Song: "Pick Yourself Up"
Album: Back With A New Batch
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As is often the case when a non-rock genre finds its way into the mainstream, the "pure" representation of this "new" genre is often still far from the ears of the general public. Though certain hybrid sounds, which combine this non-traditional element with rock music may gain some notoriety, it is rare that the "authentic" groups gain as much credit. This has perhaps been no more true than when one considers the seemingly strange emergence of ska and reggae-styled music within the mainstream music during the mid-1990's. Groups like No Doubt, Save Ferris, and Reel Big Fish were suddenly giving the general public the impression that "this" is how ska music sounded, though the reality is a far cry from their musical approaches. Thankfully, there were a number of bands around the world that were staying true to the amazing mixture of sounds that becomes the reggae-ska bounce, and many of the best were a part of Stubborn Records. Among this amazing stable of bands, there was perhaps none better than the aptly named and created Stubborn All-Stars, and in many ways, one can see them as a "super group" of New York based musicians. Their 1997 record, Back With A New Batch, remains one of the most vibrant and enjoyable ever recorded, and one can find The Stubborn All-Stars at their best on the song, "Pick Yourself Up."
In many ways, the fact that The Stubborn All-Stars create such brilliant music should come as little surprise, as the group lives up to their name, containing some of the finest SKA musicians on the planet. King Django combines pieces of his former band, Skinnerbox, as well as a handful of other amazing musicians of the genre. Django's trombone, along with the trumpet of Rolf Langsjoen (Skinnerbox) and the saxophone of Dave Hillyard (The Slackers), gives The Stubborn All-Stars one of the most potent and bright horn sections in recent history. From the moment that "Pick Yourself Up" begins, it is the horns which completely captivate the listener, and it is the powerful brightness to their sound that makes the song so addictive. It is the deep groove found within the various horn lines which give the track an amazing amount of depth, and yet the track itself is driven by the fantastic rhythm that lies beneath this element. Combining guitars from David Hahn (Skinnerbox/The Slackers) and "Agent J" (Agent 99), along with the rhythm section consisting of shared basswork from Victor Rice and Sheldon Gregg alongside drummer Eddie Ocampo, the group effort prove to be the key element in the fantastic sound of The Stubborn All-Stars. It is the way that these light touches are able to exude so much positive energy that sets this song so far apart from other bands of the time, and yet "Pick Yourself Up" is as timeless a song as one can find anywhere.
Serving as a perfect mirror to the overall mood of the music, the vocals form King Django are inspiring and were clearly recorded in a studio environment that was exceptionally positive. It is the fact that the singing works so seamlessly with the music that vaults "Pick Yourself Up" to a level beyond their peers, and you can easily feel how King Django was singing with the overall mood and spirit of the song, as opposed to a written-out cadence or rhythm. Furthermore, due to the nature of his voice and the way he delivers the lines, it is difficult not to sing along with a track like "Pick Yourself Up," and this is reinforced by the superb lyrics contained within the song. In many ways, this track represents one of the core elements of the ska sound, and that is the uplifting, almost prideful lyrical approach so many bands took over the years. Throughout the song, King Django reminds the listener that all throughout life, there will be many obstacles, but if one perseveres through them, there is greatness and happiness on the other side. However, it is within the lines, "...nobody's gonna give you no free ride...you've got to work real hard to have something of your own..." where one can find the core of the bands' message; encouraging the listener to take charge of their own life and the idea that "nothing beats honest, hard work."
Throughout the 1990's, a number of different genre titles were slapped on to popular music that, while perhaps not really what the genre was, gained the label simply because it was the "closest." While this may have made it easier for listeners to classify the style of music, the truth of the matter is that in many cases, this "new" sound was not representative of what the genre actually contained. During the middle of that decade, the term ska was being thrown around to nearly any band that incorporated horns into their music, but were not "retro-swing." Such laziness in genre identification did have one positive effect: the "true" bands of the genre became far more obvious. With their phenomenal music, amazing lyrics, and one of the most mesmerizing and overall enjoyable sounds in music history, The Stubborn All-Stars stood as the ideal example of how ska music should have been represented. Led by the brilliant vocals and writing of King Django, the group was comprised of many of the most talented and highly respected players in the ska/dub scene at the time, and "Pick Yourself Up" represents the group at their finest in nearly every respect. From the absolutely dazzling musical arrangement and the overall mood that it conveys, to the inspiring and engaging lyrics, the song proves that staying true to a form and making "honest" music can rarely be topped, and there are few songs that can compare to the power and presence of The Stubborn All-Star's extraordinary 1997 track, "Pick Yourself Up."