You may not have heard Prince Buster’s original “Judge Dread” records–but if you’re a ska fan, don’t be surprised if they have a familiar ring. “Stupid Marriage,” a classic track from the first Specials album, is a direct tribute to these mysterious and slyly humorous relics of the rock steady era.
The saga began in 1967, with the release of the original “Judge Dread” (ominously subtitled “Judge 400 Years”). The eponymous character was a fierce, authoritarian Ethiopian magistrate who routinely sentenced “rude boys” (Kingston street toughs) to outlandish prison sentences in order to “save the Black nation.” Next to this guy, the Specials’ Judge Roughneck–who passed a sentence of only five months in “Stupid Marriage”–was a pussycat, and the record actually provoked something of an uproar among the rudies. The Prince teased his critics with the follow-up single, “The Appeal,” which holds out the possibility of mercy–only to have the judge sentence a barrister to life imprisonment and increase the rude boys’ sentence to six thousand years. More protests followed, with other artists rushing to the defense of the judge’s victims. Prince Buster, apparently tiring of the whole thing, rush-released “Judge Dread Dance,” in which our man has a change of heart and pardons everyone. Celebratory dancing ensues.
Oh, the irony. Originally broadcast in June on the BBC, this three-part series marks the 35th anniversary of punk’s reign of terror in the summer of ’77–and along with the monumentally odd “Pretty Vacant” production number at the Olympics, demonstrates the final transformation of punk into an enshrined part of the British Cultural Heritage.
It was bound to happen, but that’s no reason not to savor this well-assembled official history, which ranges from the proto-punk glam and pub rock era of the mid-’70s to the eclectic post-punk movements of the early ’80s. The vintage clips are plenty tasty, and the recent interviews give you a chance to marvel at the timeless style of Siouxsie Sioux, the shocking decrepitude of Mark E. Smith, and the reinvention of John Lydon as a chortling elder statesman and professional English eccentric.
Peter Whitehead’s 1967 documentary Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London is of such historical interest that it cries out for a full restoration by the British Film Institute. Famous for its panoply of ’60s scene makers and its footage of a very young Pink Floyd performing “Interstellar Overdrive,” the film has languished in distribution limbo for decades, viewable only in bootleg prints of varying quality.
This podcast opens like a flickering neon broken heart. A soundtrack mixed from a turntable plugged into a lamp post. Never have Public Enemy, Elvis Presley (Junkie XL), and Scritti Politti sounded so appropriate together. Madonna gets reconstructed by a Freelance Hellraiser. The Smiths are reduced to fluttering specs of technology. Aretha Franklin says a little prayer as we take off on a sunset journey through Villiers Terrace, a Gay Bar, and end up in Fat City. (Brad M.)
The much-acclaimed new album by Jimmy Cliff features a rendition of “The Guns of Brixton” by The Clash–a song which was influenced by Cliff, and includes references to his role in The Harder They Come. Somehow, this feels like the inevitable closing of the circle.