Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Sublime - Jah Won't Pay The Bills - 2016 (1991) RSD2016

The year was 1991, I was in junior high, gas was cheap, and music subcultures were trying giving rise to all kinds of new heights and identities.    The 80's ended on a really high note compared to the way it soared throughout that decade.  A lot of that had to do with the strength of film during that decade transition, and to an even larger degree subculture.  With pop music beginning to become annoying having been consumed by R&B and  "Boy Bands", hip-hop becoming regional, and rock bands becoming less hair and more power ballading, music in the 90's was set up to become really strange.  All the while there was an awful lot of music that had been considered underground or alternative to whatever was popular.  That was starting to take shape amidst the changes.  One of these "underground" genres, Ska, really came into its own with some awesome hero's and gained astronomic popularity with a set of fans that still wanted their music happy, but not necessarily defined.

Enter Sublime.  Sublime in 1991 certainly wasn't new, they just release a demo tape that launched them into a wider audience.  From their inception in 1988, they were relegated to playing small venues and clubs like a lot of local indie bands.  At some point in 1990, they were fortunate enough to be invited to literally break into a recording studio, record a collection of songs overnight and create one of the most popular demo tapes in the history of music that night.

Jah Won't Pay The Bills, the cassette, was released, or should I say, sold, from the trunk of their car for a while.  It's that kind of self-promotion that gained them some real popularity in southern California and enough to parlay them onto the national stage as leaders of the "Third Wave" of Ska music.  The Third Wave of Ska meaning that Ska wasn't even new.  Jamacia has been pumping out Ska since the 1950's.


Wait.  What?  "I though Jamacia had been known for its Reggae and that Ska was an American  copy of that."  Nope.  However if it wasn't for that western influence that America was known for around WWII, there's an above average chance that Ska wouldn't have become what it did.  Simply put, Ska is essentially Reggae music with Blues/Rock influences.  Whereas true Reggae is more Jazz/Blues and less dancehall.  Ska has also changed and evolved over term adding new era-specific ingredients to its sound as the music shifted through the years.  

First Wave Ska, which was defined by Bob Marley & The Wailers and the Skatalites had heavy influences from the 1960's America.  Second Wave Ska was made popular by bands like The Specials and Beshara and had all of the influence from the late 60's with some more Rocksteady vibe built in.  It wasn't until the 1980's when The Third Wave Ska groups like Sublime and No Doubt infused it with Dub and heavy Calypso influences, that it became hugely popular as a genre again.  Sublime's demo album, really showcased these qualities.

Let's Go Get Stoned

As a group, Sublime was one of the early underground success stories of the 90's.  They were emerging during an era that was so crowded with subculture music it literally seemed as if the popular thing was to be unpopular.  1991 gave us everything from Nirvana's Nevermind and Pearl Jam's Ten to Massive Attacks Blue Lines and Prince's Diamonds & Pearls. That's pretty wide ranging.  Who would have thunk that by this time the following year Sublime would be so popular that their official first release, 40oz To Freedom, would go down in history as one of the biggest Reggae/Ska albums of all time?  It all started with this simple demo tape, illegally recorded, and sold from the trunk of a car in Long Beach California.


For the first time ever, Jah Won't Pay The Bills was released on vinyl this past Record Store Day,  (A bright spot on an otherwise dreary promotion), and it sounds as good as I remember it back with I was in junior high.  Hell, it sounds a little bit better.  You really appreciate just how strong a singer that Bradley Nowell was.  You can hear how true Sublime was to the sound of Ska and years later you really get the message that they were sending through their music.  

If you were lucky enough to get one of the 420 of these albums that were pressed on green vinyl, you'll have to take a picture for me.  I really wanted one of those.  I am really fortunate enough to own this again in any variation though.  Sometimes I miss my tape collection.  If you were ever into real Ska or amped Reggae, you need to own this one.  Check it out anywhere tapes are sold, or if you can, venture into you local record store and grab this RSD release.  It's more than worth the $20 you'll spend.  

If you really try hard, you might make out a tip-off about the next vinyl pick somewhere in this post.  Hint, it's kinda obvious.

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