Song: "Too Much Pressure"
Album: Too Much Pressure
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Throughout the history of music, one can make the case that no genre ever "dies," but often times it simply moves so deep into the underground, that one must look hard to find examples of new forms of the particular style. In some of these cases, the ebb and flow of musical trends brings that style closer to the mainstream now and again, and it can appear as if the genre is having a "rebirth" at these times. This is perhaps no more apparent than in the case of the "ska" style of music, as one can make the case that there have been multiple waves of the genre over the decades. Perhaps the most prominent of these waves was the era which is generally referred to as the "ska revival," and this occurred around the same time as the rise of the punk rock sound. Within this revival period, bands like Madness, The Specials, and The Beat all gained a decent amount of exposure, and due to their shared record label, this particular sound is also often called "two tone." Along with these bands, there is one group that was just as good, but for some strange reason seems to often be relegated to a "second tier" band of the time: Coventry, England's own, The Selecter. Distancing themselves from the other groups of the time, The Selecter are perhaps most recognizable for the voice of Pauline Black, and her upbeat, often jittery vocal delivery made her unquestionably one of the finest vocalist of the so-called ska revival. The Selecter's debut record, 1980's Too Much Pressure is an absolute classic of the era, and the title track remains one of the greatest ska songs ever recorded.
There are actually three very distinct versions of "Too Much Pressure" that are generally available, and each one presents the song in a slightly different light. The original album version is as good as a "skanking" song gets, powered by the core ska guitar sound, and a brilliant "call and response" style of vocals. The single version (found on the re-release of the record) contains an almost warmer mix of the song, and nearly a minute is shaved off of the total runtime. Yet the biggest differences between these two versions are that on the single version, the organ playing is far more in the front of the mix, and it is a slightly slower take on the song as well. Perhaps the definitive version of "Too Much Pressure" comes from the one place that can make or break any band: live performance. Pulled from the indispensable Trojan Ska Revival Box Set, this is the most fast paced and high energy version of the song, and it gives a perfect picture into how songs like this were sure to whip any audience into a frenzy. The one thing that links all three versions together is the absolutely fantastic guitar riff, originally played by Neol Davies and Compton Amanor. The way that the duo play off of the keyboards of Desmond Brown is truly fantastic, as this pairing of sounds truly makes the music bounce right off of the record. Punctuating the chorus is rhythm section of Charley Anderson and Charley 'H' Bembridge, and their pounding at the chorus creates an amazing transition throughout the song. Truth be told, after hearing "Too Much Pressure" only once, it is apparent that The Selecter were poised to be one of the biggest bands of the ska revival, and it is almost inexplicable that they still do not receive the credit they so clearly deserve.
As previously stated, one of the keys to The Selecter being so unique was the vocal work of Pauline Black, yet on the studio versions of "Too Much Pressure," she takes an almost secondary role to the voice of Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson. The original studio mix of "Too Much Pressure" far outshines the single version in terms of vocals, as Hendrickson seems more loose and into the groove throughout the song. Taking a more rap-like, almost spoken-work approach to the vocals, "Too Much Pressure" very much follows the traditional idea in that the song speaks of how tough times are for the singer, and even calls out "them having it easy" and "them sail through life." Yet on the live version of the song, it is nearly all Pauline Black's voice, and it is within this recording that the true power of The Selecter becomes clear. With her voice bouncing just as hard as the music, Black clearly moves the audience and gets them up and moving. Regardless of which singer is commanding the spotlight, the lyrics are such to which anyone can relate, and this ability to capture universial themes has always been one of the central components of the ska sound. "Too Much Pressure" is by no means a subtle song, as it speaks of a person who is doing all they can to keep themselves together as the problems of life build around them. From unequal relationships to money problems to the toils of the work-day, The Selecter pulls it all together, and pushes it to the edge with the line, "...oh what me a go do...it's too much pressure." While how tightly wound the person in question clearly is, the emotion is offset by the fact that it is an overall upbeat song, perhaps offering a bit of hope that the problems will pass.
Truth be told, Too Much Pressure, powered by a string of moderately successful singles, found its way into the top ten on the charts the year it was released, and it seemed as if The Selecter was set to become the next major success from 2Tone records. Perhaps due to a change in lineup, and perhaps simply due to a quick, massive change in mainstream music, this never occurred, yet the record remains one of the greatest album ever recorded. Filled with their signature sound, mostly revolving around the sensational voice of Pauline Black, nearly every song on Too Much Pressure is nothing short of fantastic, and the album gives a wonderful insight into exactly what the ska revival sound was all about. Easily in the same class as the monumental debut from The Specials, there was clearly something about Coventry, England that made it a hotbed for the ska sound, and one can make the case that without The Selecter, 2Tone Records would not stand as significant as they are to this day. While there are a number of standout tracks on Too Much Pressure, it is unquestionably the title track that presents the group at their finest, and the live recording of this song gives further insight into the bands' amazing energy. From the bright guitar work, which perfectly fuses together te traditional ska sound with a modern feel, and the deep, warm keyboards, the music on "Too Much Pressure" is nothing short of perfect, and the superb performance from the rhythm section gives a "stop/start" quality that has rarely sounded better anywhere else in music history. Remaining today as a true classic of the ska revival, there are few songs that still sound as upbeat and powerful after such a long time as one finds in The Selecter's magnificent 1980 single, "Too Much Pressure."