A Ska Twofer

I have two awesome ska tracks to drop on you.

(But before I drop two awesome ska tracks on you, let me briefly explain the musical difference between reggae and ska. Reggae has a swing (or shuffle) feel; ska, on the other hand, has a straight eighth-note rhythm underlying it. You no longer need to conflate the two. Onto the music.)

First is the Specials‘ cover of “A Message to You Rudy,” penned by Dandy Livingstone. The lead-off track to their phenomenal 1979 Elvis Costello-produced eponymous album, “Rudy” is essentially a genre exercise – what with its flailing trombone and I-IV-V chord progression – but the tune has more hooks than a tackle box. Pay special attention to the rich vocal harmony on the chorus and it will reward you by sticking in your mind for days. In case you were curious, “Rudy” is short for “rudeboy,” used at the time as a nickname for the British underclass of Jamaican extraction, and before that for Kingston skinheads.

My other treat for you is “John Jones” by Van Dyke Parks, from his flawless sophomore solo album, 1972’s Discover America. [Continue reading…]

Parks penned the album, lyrically packed with American allegory but musically Caribbean, after a trip to the West Indies. (My guess is that the odd musical/lyrical pairing ties to the title – Columbus, after all, is said to have “discovered America” when in fact he sailed into the Caribbean islands.) Allmusic says that the song is about an American “pioneer gunslinger,” but the track itself is such a short sketch, and the lyrics so scant, that I haven’t been able to assign a biography to the words. But what’s really so great about this song anyway is its breezy, lilting melody and the Juilliard harmony that fleshes it out.
Greg Katz

The Specials – “A Message to You Rudy”: mp3
Van Dyke Parks – “John Jones”: mp3

Van Dyke Parks photo by Flickr user FlickrDelusions