The Specials Play “Too Much Too Young” (Live EP Version)

The Special AKA Too Much Too YoungListen to this track by first tier of second wave ska outfits The Specials. It’s “Too Much Too Young” as featured on their 1980 EP of the same name. It was released in January of that year, quick to follow up their self-titled record that preceded it in October.

This song was featured on that release as well, with a slightly slower  and more languid tempo. With this version, recorded live in front of an audience at the Lyceum in London, the song is amped up in every way, full of the kind of on-stage energy for which the band were known by this time, clocking in at just over two minutes. The result was a number one showing on the UK singles chart in February, being the shortest song in the UK to hit a number one spot during that decade.

As with much of their material, The Specials drew inspiration from the Trojan label and the music associated with it coming out of Jamaica in the mid-to-late sixties. Head writer Jerry Dammers based this song around some elements that can be found on the 1969 single by Lloyd Charmers “Birth Control“, adding a bit of contemporary content of his own in this new track that took some of the themes of the original, and put something of a political spin on the proceedings in so doing. So, how does a jaunty ska track become so political? Read more

The (English) Beat Play “Too Nice To Talk To”

The BeatHere’s a clip of Birmingham second-wave ska merchants The Beat, or sometimes known as The English Beat depending on which continent you happen to be living on. It’s “Too Nice To Talk To”, a single released in 1980 between their debut record I Just Can’t Stop It and their follow-up by the next year, Wha’ppen?.

The naming convention of this band is rooted in some pretty well known lore by now. Paul Collins, formerly of the Nerves, had a band Stateside called the Beat. So, when the English Beat began to make an impact in North America, it was decided that they should put the “English” to their name, as it were, to avoid band (or was that brand?) confusion.

Collins’ band was a power pop band, as opposed to the punk and R&B-informed ska of his UK counterparts. But, on this song, that classic power pop convention is very well in place; the insecure, awkward narrator pining after a girl he can’t work up the nerve to go up and talk to. So, despite stylistic differences, The Beat knew what would resonate with popular audiences. It scored them a top ten showing on the UK singles chart.

But, despite the accessibility of the subject matter, there is a musical concoction to be found in this song that took some chances. Read more

The Selecter Perform ‘On My Radio’

onmyradioListen to this song by ska revival-oriented new wavers The Selecter with their 1979 single ‘On My Radio’, a UK top ten hit that served as a herald to their their debut 2-Tone LP Too Much Pressure.

Being one of the bands associated with the 2-Tone ska revival along with fellow Coventry band The Specials, the Selecter burned twice as bright for half as long, at least in its original incarnation. Yet, this single knocked it out of the park, proving them to be a singularly great new wave band before dissolving the next year, around the time the ska-revival craze died out too.

The band showed tremendous promise, even if their sound was fused to the life of the ska-craze as championed by the better known Specials and the Beat.  Along with those two bands, they appeared in the film to document that scene, 1981’s Dance Craze along with like-minded bands Bodysnatchers, Bad Manners, and Madness.

Where the many of those bands took the frisson of punk and mixed it with traditional Caribbean ska, The Selecter borrowed from the new wave diva sounds of Lene Lovich and  Toyah Wilcox.  This was largely realized by lead vocalist Pauline Black, who brought a new wave herky-jerky delivery which complemented the tense ska  backdrop which framed the band’s material.

Like many of the 2-Tone bands, The Selecter was made up of members of mixed heritage, something of a subversion of the violence between communities which was a problem during the economically-depressed times of the late 70s, early 80s industrial Britain.  Yet even if the band’s material also covers a lot of this thematic territory, this tune is a pure pop song, designed to get stuck in your head.  Perhaps purposefully, the song is about the joy of pop music and how attractive it is, with hooks galore mixed in with a tough ska sound that is true to its origins.

Even of the Selecter’s prime period was this brief 1979-81 time span, the group would reconvene in the 90s.  In the meantime, Pauline Black had made something of a second career as an actor, appearing on the stage and on British television.  Yet, the group would be most associated as a pop group that captured the zeitgeist of Midlands Britain and the celebrated 2-Tone sound that would inspire bands for decades to come, including many American bands like No Doubt, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and many others.

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