There were other hybrid R&B/ska outfits on the LA scene at the time, but it was only the worthy Untouchables who caught Stiff’s attention and wound up with a label deal on both sides of the Atlantic. Live and Let Dance introduced the band’s energetic dance attack with a half-dozen exciting numbers, starting with the unforgettably catchy “Free Yourself.” (One listen and you’ll swear you heard it on a 1980 2-Tone single.) The 12-inch also presents solid reggae and ska in the UB40 mold; the live take of “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone,” however, asserts real individuality.
Reprising “Free Yourself,” Wild Child surrounds it with ten other strong items, including the similarly effective title track, a cool version of “I Spy (for the FBI)” — an obscurity also recorded by John Hiatt — produced by Jerry Dammers, a slice of straight rap-funk (“Freak in the Streets”) and a synth-tinged rock tune (“Lovers Again”). Stewart Levine’s production could be more full-bodied, but the sextet’s enthusiasm and precision keep things rocking from start to finish.
With no new material forthcoming, a 12-inch compilation EP was released. Dance Party contains four remixed album tracks, including “Freak in the Street” (by Don and David Was) and “Free Yourself,” a tune from the first EP and a new live funk workout.
Agent 00 Soul (titled for the Edwin Starr oldie, which the group covers blandly) reveals the Untouchables to be suffering from multiple personality disorder. On some songs they’re a brassy soul revue putting hip-hop moves to Rick James sex-funk, elsewhere, they’re a rocked-up reggae band. On the ska beat, there’s a snappy translation of the Coasters’ “Under the Boardwalk” and an inferior rewrite of “Free Yourself.” Only one of the originals (the ’60sish “Shama Lama,” buried in the middle of the second side) is really good; while Agent 00 Soul has its moments, the album doesn’t hang together at all. (The CD adds three bonus tracks.)
On A Decade of Dance Live, recorded at LA’s Roxy in 1989, the Untouchables rip through a career-spanning set that documents just how incredible they were in performance. (It’s also one of the best-sounding concert albums you’re likely to hear.) The album has great renditions of all their well-known numbers as well as “Twist ‘n’ Shake” and “The General” and the previously unrecorded “Live and Let Dance,” “Amateurs Ranking” and “Johnny.”
Cool Beginnings is a compilation of studio and live recordings from the band’s early days, when it was finding its footing and settling on a sound (they began as mods who played ska). It gains power as it moves forward in time. Some of the early material is rough, but there are some promising songs here, like the ska tracks “Gov’t Don’t Need Nobody” and “Overcrowded Hell,” the moody dub reggae cut “Who Do They Think They’re Fooling?” and the cool mod throwbacks “Cuz She’s Mine” and “Motion Like Hers.” It also includes their first two singles, “Dance Beat,” b/w “Twist ‘n Shake” and “Tropical Bird” b/w “The General.”
The Untouchables went dark in the early ’90s and missed out on the massive US ska revival but returned with Ghetto Stout, paradoxically, just as the scene went bust. Some of the new songs (“Be Alright,” “Jade,” “Bond, “Keep on Pushing,” “Movin’ ‘n’ Groovin'”) are worthy additions to the band’s repertoire, but the album also contains unnecessary re-recordings of many of their popular ’80 tracks. One wishes they hadn’t felt the pull of nostalgia, but had instead stuck to new tunes and songs from their live set that were never released in studio form. Still, there’s good stuff here for fans. (Cleopatra reissued the album on vinyl and CD in 2015 as Free Yourself Ska Hits.)