So 2020, and a new decade is upon us. As has become the custom, the local radio station tasked me with pulling together an hour`s worth of music for a celebratory show – nodding and winking towards the appropriate animal from the Chinese lunar calendar / zodiac. 2020 is the year of the rat. I said it seems to me that every year is the year of one fucking rat or another. But they were adamant, 60 minutes of songs about rodents. “Mice are also OK.”
The first thing that sprang to mind was Caesar Frazier`s jazz-dancer, organ-grinder, from the days of Talkin` Loud at Dingwalls – Mighty Mouse. That was easy, because Be With Records just reissued it.
From there it got more difficult. A quick web search proved that the realm of metal held the most rodent-themed “nuggets”. But metal is the one genre that I don’t really do – and most of what it had to offer – for example Black Sabbath`s Rat Salad, and Rob Zombie`s Rat Vendor – were very likely unsuitable for a radio station whose home page is a picture of a squirrel. Then I thought, The Specials*.
And from there it got easier again. The Specials` Gangsters was the first 45 that I ever bought. The first 12” I owned was Lion Youth`s Rat A Cut Bottle. As kids we`d hopped, skipped, and jumped, in a blink from Two Tone, and UB40, to Scientist dub LPs, and Rodigan On The Radio, and reggae it seems is a close second to metal in the vermin stakes. Since in Babylon’s system the rats are never faraway.
I`m still unsure of what the lyrics mean, but at the time I assumed that the times were so tough that even the rats were resorting to drowning their worry and sorrow in booze. Sticking with the tunes of my teens, there was Bob Marley & The Wailers` own Rat Race. Lifted from 1976`s Rastaman Vibration. Since I had an hour of air to fill I went for the live version recorded at The Roxy in L.A. on West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, May 26th, 1976. The song containing the line, “Rasta don’t work for no CIA” – which ended up being central to Marlon James` brilliant A Brief History Of Seven Killings.
If I could also cheat a little, and move to artist monikers rather than rhymes, then that’d give me Eek A Mouse.
If Eek A Mouse was OK, then so was White Mice.
A bigger fudge though was the irresistible, conscious, funk of Sly & The Family Stone`s Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again).
Then from funk to boogie, and another lyric that I never really understood – Fonda Rae`s Leroy Burgess-penned, Bob Blank-produced Over Like A Fat Rat. A classic from 1982, whose beats were borrowed by Eric B & Rakim, and whose slapped bass-line was half-inched by Atmosfear.
Then a final jump over to Young Jessie`s take on Leiber & Stoller`s rhythm and blues standard, I Smell A Rat. Made famous by Big Mama Thornton in 1952, and covered by Jessie in `54. As I said at the start, the whiff of rat`s so strong these days that it`s more uncommon not to smell one.
*The rocking, rattling dub version of The Specials` Rat Race wasn’t released until Record Store Day 2014. A big thank you to John Matthews for the tip-off.
**The show goes out Saturday.