Sunday, May 2, 2010

May 2: The Skatalites, "Guns Of Navarone"

Artist: The Skatalites
Song: "Guns Of Navarone"
Album: Guns Of Navarone (single)
Year: 1964

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While there are many bands that make up the core of any given genre, in nearly every case, there are one, maybe two bands that truly define the genre, and without whom the style would simply not exist.  Though not always the case, a majority of the time, these specific bands fall in the early days of the genre, and are largely responsible for fine tuning the sound that countless later bands would duplicate.  Taking this idea a step further, one can also make the argument that, if you are going to incorporate the actual name of the style of music you play, you'd better be a phenomenal group, or it will lead to little more than mockery.  Perfectly fitting into both of these categories is a group that one can make the case is the most important group in the history of their genre, and their name goes far beyond legendary.  In many ways molding the sound into what it is today, the group is also responsible for the styles' biggest hits, and their influence remains strong to this day.  In an era that was dominated by jazz and the early sounds of rock and roll, the sound of the islands was also being birthed, and there was no group that presented the sound better than Jamaica's own Skatalites.  Though the group went through a number of lineup changes, the musicians that composed the group until 1965 represent the finest era of the band, and it was during this time that the group created their most well known and most timeless songs.  With a bright, full sound that simply could not be found anywhere else, everything that makes The Skatalites so fantastic can be found in their classic 1964 song, "The Guns Of Navarone."

Without question, the "ska sound" is one of the most distinctive of any genre, and it is also one of he styles that has stayed largely the same over the decades.  Based around bright horns and the "ska riff" on guitars, even more than fifty years after the sound first found its way to "the masses," modern groups still sound very similar to the original groups.  In many ways, this is the allure behind the music, as it blends the old and new in a way unlike any other genre, and continues to be able to evoke positive, upbeat reactions in listeners.  Yet looking at this long history of the genre, in many ways, every off-shoot and alteration in the sound still leads back to The Skatalites, and one cannot deny that they remain the most influential group in the history of the ska style.  Though by the time 1964 rolled around, The Skatalites had already released a number of singles, it is "Guns Of Navarone" that defines the band and remains their finest song to date.  One can argue that there are other Skatalite songs that feature better solos or more creative compositions, but one would be hard pressed to find anything in their catalog that can compare to the energy and upbeat, bright quality that one finds on "Guns Of Navarone."  The song itself is an adaptation of the theme song to the 1961 film of the same name, and there are in fact two different versions of The Skatalites interpretation.  With one clocking in at more than six minutes, it is the shorter, two and a half minute version that exemplifies everything that makes ska so fantastic.

Over the decades, The Skatalites went through a large number of lineup changes, but one can easily make the case that the lineup featured on "Guns Of Navarone" is by far their finest.  While it is the case with most ska songs, on "Guns Of Navarone," the tune and mood are powered by the stellar rhythm section of Lloyd Knibbs and Lloyd Brevett.  The duo create a truly amazing tone for the song, as the bass thumps out the groove and it is punctuated by creatively placed rim-shots and other drum fills.  Along with this fantastic performance, the brass section on The Skatalites push the song into the stratosphere, as their bright tones and amazing riffs remain some of the finest in the history of the genre.  Whether they are all taking the same phrasing or going off on their own solos, the group is able to move as a single unit and "Guns Of Navarone" is truly a special recording that defines the genre to this day.  On top of all of this great music, there is one man whose presence cannot be overlooked: the great Lee Perry.  Filling the song with yelps, screams, and other amazing vocal additions, it is largely his performance that makes the song a classic and sets ti so far apart from not only the rest of the ska genre, but the rest of The Skatalites catalog as well.  The combination of all of these amazing sounds brings a true joy across on the record, and this upbeat mood is absolutely infectious and any and every listener is immediately drawn in.  This ability to convey and transfer such a mood is the real "magic" behind the ska sound and there are few bands that did it better than The Skatalites.

While every genre has its own distinctive sound, there is perhaps no other genre that has been able to stay as close to the original sound as the ska genre.  Quite literally, due to the nature of the style, new songs of the genre that are being created today sound extremely similar to those made decades ago.  This is not a bad thing, as the roots of the sound that gave it such longevity still ring through, and newer songs are able to give a fresh and classic sound simultaneously.  Yet there is one band that will forever define everything that makes ska great, as well as continue to be perhaps the largest influence on each generation: The Skatalites.  Bringing the sounds of the islands to the masses, the positive vibrations that emanate from the groups' catalog remain unrivaled more than fifty years since they were first heard.  Clearly developing their sound in street parties, the combination of the brilliant musicianship with the excited, exclamatory vocals still serve as the blueprint for the genre, as few artists since have brought such talent in equal amounts.  From the traditional "ska riff" on the guitar to the deep groove of the rhythm section to the stunning sounds of the horns section, The Skatalites perfected every aspect of the style from which they took their name, and proved that they were worthy of incorporating the genre into their name.  Though they had a number of timeless recordings during the initial run of the band, there is perhaps no song that better defines the early years of the band, as well as the ska sound as a whole, than The Skatalites 1964 classic, "Guns Of Navarone."

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