Foundation Ska is the much anticipated reissue of a wonderful double CD set (Also available in vinyl), with recordings from the mid-1960s, the period in which The Skatalites were first active, before reuniting two decades later. Many of these songs were 7″ A and B-sides that are now together in this remarkable anthology. An album is really good when it has 32 songs, yet you enjoy every single one. Not only that, you want to listen to it over and over again. This is what has been going on in my life lately with Foundation Ska by The Skatalites: 32 songs playing in a loop. This is the most comprehensive ska compilation I have heard in my life. Stepping into Foundation Ska is entering a party of sound like no other. There is not a song that does not fill me with the urge to dance, and the lo-fi, quasi-artisanal quality of these recordings united with the virtuosity of its interpreters really adds to the experience.
The songs are a joy to listen to. There are sensual songs, such as “Christine Keeler”, in honour of the model by the same name, the saxophone being its star. “Simmer Down”, a song that with time has turned into a classic, and that takes us to the ska beginnings of the legendary Bob Marley and The Wailers, this being their first hit. There are many beautiful instrumentals, many are mellow and raw. “Exodus” is a gorgeous cover of the theme by Ernest Gold, from the 1961 movie of the same name. “World’s Fair” features singers Stranger Cole & Ken Boothe, two legendary Jamaican vocalists. There are some other very interesting covers such as “I Should Have Known Better”, a ska take on a Lennon-McCartney classic. The Skatalites’ version came to life shortly after the Beatles debuted that tune, which goes to show how current and ahead of their time they always were. “Hot Cargo” is a very happy, energetic tune. “Ska la Parisienne” has some particularly vibrant drumming going on. “Ball of Fire” is hand-clapping good. “Dick Tracy” is an outstanding tune, I kept trying to find a word to describe it and the only one that came to mind over and over again was: sensual.
“Scandal Ska” is a fantastic way to start disc two, for it is a great happy song. “Occupation” is an elegant tune, the epitome of stylized music. “Third Man Ska” is a perfect song for skanking if there ever was one, and it is cleverly infused with Latin rhythms. “Ringo’s Theme” is another Beatles cover, in this case the ska version of the instrumental arrangement of “This Boy” by George Martin. “Ringo’s Theme (version 2)” is a slowed down, ballad version, mellow yet still musically interesting. “Woman A Come” has a great melody, the vocalists are outstanding in this hyper ska tune. “Cleopatra” has a fantastic mix of rhythms and a flute that is to die for (And yes, I had never imagined ever saying that about a flute). “Beardsman Ska” is perfectly jazzy. “Addis Ababa” is yet another great jazz centric tune. “The Vow”, which features vocalists Jackie Opel & Doreen Schaffer, brings us more Latin rhythms, and the singers are a perfect match for this love song. Last but certainly not least are “Dr. Kildare”, “Killer Diller”, and “Naked City” which encompass a lot of the sounds of 60s, with a ska twist.
All songs are short and sweet (only one is four minutes long and most are under the three minute mark), and they flow so well together. You don’t have to be fan of ska to enjoy them, since the tunes are so varied that fans of jazz, world music, and even soundtracks and pop, will find something relatable and pleasant. I’m elated about this reissue and cannot wait to get my hands on the vinyl which is bound to be spinning over and over. A must for all rude boys and rude girls out there and a great testament on the foundation of ska.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: THE SKATALITES – FOUNDATION SKA