Suggs, lead singer of ska band Madness, has been given the opportunity to indulge himself with a triple CD compilation comprising sixty of his favourite tracks. So what did the Madness front man choose?
Whilst the genres have been mixed throughout the three CD’s so they each stand alone as albums, the tracks themselves fall into a number of categories.
Unsurprisingly there are a number of ska and Two Tone records. “Do Nothing” by the Specials was an unusual choice. Personally, I love the song which is a tale of desperation and hopelessness, but with so many better known Specials tracks, it is clearly the choice of a man who knows the genre well (he was a leader of the genre, after all), but Madness signed to Stiff Records whereas all the other bands went with Two Tone. Other well-known ska numbers include “Train to Skaville”, “Long Shot Kick de Bucket” and “Rudy, A Message to You” (by Dandy Nicholls, not The Specials). Two Tone are further represented with “Mirror in the Bathroom” (the Beat) and “The Selector” by the group of the same name.
Ska developed in parallel with skinhead culture in the early 1980’s and this is acknowledged by “Lip Up Fatty” by Bad Manners (still playing live after all these years) and 54-46 Was My Number by Toots and the Maytals, the skinhead band by which all others are judged.
As well as the tributes to his mates on the ska scene, he selects some songs from other contemporaries of his. The glorious “Beat Surrender” crowned the Jam’s career, “Reward” by Teardrop Explodes has its gargantuan horn riff and “The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen reminds us of their talent, which sadly wasn’t commercial enough to sustain a career for them.
There are then the tracks that Suggs would have heard in his late teenage years as punk exploded across the country. Junior Murvin’s (famous) cover of the Clash’s” Police and Thieves”, Ever Fallen in Love by the Buzzcocks (the third single I bought and still as fresh today thirty five years on). “Sweet Gene Vincent” by Ian Dury and the Blockheads showcases the power in Dury’s voice, belying his frail body.
Unsurprisingly there are a few Motown and Northern Soul classics in there, not least of which are the massive “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker and the Aces and the moving “Green Onions” by Booker T and the MG’s (used to great effect accompanying the car race at the end of “American Graffiti”). “I Got You” by James Brown has been played at virtually every soul night from Wigan Pier to Los Angeles, such is the influence of this great track.
Surprising choices? The Kinks’ “Victoria” was nowhere near their best track, “Vicious” by Lou Reed is nowhere near the best track on side one of “Transformer” and “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens is the only rock ‘n’ roll era track on the album. The drug addled “Loose Fit” and Loaded” are also classics of the Madchester/Ecstasy scene and whilst both are brilliant songs, I didn’t expect to find them here.
Suggs contributes himself with his own version of “So Tired” and only includes one “Madness” track, actually Madness’s cover version of Labi Sifre’s “It Must Be Love”. It is a truly great song, and the Madness version is truly beautiful. This leaves us to speculate whether this is Suggs’s favourite Madness track, which it may well be. However, surely “Embarrassment”, “My Girl” and even the relatively recent “NW5” are so good as to be up there challenging for that title.
The high points of the album have to be the collection of some of the most beautiful songs ever written. “Many Rivers to Cross” by soul legend Jimmy Ruffin is probably my favourite track of all time. “Young Hearts” by Candi Staton has an innocence and freshness about it. “I Never Loved a Man (the way that I loved you)” is an Aretha Franklin classic and the sheer beauty of “Everything I Own” by Ken Boothe will reduce most spurned lovers and recent divorcees to tears, such is the power of his urge to turn back the clock to better times.
So, is it worth buying this compilation? There are some obscure tracks on it which only Ska aficionados will know, and as a taster, some of the tracks chosen are not the more commercial or widely known works of bands like the Kinks or the Who. That said, this is Suggs’s personal indulgence and it is a collection of his own favourites, so we should make allowances for that. The compilation contains probably ten songs that everyone should have in their collections. Each of the three CD’s stands alone as a compilation, making it great for parties – especially for those of us over forty years’ old who love the mod/ska/Northern souls scene. In conclusion, buy it – you won’t be disappointed.
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(price as of Nov 1, 2016)