Another part of the punk family tree is ska. We have looked at punk in general and its heavy brother hardcore… Now it is time to shed some light on its laid-back cousin ska. Many punk and hardcore bands blend ska within their music, some more than others.
Reggae is the true godfather of ska music. Trojan Records was a British Record Label focused on reggae, ska, rocksteady and dub music. Its sister label Island Records was founded in Jamaica by Leslie Kong in 1959. Greats such as Lee ‘Scatch’ Perry, Bob Marley, Desmond Dekker, Bruce Ruffin, Nicky Thomas, Dave and Ansell Collins were all part of the revolutionary labels.
Toots & The Maytals invented the word ‘reggae’ in one of their songs, spreading their roots to what was known as the 2-Tone ska revival. The movement started in the late 70’s in the UK. 2-Tone blended ska with punk music.
Those at the top of the list were a big part of the 2-Tone movement whereas the remainder range from the late 80’s throughout the nineties up until recent times. Starting off with some honourable mentions. Firstly three homegrown ska bands, followed by three international acts.
Enjoy… Time to skank it up!!!
Nancy Vandal: Bikini High Pool Party Massacre 3, Who Invited the Undead? (1997)
The Porkers: Time Will Tell (2000)
Area-7: Say It To My Face (2001)
311: 311 (1995)
Voodoo Glow Skulls: Baile de Los Locos (1997)
Reel Big Fish: Everything Sucks (1995)
Top 10 Ska Albums:
10. Buck-O-Nine: Barfly (1995)
San Diego-based ska-punk outfit Buck-O-Nine released the follow-up to their debut Songs in the Key of Bree (1994), inspired by the Mickey Rourke, Faye Dunaway motion picture, Barfly (1987), a semi-autobiography of poet/author Charles Bukowski during time spent drinking heavily in Los Angeles.
Taang! Records released the record and owner, Curtis Casella, a fan of Bukowski wanted to release an EP of the Buck-O-Nine track Barfly, among covers and re-release the debut on Taang! due to increased record sales. A number of covers were on the album showing the band’s influences in punk with Teenagers from Mars (Misfits), Soundsystem (Operation Ivy) and Wrong ‘Em Boyo (The Clash). Most notably the cover of Pass The Dutchie (Musical Youth) which Buck-O-Nine made their own, with original members of the reggae group at a few shows. An EP titled
An EP titled Pass The Dutchie (1998) was later released after original EP, Water in My Head (1996) and third album Twenty-Eight Teeth (1997), which saw the band’s most successful single yet in another original, My Town. Buck-O-Nine has toured with the likes of fellow ska-punk bands, Voodoo Glow Skulls, The Suicide Machines and the originators of 2-Tone, The Specials. Also gaining a spot on the ‘97 Warped Tour and chosen by Primus as supports for The Brown Album (1997).
Standout Tracks: Pass the Dutchie, Water in My Head, Sound System, Barfly.
9. No Doubt: Tragic Kingdom (1995)
Although the self-titled debut No Doubt (1992) with its quirky single Trapped in a Box and second album, The Beacon Street Collection (1995), with Bradley Nowell (Sublime) teamed up with Gwen Stefani on Total Hate ’95, it wasn’t until their third album the band saw success. From only lasting a year on
From only lasting a year on Interscope due to lack of album sales with the debut, recording in their garage/studio on Beacon Street, California to recording in eleven studios in Los Angeles. Tragic Kingdom saw numerous singles all of which are standout tracks listed below.
No Doubt was nominated for Best New Artist and Rock Album at the 39th Annual Grammy Awards, selling sixteen million copies worldwide. Helping the ska revival of the 90’s and bringing interest to record labels in signing more ska bands, No Doubt took the mainstream by storm.
Standout Tracks: Spiderwebs. Sunday Morning. Don’t Speak, Just A Girl, Excuse Me Mr.
8. The Mighty Mighty BossTones: Let’s Face It (1997)
Boston-based ska-punk giants started as a hardcore band in the 80’s with long time bassist Joe Gittleman, roots from hardcore four-piece Gang Green. It was vocalist Dicky Barrett‘s interest in 2-Tone Ska that turned The B0sst0nes into The Mighty Mighty BossTones and the merging of Gang Green members and those in Cheap Skates, who were lead by Barrett. The first two records,
The first two records, Devil’s Night Out (1989), More Noise and Other Disturbances (1992) were released on Taang! (Buck-O-Nine). The third Don’t Know How to Party (1993) was the first on major label Mercury and saw the success of the fan favourite Someday I Suppose, as well as a cover of Tin Soldiers (Stinky Fingers) with Darryl Jennifer (Bad Brains). The influences were also present on Ska-Core, the Devil, and More (1993) with the likes of Misfits, The Angry Samoans, and The Wailers covered on the EP.
