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The Specials – “A Message to You Rudy” (1979) (Singles Going Steady Classic)

"A Message to You Rudy" is simply ska music at its purest -- and most enjoyable -- level.

Emmanuel Elone: When people think of Jamaican music nowadays, the first thing that comes to mind is reggae, even though that popular genre had its beginnings in an older form of music known as ska. And out of the many classics that this niche genre has produced, few compare to the masterpiece that is “A Message to You Rudy”. From the sweet horn melody to the swinging rhythm, this song is the epitome of playful, light-hearted music that’s great to dance to and easy on the ears. The chorus, like the guitar, bass and drums on this song, is simple yet effective. With this song, the Specials removed any unnecessary, superfluous noises, distilling “A Message to You Rudy” into a brilliant, to-the-point ska single. In short, “A Message to You Rudy” is simply ska music at its purest — and most enjoyable — level. [9/10]

Pryor Stroud: A cover of Dandy Livingstone’s standard of the same name, the Specials’ “A Message to You Rudy” is a concise embodiment of the band’s inimitable ska-punk sound. Rollicking, brass-tinged, and imbued with just enough attitude to pack a punch without breaking any jaws, it’s a genre touchstone that remains largely in the jurisdiction of audiophiles and ska junkies in the States. By the track’s end, the lyric has been repeated enough, repeated so effortlessly and brilliantly, that it doesn’t even seem like it’s from a pop song at all, but rather a bit of old folk-poetry or back-alley wisdom that, after centuries of being passed down, has finally found an appropriate backbeat. [9/10]

Chris Ingalls: The Specials burst onto the music scene in 1979 with their self-titled (and Elvis Costello-produced) debut album, signifying the arrival of second-wave ska. “Message to You Rudy” was originally a rocksteady single by Dandy Livingstone, and it speaks volumes to the Specials’ skills and credibility that their cover is arguably the song’s definitive version. Their performance is sharp, biting, deliciously catchy and captures the spirit of the original while updating it just enough to put a unique stamp on it. The uncomplicated production, the lazy, boozy horns, the dance floor-ready rhythm section – it all clicks. Disco was fading, punk was rallying, and the Specials were reminding everyone about a lost genre that oddly fit in nicely with the times. [10/10]

John Bergstrom: The Specials’ cover of the rocksteady classic is disarmingly straightforward and simple. Nearly 40 years later, that simplicity lends it its charm and keeps it sounding too dated. It’s tough to argue with the Specials’ straight ahead, lackadaisical approach. Still, you get the sense this one is beloved for what it represents at least as much as for what it is. 2 Tone ska, a certain era of British history, good vibes. And, in subsequent years, various movies and compilation albums. They still look sharp in the video, though, don’t they? [7/10]

Chad Miller: Really enjoyable track. The brass is such an uplifting force. The background vocals from the guitarists do a lot for the track too. Lyrically the piece is unremarkable, but that’s not such a bad thing as there’s a decent amount of personality to compensate. [9/10]

SCORE: 8.80

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