Artist Spotlight: The Untouchables

With fear of contradiction, I place The Untouchables as the sole U.S. representative in the pantheon of second wave ska. The Los Angeles-based band formed in the early 1980s and disintegrated into a barely remembered brand name after just two albums, but, damn, what a burst of sonic joy.

The Untouchables combined the mature funk of Cameo with the party punk of Fishbone to produce a sound that still cuts edges and shakes butts.

Despite enjoying major label money from their earliest days, The Untouchables scored no big hits. They were too rock ‘n’ roll for urban playlists dominated by smooth R&B and just beginning to add rap.

The Untouchables were also far too urban for rock radio.

Even The Untouchables’ timing sucked. They put out their first album in 1985, after the demise of fellow second wave scene makers like English Beat/General Public. The group then faded away in 1989, before the debut
of third wave hit makers like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

And certainly not helping matters was the band’s origin as an artists’ collective of individuals who largely picked up their instruments only after heading to Hollywood to become actors, graphic designers, writers and
dancers. For instance, the black guys who chase Otto out of their mothers’ house in Repo Man were The Untouchables.

Pushing their artistry by releasing a short film, comic book and computer thingie/proto-website in conjunction with their second album Agent 00 Soul only confused radio programmer, music video schedulers and potential fans, even as each element added to the group’s should-have-been legend.

Now relegated to the decaying cassette collections of old men like me, The Untouchables deserve better.