Song Of The Day 12/16/2015: SKAndalous All-Stars – “Loser”

Song Of The Day Outtakes 2015 – This was originally going to go up on the final Quarterly Covers Report of the year on the day Allen Toussaint passed away, and it was far more important for me to spend that day talking about Allen Toussaint. So I postponed it until this week because...

Well, look. Here's the deal. About 99% of the songs I push on this blog are here because I celebrate the creative spark of humanity. I cherish the inclinations of our social order to grab a wisp of an idea from thin air, harness it and mount in a delicate cage, nurture it into a nucleus as its breath and pulse evolves from a spirited core, and present it as emotional proof of the wondrous scope of human achievement.

The other 1% I present because I want to show examples of how this impulse can go horribly, horribly wrong.

The SKAndalous All-Stars were various members of bands that really should have known better. The frontman was Vic Ruggiero of the Slackers, one of the achingly few '90s ska bands who really were great. In fact if you want to ditch today's entry and go look up some Slackers records on Spotify or something like that, I'm fine with that act of carbon neutrality.

The All-Stars' shtick was taking what the druids used to call "alternative music" (plus one KISS song) and putting it to ska, rocksteady and reggae arrangements. Might sound a bit hackneyed, but I don't doubt the purity of their intent. Covering American and British rock, pop and R&B hits in reggae or rocksteady form was standard practice for Jamaican artists in the late '60s and '70s and resulted in many great reinterpretations. But that was then. The All-Stars' doing it to '80s and '90s songs like "Radio Free Europe" and "Creep" was a dicey premise at best. There's a subtle, shared self-awareness in alternative records -- not necessarily a bad thing, just unavoidable -- that doesn't translate to the simplicity of classic Jamaican records. The snark gap is just too formidable to bridge.

When I was at the L.A. music marketing agency, where I worked with one other guy who was my boss, part of my job was to listen to the albums that came in and write copy for them. In addition to the good records, we grudgingly had to plough through some of the not-so-good ones. In all five years when we worked in the same room, there were only two albums my boss expressly forbid playing in the office for any reason whatsoever. One was Space Ghost's Musical Bar-B-Que. The other was the SKAndalous All-Stars' Hit Me. I could only play those in private when he wasn't around, preferably at least two miles from my person just to be safe.

So I played Hit Me in my car on the way home. Their cover of Beck's "Loser" was Track 5. That's when I snapped. That's when I took the CD out and flung it to the back seat where it would never torment me again (before I had kids that was the easiest way for me to lose something). I wondered about my options for disinfecting the CD player or if anybody might have heard it coming out from my car. You'll never hear a more ineffective lead vocal. You can tell the guy's struggling to figure out how to render the Fluxus lyrics to replicate the irony in a reggae setting, and has decided to yawn. Actually yawn. It's just... just...

Look, do yourself a favor. Go listen to Toots & the Maytals' "Take Me Home Country Roads" and rock yourself to sleep. Let's not speak of this again. 

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