This is a crazy long post, so if you actually decide to read it, might as well hit the play button on this playlist, since it’s equally as long. And, yes, if you’re wondering where the hell I found the time to write this up, I’ve been traveling way too much lately, so this post was written over the course of a month during multiple flights and airport layovers, in between sleeping.
Okay, so I had promised both more posts about music (from 10 months ago) and more posts about the wedding (from 7 months ago) and haven’t had time for either — so I’m going to try to do both at once. I originally had planned to write up a post like this before the wedding when I was trying to figure all this out, but that didn’t happen.
Anyway, given my (at this point…) 18 year (yikes) and ongoing obsession with ska music, you might think I always expected to have ska music at my eventual wedding. But, actually, that’s never really been the case. I remember talking to Sammy from the Scofflaws about the wedding performances they used to do on occasion, and I asked him if they did anything different than their standard live performance — and he said no. He said that there would be grandmothers and the like staring at them wondering what was going on. It made me wonder. The Scofflaws put on one of the best live shows ever, but part of that is the excitement of the crowd. I couldn’t exactly see my grandparents dancing around to songs like “William Shatner” or “Nude Beach”. While I know how a good song with a good beat can get almost anyone to dance, people most like to dance to songs they recognize. So, I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea that I shouldn’t expect any ska at my wedding — especially if the wife-to-be wasn’t a huge ska fan.
Of course, while it’s true that the wife isn’t a huge ska fan, she is pretty cool (why I married her and all), and she just assumed that there would be ska at the wedding — and looked at me like I was silly when I suggested maybe it didn’t make sense. Either way, it gave me a good project to work on leading up to the wedding. The DJ we picked knew absolutely nothing about ska (of the DJs I interviewed, only one had heard about ska, but knew nothing about it — and we didn’t pick him anyway). So it was up to me to try to put together a nice representative sample of ska music for the wedding. We weren’t expecting all of the music to be ska, but wanted to be able to throw in a ska song here and there to keep me happy (along with the… um… two or three wedding guests who also were ska fans).
That’s when I realized how tricky this actually was. I have well over a thousand ska CDs, of varying styles, eras and quality. However, I still wanted to make sure that the songs were appropriate — which required a few things.
- First and foremost, it had to be a good song (probably goes without saying). However, recognizing that most people wouldn’t even know the songs at all, it had to be a different level of good: it had to be good-on-the-first-listen good. That’s a lot trickier. There are plenty of songs that take a few listens to before you really start to dig them, but there are always a few standouts. I wanted to focus in on the standouts.
- Second, it had to be more upbeat and danceable. Most ska qualifies, but there are some tricky ones — especially if the song has massive tempo changes, as some of them do.
- Third: It has to be relatively short, in the two to four minute range. Longer than that can usually get annoying, especially if people don’t know/like the song. I’ve been told that 2:55 is the ideal length for a “danceable” song. Who knows if it’s true, but I didn’t want to push my luck with something like the Jumpstarts’ “Lucky One” — a fantastic, catchy song that has great lyrics for a wedding… but clocks in somewhere around 7 minutes.
- Fouth: Perhaps the most annoying/limiting: the recording quality had to be good. That knockedout pretty much all first generation Jamaican ska songs. While they really are awesome, the recording quality is generally pretty pitiful. This basically knocked out a good 35 to 40% of my collection.
- Finally, and perhaps the trickiest of all: the song couldn’t have any easily heard or understood lyrics that would seem inappropriate for a wedding.
Combining all those factors really made it stunningly difficult to come up with an hour and a half or so worth of songs. I started (of course) with The Slackers. I have over 200 Slackers songs (between albums and live recordings), and they are far and away my favorite band, and have been ever since I first saw them oh so many years ago at the Wetlands. It seems scary now that they have 8 or 9 albums or whatever out — but I still remember the fact that it took them bloody forever to scrap together enough money for the first album — entitled appropriately enough “Better Late than Never.” However, going through songs from The Slackers, it’s pretty difficult to find “wedding appropriate” material.
Hell, perhaps their most popular song ever is called “Married Girl,”
but it’s all about having an affair with a married woman (key lyric: “Married girl, don’t you wanna… smoke a little marijuana… and think about what you’re gonna do to me…”). Great song. Catchy. Not, so good for a wedding.
Ok, but there must be other Slackers songs among the hundreds. Except… I began to notice that the Slackers don’t have love songs. They have heartbreak songs. Every one of them. A few months ago (after this whole process) I watched the recently released documentary on the Slackers, where Vic basically admits that. He notes that the love of his life dumped him in high school when he couldn’t write a love song about her. The best he could do was write a song about why he couldn’t write a love song about her. Oops.