It was not until the release of their 5th album where The Mighty Mighty BossTones were at the top of their game. The album reached platinum with The Impression That I Get reaching the number one spot on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Royal Oil reached number twenty-two whereas The Rascal King hit number seven. The album reached number twenty-seven on The Billboard 200 being the only BossTones album to reach The Top 50.
Standout Tracks: The Rascal King, Royal Oil, The Impression That I Get, Break So Easily.
7. Sublime: 40oz. To Freedom (1992)
Ska-punk from Long Beach California can be thankful for the band that started it all with this debut which borrowed from many and continues to inspire many musicians today. The likes of Slightly Stoopid, Pepper, Long Beach Dub All-Stars and Sublime with Rome, as they are known nowadays, owe it all to the legacy left behind by the late Bradley Nowell.
The classic lineup featured Nowell on vocals, guitar, Eric Wilson on bass, Bud Gaugh on drums and Marshall Goodman behind the turntables. All genres were present with influences ranging from punk; covering Hope (Descendants), We’re Only Gonna Die (Bad Religion), ska, rocksteady; 54-46 That’s My Number (Toots & The Maytals) and reggae; Rivers of Babylon (The Melodians).
Sublime have the knack of giving all covers their own sound particularly their unlikely cover of Scarlet Begonias (Grateful Dead). Not all are covers, though as it’s originals such as Date Rape, Bad Fish and Right Back that stick out. It was the third and sadly the last, Sublime (1996) which took the mainstream by storm with the singles, What I Got, Santeria, Wrong Way and Doin’ Time.
Standout Tracks: 40oz. to Freedom, Smoke Two Joints, Badfish, Date Rape, Right Back, Scarlet Begonias.
6. Rancid: … And Out Come The Wolves (1995)
It could be argued that the third album from Californian Punk group Rancid, should have been part of the top 10 punk albums. However, ska roots run deep with frontman Tim Armstrong‘s vocal stylings and love for Joe Strummer (The Clash), crediting lyrics to the title track of Indestructible (2003) “… And I’ll keep listening to the great Joe Strummer/Cause through music he can live forever.” The love of 2-Tone is present more so on Life Won’t Wait (1998) with collaborations from reggae legend Buju Banton. Also known to cover The Harder They Come (Jimmy Cliff) at live shows, it is no secret of the band’s ska and reggae influences.
The ska sound is also present with Armstrong’s guitar playing with the use of the skanking technique. The album was certified gold in 1996 and certified platinum in 2004. The album also saw three singles, Roots Radicals, Time Bomb and Ruby Soho.
An interesting fact about the infamous cover was that Rancid got the idea from the Minor Threat (1984) cover, which featured Ian MacKaye‘s younger brother, Alec hunched over steps.
Standout Tracks: Roots Radicals, Time Bomb, Olympia WA, Ruby Soho.
5. Operation Ivy: Energy (1989)
There would be no Rancid without Operation Ivy, which was where it all started for Armstrong who went by the name of Lint on guitar, backing vocals and bassist Matt Freeman, who was known as Matt McCall.
Armstrong also went by the Tim Timebomb moniker starting the Hellcat records label, branching off from Epitaph, releasing his own solo material and signing bands to the label. Freeman and Armstrong originally played in ska-punk group Basic Radio before joining Operation Ivy, which was lead by vocalist Jesse Michaels.
Operation Ivy leaves behind a legacy after only releasing the debut EP, Hectic (1988) and only one LP, with the likes of Goldfinger covering Smiling, Millencollin covering Knowledge, Hollywood Undead covering Bad Town, Green Day also covering Knowledge.
Standout Tracks: Knowledge, Sound System, Bankshot, Unity.
4. Fishbone: Truth and Soul (1988)
Known to blend Funk, Soul, Metal and ska-punk Los Angeles-based Fishbone weren’t afraid to blend genres and couldn’t be pigeon-holed into any category. Way before their time, after the follow-up to the debut, In Your Face (1986) and forming in 1979 their second album received mixed reviews. Some could not understand it while others praised the album highly. It was not until the album prior, The Reality of My Surroundings (1991) where success came from the Everyday Sunshine and Sunless Saturday singles and the 49th position was reached on the Billboard 200. Although the album reached 153 on the Billboard 200 it just proves that the world was not ready for this masterpiece,
Opening with the in-your-face cover of Freddie’s Dead (Curtis Mayfield) providing funk, the bluesy groove of Mighty Long Way and reggae and ska influences strong on Ma and Pa, Pouring Rain and Question of Life. The musicianship stands out with the stellar line-up of Chris Dowd (vocals, keyboards, trombone), John Norwood Fisher (vocals, bass guitar), Philip “Fish” Fisher (drums, percussion, vocals), Kendall Jones (vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitars), Walter A. Kibby II (vocals, trumpet) and Angelo Moore (vocals, saxophone).
