The Mighty Prince Buster
“Listen – Prince Buster – Al Capone – MP3″
“Listen – Prince Buster – One Step Beyond – MP3″
I hope all is well on your end, that you’ve been grooving on the Funky16Corners Jamaican Trip , and that you’re good and ready for the weekend.
FUNKY16CORNERS GUEST MIX FOR TRUNK OF F.U.N.K.
Before we dip into today’s banging selections, I would like to let you know that when you’re done pulling down the ones and zeros – or before, should you be so inclined – you should fall by the Trunk of F.U.N.K. blog (starting on Friday) to check out my guest mix (entitled ‘Shake and Shingaling’) which includes a large helping of slamming funk. Go for the mix, stick around for the rest of the excellent blog.
The tunes I bring you today are two sides of one of the great ska 45s of all time, and also form a cornerstone of the first ska revival.
If you’re not already familiar with the recorded works of Cecil Bustamente Campbell, better known far and wide under the sobriquet Prince Buster, I would suggest grabbing these two tracks and letting the blue beat goodness slip over your lobes and wrap itself around your fevered brain.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1938, Prince Buster was a pioneering toaster/vocalist on the island sound system scene, starting out as a security man for the mighty ‘Sir Coxsone’ Clement Dodd. He ended up working in the studio, producing the Folkes Brothers ‘Oh Carolina’ (later covered by Shaggy) and ‘Humpty Dumpty’ by Eric Morris among others.
Buster eventually made his most lasting mark as a recording artist, creating several memorable ska classics and having a huge influence on the Two Tone movement in the UK.
I remember very clearly in 1980 watching the Specials playing ‘Gangsters’ – one of the first ska records I ever heard – on Saturday Night Live and being entranced by the chugging beat. As I mentioned earlier in the week, the late 70s ska revival and the Two Tone bands were my first exposure to ska. Both the Specials and Madness were faves back then, mainly because they were visible, via TV performances and videos for tunes like ‘A Message to You Rudy’ and ‘One Step Beyond’.
It wasn’t until a little later that I became aware that many of the songs I was hearing were covers, at which time I started to explore the first wave of ska.
Sometime in the mid-80s my main mod Bill Luther hepped me to the LP ‘Prince Buster FABulous’, which contained most of his big 60s hits. By that time I was aware that he had written and recorded ‘Madness’, but imagine my surprise when the track ‘Al Capone’ came on.
I was all “wait a minute….” – with the patented Oliver Hardy slow burn – as a look of surprise appeared on my face.
It was immediately apparent that ‘Gangsters’ was merely a rewrite (and I’m still not sure that saying the tune was rewritten isn’t being too generous) of ‘Al Capone’. The Specials basically took the mostly instrumental ‘Al Capone’, sped it up and added lyrics. Otherwise it’s pretty much the same song and if you look it up, you might be surprised (I know I was) that Prince Buster’s name is not among those listed as composers. How the Specials got away with that one is a mystery for the ages.
That said, the Prince Buster original is a killer, with its powerful horn section, great sax solo and Buster toasting over the tune. Though it was initially released in 1964, it wasn’t until 1967 that it was a Top 20 hit in the UK.
To get another indicator of Prince Buster’s popularity with, and importance to the first ska revival, you need only flip over the 45. There resides the original version of another big ska revival hit (by Madness, who took their name from yet another Prince Buster record), ‘One Step Beyond.
As someone who experienced ska revivalists before originators, it bears mentioning that a big appeal – at least for me – was the high speed, punk-influenced approach to the music that the Two Tone bands brought to the sound. The first time I heard (or more accurately saw) Madness perform ‘One Step Beyond’ I pretty much flipped my wig. There was a kind of anarchic energy in the record that I (and apparently a lot of other people) found very appealing. When I finally started digging my way into the original ska recordings of the early to mid 60s the drop in tempo was a somewhat jarring experience. It took me a little while before I became accustomed to the original sound, which I now prefer.
Prince Buster’s original version of ‘One Step Beyond’ isn’t that much slower than the cover by Madness, and aside from the famous Madness intro* their version is a pretty straight cover.
When you consider where both sides of this 45 ended up, it may very well be (alongside James Brown’s ‘Cold Sweat Pts 1&2’) the most influential two sides of music ever released (or at least that I can think of right now).
That said, I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s selections, and I’ll be back on Monday.
* And I quote: Hey you, don’t watch that, watch this
This is the heavy heavy monster sound
The nutsiest sound around
So if you’ve come in off the street
And you’re beginning to feel the heat
Well listen buster
You’d better start to move your feet
To the rockin’est, rock-steady beat of Madness
One step beyond