Based on that experience, he wrote one of my favorite Slackers songs (and the first one I saw them perform live): Sarah. Key lyric (stated very clearly): “Girl you know I love you and I’ll love you for the rest of my life. Sarah! I’m always thinking of you… I’m so sorry I can’t make you my wife.” Oops. No good. And then you notice there are more songs in that vein. “No I don’t want no other girl… at least not for tonight.” Oops. “What I’m sorry for is all those wasted days and wasted ways that I loved you.” Yikes. “I’ll find another before this night’s over. She might not be you, I might not be sober…” Nope.
And, it wasn’t just the Slackers. One of the very best Pietasters songs is “Night Owl”, which sounds sorta like a love song if you’re not listening too closely to the lyrics, until you hit the chorus and they sing (oh so clearly): “I don’t love you no more… and one more thing, now listen here: I hate your guts. You ruined my life. Ba-ba-baby you’ll never be my wife.” Yeah, not quite wedding material.
Ok. So, I did finally put together a list and gave it to the DJ (there’s a post script to this, but you gotta get to the bottom to read it…).
Here’s some quick thoughts on each of the songs in the playlist.
- “No Strangers Here” — The Robustos: Seemed appropriate for a wedding. About a gathering of people where everyone’s welcome. Plus, it’s the best Robustos song, showing off the lead singer’s vocals and is upbeat and catchy. Years back, I remember talking to Bucket about this amazing band he had found down in Georgia (I think) called the Robustos (Bucket pronounced it “Robooostos”). When their first album came out on Moon Satellite, I rushed to get it and was seriously disappointed. Just didn’t have anything special going on. Even on a classic standard like “Perfidia” the lead singer’s vocals seemed average. A couple years later, I spotted the second Robustos album in a bargain bin for $0.99 and figured I’d give it a shot. And it’s fantastic. The music is great. Plenty of soul. Fantastic vocals. I went back and listened to the first album… and it still sucks. Not sure what happened, but whatever they did for the second album worked.
- “Take Me With You” — The Jumpstarts: These guys were awesome, though unfortunately went through a few too many lineup changes. Back when we had the radio show, the Jumpstarts were very cool about sending us their demos and all new recordings before anyone else had them, so we helped debut songs like this one on the radio. Again, great vocals (though I’m pretty sure this female singer left the band before their album even came out). The recording quality isn’t great, but had to include a Jumpstarts song somehow.
- “Do You Know” — The Slackers: Aha! I did find a Slackers love song. This is actually one of my favorites. I saw them perform it the very first time I saw them, and had a copy of it on their “Special Potato” demo tape. However, for completely unknown reasons, they didn’t put it on their first (or second) album. On the first album, instead, they put the song “You Don’t Know I” which has a similar title and an identical opening (and is also sort of a love song, though it’s about falling in love with a girl he saw in an elevator, but couldn’t talk to). The demo version showed up on a European comp somewhere, but the recording quality isn’t great. This is the version they finally put on the third album “The Question.” I actually like the original version better, but the recording quality just wasn’t good enough.
- “Thank You” — Hepcat: Check it out, kids. Rare Hepcat. Honestly, I think this is my favorite Hepcat tune, highlighting Alex’s vocals. And, yet, it doesn’t (as far as I know) appear on any Hepcat albums. It’s just on a comp of SoCal ska. Unfortunately, the levels on it are really low. But it’s such a good song (and it’s a love song, too) that I couldn’t leave it out.
- “Kids” — USCB All-Stars: Okay, this one may even stump ska fans. I got this CD recently from Chuck Wren, and have been listening to it a lot, so that influenced the fact that I ended up with 3 songs from the album. I think the band’s from Sweden or something. I have no idea what USCB stands for, but they’ve got some catchy songs.
- “I Don’t Know” — Blue Beat Stompers: Okay, so it’s a really long story for details (that actually involves how I met Korby, but we’ll skip that part), but I accidentally saw this band in Berkeley one night soon after I first moved to CA, and was blown away. Good trad ska, great vocals. Their album wasn’t as great as I’d hoped it would be (though, it’s still good). This is actually the only cover song on the album, but it’s a favorite, and the original Jamaican recording just isn’t great in terms of recording quality… so I went with the Stompers version.
