Judge Dread

Last of the Skinheads

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Judge Dread decided it was time to visit the Last of the Skinheads in 1976, with this follow-up to the previous year's Bedtime Stories. Eschewing the more diverse stylings of that earlier set, this time around the magistrate stuffed his album with more modern and authentic-sounding reggae backings, most in a contemporary roots reggae or rockers style. The simmering "Bring Back the Skins," a nostalgic look back at the glory days of the late '60s, is a case in point, featuring solid but muted reggae guitar and a gently insistent rhythm, topped off with magnificent brass. The horns are center-stage on "A Rhyme in Time" as well, as is the flashy lead guitar, all wrapped round a bubbly roots reggae riddim. "Take It Easy (But Take It)" is rockers-styled, as is "Dread Rock," but here the brass morph into a marching band. "The Winkle Man," in contrast, is bouncier and more early reggae-flavored, and had consequently bounded up the U.K. chart earlier in the year. The single winkled its way into the Top 35; in contrast, the exuberant, music hall-styled "Y Viva Suspenders," a version of the huge U.K. hit "Y Viva EspaƱa," easily snapped into the Top 30. But these were poor showings compared to Dread's earlier placements. The Judge's magisterial standing was beginning to slip, as rude reggae's appeal faded in a Britain caught up in the more serious societal concerns of roots and punk. Musically though, Dread was reaching new heights, and his wit had yet to desert him. Be it rewriting the story of The Owl and the Pussycat, wooing girls who won't give him the time of day, finding success with the ladies in other lands, or telling the tales of a large Lothario or a working man whose toil is constantly interrupted by willing women, Dread was guaranteed to raise an eyebrow as well as a smile. His star was starting to dim, and he knew it, but it mattered naught. The Judge had already ruled, and for him it was the love of reggae that drove him, as his exuberant tribute to the great Jamaican artists of the past on "Bring Back the Skins (Reprise)" illustrates, not a need for fame. This superb set's reissue adds a further 11 numbers to the original album, including the entire 5th Anniversary EP, two later minor hits (the farmyard favorite "Up with the Cock" and its flip side, "Big Punk," and "Hokey Cokey" and its flip, "Jingle Bells," which by the way is not appropriate for Christmas family gatherings), and a further trio of alternative versions and mixes.

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