David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 64: The Specials (Nite Klub)

June 29, 2020

I have no clue why Ska didn't (doesn't) rule the world. It's the perfect blend of dance, party, goofiness, and subtle political statements. My greatest introduction to Ska was from the 1981 movie Dance Craze and its eventual accompanying soundtrack album. The movie featured live performances of a number of Ska bands that I hadn't heard of at the time, outside of a vague knowledge of Madness. The concert footage from the film captured beautifully the natural kinetic energy of Ska, highlighting a half dozen bands, while also showing me, a still fairly sheltered white kid in West Virginia, that it was a musical movement of racial harmony, white musicians and black musicians sharing the stage, the song-writing, and the spotlight.

So, with Dance Craze, I may have entered for Madness but I left with Specials.

The Specials feature much of the angry snarl associated with punk youth, especially with "Concrete Jungle": "I can't dress just the way I want/I'm being chased by the national front," but with broader musical appeal than the punks and a better sense of style. With their pork pie hats and mohair suits, their performances in Dance Craze were a visual treat. The on-stage antics, non-stop movement, brought a sense of release to the songs' topics, connecting the audience with the music more so than with the lyrics.

Or, maybe, that was just for me.  Because for all of their scathing political commentary, my favorite track quickly became "Nite Klub," which closed Dance Craze in an extended version of what is on The Specials, the debut album featuring the songs in the film. You can actually find a Youtube video of the movie's closing scene, but it is clearly taped off of a t.v. so the quality is poor. When the crowd rushes the stage early in the song, the mood is effusive and joyful, not like the antagonistic adrenalin-fueled stage rushes that the poor Sex Pistols had to endure just a few years earlier.

The link below is to a performance of "Nite Klub" from The Late Show With David Letterman from 2010. The band is older (and obviously not entirely the original) but they still have the energy that defines this simple song about the addiction of clubbing. The drumming by John Bradbury is the beautiful backbeat. Horace Panter's bass adds its own rhythmic melody, and when the bulk of the music drops to mostly the bass, he is a sight to behold. Through all the antics, the brass section punches the ticket home. The movement, the two tone (that was the name of their original label) style look, and the music all make the performance an experience.

The jarring, changing rhythms fit the lyrics too. The opening sounds like the lament of a hungover, uninspired late-nighter, the lines almost stuttered: "Is this the in place to be/What am I doing here/Watching the girls go by/Spending money on . . ."

And before we know what Terry Hall, the singer, can spend money on, the adrenalin cuts loose, the energy flows, and the club hops, skips, and 2-tones, the apparent self-appointed name for most of those great moves. Hall spits out "Sleep all day/I'm a parasite/I creep about at night." In the song's brief moment of political statement, if we want to challenge the parasite's need to exist, then we have to understand the environment from which he comes:  "Hey, I don't have to work/there's no work to do." Through it all, the nightclubbers are his people, singing "Nite Klub" over the "I'm a parasite."

Hall's narrator is both attracted and repelled by the space in which he thrives. Thanks to the stupidity of American t.v. in which Late Show existed, the key word in the key line "I won't dance in a club like this/all the girls are slags and the beer tastes just like piss" is bleeped (I would argue "slag" is the much more offensive word than "piss," but whatever). Luckily we can imagine what the beer tastes like, because that knowledge is necessary to get the satisfactory conclusion when at the end the song cycles back to the opening: "What am I doing here/watching the girls go by/spending money on . . . beer." Drop mic. Literally.

Of course, in America, it would take another ten years after Dance Craze for us to get Ska with the breakthrough of No Doubt, an o.k. band but nothing special. Just sayin'.

"Nite Klub." The Specials. The Specials. 2 Tone. 1979. Link here.

Day 63: Rasputina "Brand New Key."

Day 65: The Bee Gees "Nights On Broadway."

See complete list here.