- “Subway Joe” — Skavoovie and the Epitones: Probably my favorite Skavoovie tune. It’s a cover of a fantastic (non-ska) song by Joe Bataan. Plus, it’s just a fun song. Not sure about the wedding appropriateness, given that it’s basically about getting beat up on the Subway, but…
- “Night Before” — The Pietasters: A fun Pietasters song. Not actually sure if it’s really a love song or the opposite, but I figured that if I couldn’t figure it out after all these years, someone listening casually wouldn’t either. The other struggle on this one was which version to include. Before the Oolooloo album came out, there was a different version of this song released on a comp, and I always thought that it had a much better keyboard solo in the middle. But, I think I’ve gotten used to this one now, so I went with the album version.
- “I Shall Be Released” — The Slackers: Well, since there wasn’t much else in the way of Slackers love songs, I just figured I’d grab a Bob Dylan cover. Not that many Dylan covers turned into ska songs, and the only other one I can think of is just awful (The Rude Boys doing “Blowing in the Wind” recorded in ’63 or ’64). Thinking about it now, the fact that this is a song about being in prison, it’s perhaps not really wedding appropriate. Also, that first line: “They say every man can be replaced.” Hmm. But, it’s soooo good. How could anyone complain?
- “Reggae Got Soul” — Toots + Ken Boothe + Marcia Griffiths — I’m a big Toots fan, not just because of the great music, but the one time I got to meet him, he was incredibly cool, and recorded a promo for the radio show where (right after having performed a 3.5 hour (!!!) show with a soar throat!) he pulled out the most amazing “Give it to me one time!” yell (a la 54-46). In retrospect, not sure why I didn’t include 54-46, considering it’s so catchy. I think maybe I was worried about the recording quality. Which is also why I didn’t include any 60’s Toots recordings. The two in this list come from his recent “True Love” album where he re-recorded his classics with famous musicians from a variety of genres. For this song, though, he pulled in Ken Boothe and Marcia Griffiths, which seems appropriate.
- “Heart Attack” — USCB All Stars: Another USCB Allstars song. Just struck me as catchy. Not much else to say about it.
- “Every Afternoon” — The Pietasters: I’d been listening to “Turbo” a bit around this time, which is why there are two songs from that album. The Pietasters have gone through a few different phases, but I tend to think they’re at their best when they tend more towards the Motowny sound. Of course, listening to this song as I write this, I’m realizing it’s actually about stalking someone. Oops.
- “Bow Bow Song” — One Groovy Coconut: Such a catchy song. I don’t think people can help but bounce along to it. Not much else to say about this band. It had some ex-Scofflaws in it, but never did very much. This was about the only song on the album that was any good, but it’s super catchy. Follow the bouncing ball and sing…
- “Mama Bird” — Go Jimmy Go: Probably not the best Go Jimmy Go song, but the first one of theirs that I heard, and I still like it. I liked these guys well before I realized their original (occasional?) bass player was actually the brother of this girl I knew back in school who used to hang out with me and Nat and make fun of us for liking ska.
- “Bin Waitin” — The Slackers: Another enjoyable non-love song from the Slackers. Though, now I’m realizing (uh oh) this is actually the second Slackers song I’ve included that’s actually about prison. Hmm. Bad subconscious, bad.
- “Time Tough” — Toots + Ryan Adams: Not really going to comment on Ryan Adams recording with Toots here. I’m just a big fan of this song, and since it’s off the album recorded with all these other musicians, that’s what we get. Yet another one with lyrics that, in retrospect, probably weren’t all that wedding appropriate. Weird. I’ll chalk it up to pre-wedding stress.
- “Old Man of the Mountain” — Skavoovie and the Epitones: Another personal favorite. I was hesitant to put this one on the list, as I thought that it was too long (almost five minutes) or too weird, but it’s just really good — and given that the wedding *was* up on a mountain, it just seemed appropriate. Plus, it’s the type of song that tends to get people dancing.
- “Give In Give Up” — USCB All-Stars: Yeah, as I said, I was listening to these guys a lot back in June. Still a good song. Funky.
- “Lightning & Thunder” — The Aggrolites: Didn’t have the latest Aggrolites album at that point (got it about 3 days before the wedding), and the best song on this album we used as our first dance song, so I wanted another Aggrolites song. I think I sort of picked at random from their first two albums, as they’re all pretty good.
- “Parakeet” — Skavoovie and the Epitones: One of the few instrumentals on the list. Went back and forth between this one and “Cornbread,” both of which are great Skavoovie instrumental tunes. I think Parakeet may be a bit more upbeat.
