING: Each post-Two-Tone revival of ska has suffered quality-wise for two main reasons: one, most bands just don’t have musicians of the same caliber – some of those first-wave guys are amazing, and the second wave was able to tap many of those first-wave musicians (for ex. The Beat had Saxa, who was substantially older than them, and had played with Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker.)

      Second, as noted the original was a hybrid, and it was full of energy and life because it was new, and it had these other influences feeding into it. Second-wave had the then-new energy of punk rock feeding it, and bands like Madness and The Beat and The Specials were also savvy enough to be pulling in Motown, music hall and other types of influences (listening to Madness or The Beat in particular really highlights the range of influences they were pulling in – some of that stuff is barely even “ska”, but they were less concerned with making sure it adhered to ska tropes, than with making sure it was good – and in the process, not coincidentally, coming up with some pretty unique songs).

      But bands today…well, they mostly are just playing by the now-fossilized “ska” rules, in an average fashion. It’s fun music with a guaranteed (if small) fanbase, so “good enough” can often get by. The only modern ska band that seems worth a dang to me is Hepcat, and they are pretty throwback/retro, and incorporate some jazz into their playing.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

        So you’d call me a poser for admitting I like the Bostones and Less Than Jake? :-pReport

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        I saw the Bosstones several times, they put on a GREAT live show, and usually had one or two incredible singles per album (unfortunately…you then had to listen to the rest of the record).

        I saw Less Than Jake too. And Mustard Plug. And Skankin’ Pickle. And many others that are now, thankfully, lost to time.

        Gotta go back to the roots, Kaz-man. You won’t be sorry.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

        Oh, I’m not objecting to getting deeper with the stuff. The Spotify playlists make that really easy, too. I’m just saying that when I think of Ska, I think of those bands. Which obviously shows I do need to dig deeper.

        As I’ve noted several times by now, I’m partial to music with big horn sections, so this stuff is sitting nicely right now.Report

  5. Avatar Chris says:

    Also, since I haven’t said so in a while, I love these Wednesday music posts.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

      And they actually influence my behavior beyond simply listening to the songs. Right now I’m listening to reggaeton on Pandora simply because you didn’t mention it in this parenthetical: “(from whence came dub, and dancehall, and ragga…).” 😉Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris says:

        So my influence is basically, “yeah…let me listen to something ELSE”?

        Eh, better than nothing I guess. 😉

        I know you were sort of questioning recently what dubstep is about – if you trace it back, to me it clearly derives (at least in part) from jungle, which derived in part from dub/ragga. I don’t know if listening to it from that perspective, would make it clearer what it’s on about. Also, make sure you check my upcoming Friday Night Videos post.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Heh… since I’m not a big ska fan, it wasn’t going to make me listen to ska. So I went with something related.

        And yeah, I hear dubstep as house music with a particular gimmick. I like house music. I don’t like the gimmick. I’m not sure I could hear anything past that.Report

  6. Thanks for this, Glyph. This will obviate the need for Pandora for me today- few things are more enjoyable than first and second wave ska. Third wave stuff….I definitely need to be in the mood for, with the exception of a group called Edna’s Goldfish, but even that’s for purely sentimental reasons and a lot of their stuff can only loosely be called ska anyhow.Report

  7. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Very nice. Ska doesn’t want to fit into any one box: I’d argue ska should go in three or four packages.

    First package is the whole Sound System concept, which is more than a band. A sound system is more akin to a mini-festival. Several dozen people form up a cooperative, get a few old lorries and buses, load them up with food, booze, tents, a little stage, amps, speakers, merch of all sorts, oh just everything required for fun and profit. Off they go down the road, like a travelling circus. Unlike any tour you’ve seen, a sound system gig is run top to bottom by the system itself. There’s a nominal admission charge to the gig and things are for sale, but it introduced the whole idea of bands and turntables, side by side, often playing at the same time.

    Without the sound system, there wouldn’t be ska.

    Ska found a huge following elsewhere, as you’ve laid out with admirable thoroughness. The second box is ska’s various incarnations in the UK. Jamaica had long since morphed ska into reggae by the time ska became really big in the UK and soon elsewhere. Reggae retained its Jamaican identity where ska did not.

    The third box hardly looks like ska at all, though it clearly retained the essentials. Ska arrives in the USA with Fishbone and every bass player and rhythm guitarist in the world moved the beat off one and onto two. Gave ’em more room to move.

    Thereafter, ska becomes so thoroughly integrated into half the working bands in the world it’s hard to tell where it went, exactly.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I wanted to talk about soundsystems and Coxsone Dodd etc. but it seemed to be moving too far afield for this post.

      Maybe I will do a “dub” one some other time, and fold them into that.

      It’s weird – as a general rule (there are some big exceptions, like Toots and Horace Andy) I usually prefer old ska and dub, to much reggae – Marley was a genius, but was maybe too influential – too many people seem to sort of settle for pale imitations thereof – or maybe I have just seen too many bad reggae bar bands.Report

  8. That Jimmy Cliff video is awesome – how old was he at that point? His stage presence in that video is impressive given his age.

    Also, speaking of Marley, one of my favorite ska tunes is his “One Cup of Coffee.”Report

  9. Avatar Glyph says:

    Also, a teeny bit of trivia: the post’s featured image is an optical illusion – do you know what it is?

    (Chris is excluded, he probably knows this one).Report

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