Monday, April 14, 2014


Most of you who are into reggae, specifically the early stuff, know the Slickers' "Johnny Too Bad". It's a song about rude boys, on half of the reggae compilations that ever existed (really, I checked). It was on the soundtrack for The Harder They Come, which makes it about as entry level as it gets. Not to slight it, it's a badass song about bad badasses. Every time I hear it I picture Jamaican street toughs with period cool Kingston style and six rounds of swagger walking down the street like they owned it. It occurred to me that although I know that song like the back of my hand, as many of you might, I don't even know off the top of my head if I have any of their other stuff, which amounts to a roughly thirty 45s and one LP. So I did what we do, I went digging. I did find one other song by them, "Nana", which is great and awesome and all of that, but the real surprise was running into a cover of "Johnny Too Bad" by Taj Majal, It's great, far better than most covers I've heard. (Believe me, there are some awful ones out there. Don't get me started about UB40's cover, or anything about UB40 for that matter. I hate that band. Hate's a harsh word, let's just say I think they blow.)

It made me think, after all these years, about the Off's version, one that I haven't though about in at least ten years. The Off's (not to be confused with Off!), were an early (meaning late seventies) San Francisco punk band. Their version is that from that era of real (not posed) low budget, low circulation, raw, muddled, independent punk 45s. I love that sound. They were doing the best they could with the resources available, unlike stuff of recent years intentionally dumbing down the production. Listen to the instrumental break (starting at 1:23). You'd think you'd be in for a dub thing, or a real solo, but what you get is the Shaggs and Velvets churning out a reggae rhythm with (if you're still with me, and I know only the Mystery Suggester might be) Harley Davidson from Deadbolt gritting his teeth, playing lead over a music he hates. Yo, this shit's getting thick.

The Slickers - Johnny Too Bad mp3 at DJNoDJ
The Slickers - Nana mp3 at Bad Luck City
Taj Majal - Johnny Too Bad mp3 at A.Tumblr (?)
The Offs - Johnny Too Bad (streaming) at YouTube


Espen E. said...

Hi T.

Was - until now - happily unaware of UB40 doing a version… Would have thought there were laws against that. Obviously not. Sacrilege.


Tom G. said...

I got that wrong. It wasn't UB40, it was the Selector, but I'm not particularly fond of any of any of that type of stuff, be it the Selecter, UB40, the English Beat or any other Two Tone or affiliated band. It served it's purpose, but it just seems like new wave was to punk rock, watered down. The English Beat is a real sore spot. I really do hate Dave Wakeling's voice.

Espen E. said...

See your point on 2-tone related bands – never been heavily into that scene (more like outside looking in), but to be fair, Selecter/Specials/E.Beat have at least a handful of decent (danceable) recordings between them… Where I draw a definite line is at the Madness/Bad Manners silliness. Not my kind of comedy.

And UB40? Well Tom, if I were to suggest to my friends of mod/skinhead conviction, that UB40 had any kinship to 2-tone, I just might end up on the sharp end of a ratchet myself. I think the word «hate» is of appropriate harshness, but «they blow» is acceptable too.