- “Rachel” — The Pietasters: Another Pietasters track from Turbo. Not much to say about it, other than that I like it. Has a little more of a “rock” drum sound that the band got into in some of its albums.
- “Once In Awhile” — After Hours: A random assortment of top SoCal ska musicians got together to do this little side project. Mentally, I file this one as a combination of See Spot and Hepcat (who provides the vocals). A bit mellow, but figured we needed *some* “slow songs” in there.
- “Love Ya Mama” — Skandalous All Stars: Now here’s an album (Age of Insects) that never got any attention at all, unfortunately. The Skandalous All Stars were an “all-star” band of mostly NYC ska types, who did two albums of covers that were just so-so. Apparently, they had signed a 3-album deal with Shanachie, so they had to do a third album. But rather than actually doing another album with the same cast, the two Vic R’s (Ruggiero and Rice) who are the kings of the NYC ska scene just wrote up and performed a bunch of their own songs. It’s like the lost Slackers + Vic Rice album. Sorta. But most people who had heard the first two Skandalous albums just skipped it over. I know I did until someone told me the details. There are a few clunkers on the album, but a whole bunch of fantastic songs — and this is one of the fantastic ones. Most of the songs seem to be telling the story (I think) of a dustbowl farmer during a time of trouble (The Age of Insects). How two city boy musicians ended up writing such an album, I have no clue.
- “Ton Tok” — Jump with Joey: If you talk to a ska fan from the mid-nineties, Jump with Joey was this sort of mythical beast. The LA band, who spent a few years performing every Wednesday night at the King King club in LA, had (for some completely unfathomal reason) only released albums in Japan. If you wanted one of Jump with Joey’s three albums, you had to pony up like $50 or $60 via the internet (thank you internet!) and get it shipped to you. For a few years, I debated whether or not to do it. Those who possessed the albums insisted it was totally worth it. Then, just as I was finally about to give in and order it… all three albums got rereleased in the US (on Ryko, no less!). Lots of good songs on all three albums, but “Ska Ba” is my favorite album, and Ton Tok always struck me as one of the catchier songs on it. Not everyone agrees with me, but, hey, it was my wedding, not yours.
- “My Heart & Soul” — The Robustos: Another Robustos tune from their second album. Seemed wedding appropriate, and a great song too.
- “Till the End of Time” — The Scofflaws: Okay, this one’s cheating. I have to admit, I realized as I was putting this list together that there wasn’t a single Scofflaws song in the bunch. That seemed unfortunate, since the Scofflaws were who got me into ska so many years ago. So I went through the first two albums, and discovered the Scofflaws aren’t great at love songs either. This one’s a good one, though, and I went with the live recording (which I actually attended, thanks to Glen) as the Scofflaws have to be experienced live to be fully appreciated. Unfortunately, I don’t think the live album they released really was that great. Somewhere in a box I’ve got a bunch of bootleg tapes that actually sound much better. Someday, maybe I’ll convert them.
- “In Between Times” — Go Jimmy Go: One of my favorite Go Jimmy Go tunes, and seemed appropriate for a wedding.
- “No Worries” — Hepcat: Another Hepcat favorite (this one from an actual album, though). This one comes from their best and most well-known album. I think it even got a shout out in Rolling Stone (which for a real ska band is pretty much unheard of).
- “Sugar Sugar” — Doreen Shaffer: A ska classic, performed by a bunch of folks, but this is one of my favorite versions. Doreen Shaffer, backed by Dr. Ring Ding & His Senior All-Stars. This one also had special meaning, as our dog (originally my wife’s dog) is named Sugar, and I gave her (my wife, not the dog) a copy of this song soon after we started dating. Yup, corny modern guy thing: give the girl a song, but you know… it apparently worked.
- “Love Isn’t Love”: — The Aggrolites: Okay, this wasn’t on the playlist either, but it was our First Dance song, so wanted to include it here. My favorite Aggrolites song (and I’m not alone in thinking that, either). It’s a great song and works as a love song. Plus, with a little bit of training and practice, you can even learn to dance halfway decently to it (well, maybe not halfway, but somewhere above total novice).
Okay… for the none of you who actually made it through this post. Here’s the amusing post script: the DJ lost the CD and didn’t bring it with him. I actually had brought a backup copy, but left it in the car, down at the base of the mountain, and by the time the DJ realized he didn’t have the CD itself (he had the case), there wasn’t enough time to go down and get it. The only song from the list that actually got played was “Love Isn’t Love” for the first dance (which, luckily was on a separate CD). So, after all that… it really was a mostly ska-free wedding. But, it really didn’t matter in the end anyway.