Saturday, January 06, 2007


Ragged Thots Retro Record Review

Men With Hats: Say He, Dance!

When announcing my guest-blog stint a couple of weeks ago, our esteemed host referenced a certain album that I had never had the (**cough**) ... pleasure ... of hearing. Now, I would never have guessed RAG to be a Dan Fogelberg groupie, though we be long-lost twins of musical taste. For me, however, Fogelberg is one of those names that conjures up OTHER names in pop music that I need not ever hear again, such as Juice Newton, Kiki Dee, Stars on 45, Tone-Loc, Ready for the World, or REO Speedwagon.

So, Brothers and Sisters of the Ragged Thots Church of Pop Trash Culture, the Right Reverend George has allowed me to deliver a brief sermon on forgotten twists of yore. We will discuss one of my all-time favorite denominations: SKA!!

Now, many of us clueless Midwestern teens first became aware of Caribbean-derived pop music from a segment of ABC's newsmagazine 20/20 that aired around 1981 or 1982. Waxing poetic on the "evils" of Thatcherism and its supposed effect on race relations in the U.K., Hugh Downs used a snatch of a music video from a Brit group called The Specials, and their song "Ghost Town." At first sight, "Ghost Town" did nothing for me, as MTV was starting to be inundated with Duran Duran and other Pretty Boys, and I figured these Specials fellas were just more synth-wankers like Taco and Adam Ant. It took a couple of more years to me to catch the neo-Ska/Reggae drift. And catch it I did around 1984, when I was watching MTV (or some godawful imitation show like this) and discovered a new group:

Who were these strange young men with a slamming 60s-like beat, and even more important, nice suits and pork-pie brims?!

This wonderful Los Angeles-based Ska group, coming out of what was then left of the “Two-Tone Movement,” with that one song freed my musical tastes out of the Buckeye Bastille in which they were imprisoned. This video discovery made me seek out whole new genres of music ranging from D.C.'s Go-Go, to the calypso of my parent's generation and the Soca of my own, and on to Nigerian Afro-beat. Thanks to The Untouchables, I realized young men and teen-age boys in the 1980s had clothing options other than red leather zippered or Members-Only jackets, hair that required a DOT/OSHA placard due to flammability, or risking a hernia after donning a pair of tight, fruity-assed, girlie designer jeans.

Every human being should have their own theme song, and the Untouchables "Free Yourself" has been mine for over 20 years. The youthful inspiration for my eventual drift to libertarianism. If you dig the above video, you'll enjoy the CD, Wild Child, a compilation of their limited ouevre from the mid- to late-1980s. In addition to "Free Yourself," there are plenty of rocksteady tunes like the title cut, "I Spy (For the FBI)," "Mandingo," and one of my all-time favorite ska instrumentals, the Skatalitesesque "Lonely Bull."

"Whiplash" is a nice, light '80s-reggaeish tune (think Julian Lennon's "Too Late for Goodbyes," only better and faster) waiting to be picked up as a jingle for some insurance corporation (hint hint). "Lebanon" is a decent anti-war song, and I thought the lyrics were appropriate for our current mess in Iraq when I served in Fallujah ("I'm fighting a war / That I know nothing about / They say it's my duty / But the motives leave me in doubt"). "Laser Show" is a slower, darker take on the same theme. And there's plenty of lighter, inoffensive 80s R&B fare such as "Soul Together," "Piece of Your Love," and "Freak in the Streets."

Of course, EVERY group, even Heavy Metal bands, has to have that Obligatory Tortured Love Ballad, and the Untouchables were no different. "What's Gone Wrong," was the second closest the group came to having a "hit" right after "Free Yourself." It's a nice, slow ska song about a relationship break-up, a little more bouncy than, say, Bob Marley's "I Don't Want to Wait For Your Love," but with the same sort of emotionally bittersweet lyrics.

As with a lot of great, but esoteric bands, you'll only find scatterings of The Untouchables on I-Tunes, and will have to go to Amazon or E-Bay to pick up the disc. Check out some of their better songs at the group's MySpace site.

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