Agony Shorthand

Monday, May 12, 2003
PRINCE BUSTER “FABULOUS GREATEST HITS”….One genre that I came upon to appreciate rather late in life is SKA – that much-maligned, perhaps guilty-by-association music loved worldwide by clothes horses & 11-year-old kid brothers. The fertile, dance-crazed Jamaican 60s ska scene got a new lease on life and was introduced to most of us when British pop groups took it mainstream in the early 80s (and for the most part, not at all badly, I might add). But then the Americans got involved and things got ugly. I remember the living, breathing definition of poseur in 1982-83 San Jose, California being a newly-minted “mod” or “ska-boy” with a Two Tone jacket, porkpie hat & a Vespa – to say nothing of the ska/punk crossover that many atrocious, unmentionable bands attempted in the years to follow. It really stunk up the entire genre for a lot of folks. I remember Forced Exposure making ska the punchline to many a review (“…At least this band doesn’t play ska…”; “nothing could be worse than this, except maybe for ska” etc.).

Lost in the bile were the true heavyweights of 1960s Jamaican music that started this hep sound in the first place, foremost among them PRINCE BUSTER. I have been gobbling up a ton of 60s Jamaican music the past few years, but this is really my first full-length foray into The Prince. It’s a hell of an introduction! I’m sure there are plenty of greatest hits packages spilling off the shelves of your local records stores, but this one collects some of his most killer sides from the Fabulous label circa 1964-67 or thereabouts. The standouts are the uptempo, ultra-fast songs that define the genre: “Earthquake”, “Texas Hold-Up” and of course “Al Capone”, later turned into “Gangsters” by the Specials. He’s a great vocalist who melts butta on the slow ones & hollers like the insane conductor of the dance floor on the frantic ones. Naturally his band is hot & tight and ready to explode w/ a wall of horns when called upon to do so. I’m not really sure where ska ends and something called “Blue Beat” begins, but the liner notes make it clear that Prince Buster was all over them both. A terrific introduction if you’re so inclined.