From their debut EP, Fishbone (1985) which gave us the band’s most popular track with Party At Ground Zero, which was heavily ska-influenced to their last effort, Still Stuck in Your Throat (2007) which had a more metallic element with its blend of funk metal and ska. The final track covers Date Rape (Sublime), showing both bands were fans of each other’s music. Sublime had credited Fishbone on the final track, Thanks Dub on their debut, 40oz to Freedom (1992) where they gave thanks to friends, family and inspirations.
Fishbone and the Familyhood Nextperience Present: The Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx (2000) featured hardcore legend H.R. (Bad Brains), Gwen Stefani (No Doubt), funk legend George Clinton along with John Frusciante and Flea (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) among others. For a band that were ahead of their time, Fishbone kept original while keeping relevant and inspiring musicians worldwide.
Standout Tracks: Freddie’s Dead, Ma and Pa, Bonin’ in the Boneyard, Pouring Rain
3. The Beat: I Just Can’t Stop It (1980)
Call them what you will new wave, post-punk, ska, simply known as The Beat or The English Beat in Northern America, they were a big part of the 2-Tone movement and their debut makes a welcome entry into the list.
Lead by vocalist/guitarist Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger who was a punk fan in the 70’s who joined the 2-Tone influenced group, given the term boasting to his vocal approach, a technique known to MCs. Joining the line-up was lead guitarist Andy Cox, bassist David Steelen, drummer Everett Morton and Lionel Augustus Martin on saxophone who used Saxa as a moniker.
The Mirror in the Bathroom single brought much success to the group and it is their most well-known track. A reggae arrangement of Can’t Get Used to Losing You (1963) (Andy Williams) was an unlikely cover that received a good reception.
Welsh Alternative/ Ragga group Skindred, lead by Benji Webbe (Dub War) covered Twist & Crawl on the motion picture soundtrack Sky High (2005). The Beat continues to leave their mark on the world, leaving a massive impact behind.
Standout Tracks: Mirror in the Bathroom, Twist & Crawl, Can’t Get Used to Losing You.
2. Madness: One Step Beyond (1979)
English ska band Madness have taken the world by storm with an array of well-known hits such as Baggy Trousers (Absolutely, 1980), Our House (Rise & Fall, 1982), as well as House of Fun and It Must Be Love (1981). Before the change in direction to Pop, Madness‘ main focus was on ska.
Their debut was big with members of the British working sub-culture, who were known as skinheads. The group were seen as racists which brought much controversy. Not all skinheads were racist as they welcomed the subculture. Madness themselves were involved with the subculture and disapproved of the racism. Before playing trumpet and bass for Madness, Chas Smash had been involved in fights with the skinheads and after a performance around the time of the debut in 1979, frontman Graham “Suggs” McPherson let the crowd know that he wasn’t pleased with the audience behaviour as they had chanted Red Beans and Rice off stage because of a black lead singer.
The love for ska music encouraged the fan favourite, The Prince in which Madness paid homage to Jamaican rocksteady musician Prince Buster. A number of singles were released from the album, The Prince being one of them along with the title track One Step Beyond and numerous EP’s which included Night Boat to Cairo and amongst others.
The album took three weeks to record and peaked at number 2 on the UK chart and remained there for a year. Prior to the release of the debut, Madness had toured with 2-Tone acts, The Selector and The Specials… which leads us to number 1 on the list…
Standout Tracks: One Step Beyond, The Prince, My Girl, Night Boat To Cairo, Tarzan’s Nuts, Bed and Breakfast Man.
1. The Specials: The Specials (1979)
The innovators of 2-Tone along with Madness were British ska revival band The Specials. Many of the songs on their debut were covers of classic Jamaican artists who were part of the Trojan and Island record labels. The Specials made the songs their own bringing reggae and ska to the mainstream.
Monkey Man (Toots & The Maytals) is a fan favourite and The Specials even had the late Amy Winehouse on stage to perform it with them, among other hits. Too Hot (Prince Tubby) was covered as well as Gangsters, also a Cecil Bustamente Campbell original, a bonus track found on some US, Australia and New Zealand releases.
It was the cover of A Message to you Rudy (Dandy Livingstone) which The Specials made famous reaching number 10 in the UK singles chart. Rico Rodriguez played the trombone on the original by Livingstone and on The Specials cover. A live version of Too Much Too Young was later released on a five-track EP, The Special AKA Live (1980) which went to number one on the UK charts
Their debut was produced by Elvis Costello and released on 2 Tone Records, which was founded by keyboardist and songwriter for The Specials, Jeremy David Hounsell “Jerry” Dammers. The significance and impact of
The significance and impact of Dammers and the ska revival of 2-Tone roots continues to run deep branching out to all the ska-punk music of today. Without Trojan and Island records, we wouldn’t have 2 Tone Records and as you can see the punk aggression intertwined with reggae, ska, rock steady and the like.
Standout Tracks: Message To You Rudy, Concrete Jungle, Monkey Man, Too Much Too Young.