I love love songs about music. Whether it’s John Miles singing about how music was his first love to Stevie singing about Duke, musicians have written about the music that inspires and delights them as long as music has existed. I can list a dozen songs about loving genres, instruments, music in general. But a song about ska, and particularly the most important band of the genre? You know that will have to be one of my favourite songs of all time.
Ted Leo is kind of brilliant. He and his band did a cover of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” which was totally epic and amazing on the A.V. Club’s Undercover series (if I recall, it was the very first episode and remains the benchmark of all that followed. Maybe They Might be Giant’s ridiculous cover of “Tubthumping” comes close, but I digress…) Ted’s best-loved and best known song is “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?”, a delightful little slice of nostalgia- laced, punk- inspired, round containing pop brilliance. Over Epic sounding guitars, Ted name checks the label ( 2-Tone), the band’s songs (“Ghost Town”, “Stereotype”, “Gangsters”), the band members ( Jerry Dammers, Terry Hall, Lynval Golding), also throwing in a Toots and the Maytalls reference (“Pressure Drop”) and a nod to Rhoda Dakar from the Bodysnatchers. It’s memory and passion all rolled into three minutes and forty-five seconds of chaotic fun noise.
I get Ted’s passion for the Specials as they are also one of my favourite bands. I can also relate to the opening verse’s hints at suicidal impulses being stopped or kept at bay by the sheer force of music itself ( or, at least with the understanding music seems to give in the wake of such feelings). Years of therapy and medication has done little to actually reduce the dark impulses the way a great album can. I consume music on a level that sometimes seems superhuman. I’m on constant alert for new, better, fresh, anything to keep moving forward. As I’ve grown older, I have not stopped searching (most research suggests that people stop seeking new music when they are around 33 years old, and I’m baffled by that). But I am also nostalgic for the feeling I had when I did, let’s say, first discovered bands like The Specials. The problem with listening to so much and learning so young what I need to listen to means that many of the truly great bands have already crossed my record player and the feeling of discovery is gone. My memory of seeing the video of ” A Message To You, Rudy” for the first time was a moment of life-altering pleasure. It was different from most of what I knew ( but similar enough to the Clash that it also felt comfortable). But the song also touches onto the personal nature of music, and how you feel it’s for you and your alone.
” I asked Jerry, he told Terry, Terry sang a song just for me”.
We all have those moments. It’s what make our favourite songs so important. And sometimes I feel like I’m sitting next to Ted Leo and being part of the conversation about how awesome the Specials were and are.