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This Is Ska

June 22, 2006

I put together a mix CD for a bunch of friends of mine last year that traces the history of ska from its inceptions in the Caribbean to the present day. For some reason I was thinking about that mix CD earlier today, so I decided to dig the track list out and post it here. Enjoy!

1 – Bad Manners, “This Is Ska” live
Bad Manners technically should be later in the order, since I tried to go chronologically and they’re a second-wave band, but I thought it was a good way to start the album.

2 – Skatalites, “Mood For Ska”
The Skatalites were one of the bands that helped define ska as a genre, specifically a variant of reggae that emerged in Jamaica and the Caribbean in the 50s and 60s.

3 – Laurel Aitken, “Sahara”
I don’t know much about Aitken, other than that he’s a contemporary of the Skatalites and is listed as another of the seminal first-iteration ska artists.

4 – Laurel Aitken and the Loafers, “Sally Brown” live
Sally Brown is something of a ska standard, with a number of bands performing it to pay homage to the early artists (like Aitken).

5 – Desmond Dekker and the Specials, “King of Ska”
Dekker is, from what I can tell, an exmaple of the Christian sub-genre of Ska (less evident in this track than in something like “King of Kings” for example). Dekker came a little later than the earlier artists, actually appearing on the “Ska Revival” box set that Trojan Records put out recently.

6 – Mephiskapheles, “Saba”
Saba is another ska standard, with a few different bands performing it (including Fenster, the Columbus ska/rock band I used to follow a lot). Mephiskapheles, in contrast to Desmond Dekker, has all the trappings of being a Satanic ska band – or at least the iconography of one. They also do a cover of an oldBumble Bee Tuna song which was really popular at Crew games for a while 🙂 Mephiskapheles should be later in chronology, arriving in the mid-90s, but I wanted a more instrumental break between the original ska artists before and the 2nd wave artists that come after this song.

Now, we head into the second wave – which was most popular in England in the late 70s and early 80s. Ska was probably more political in nature now than it was at the beginning, with the black-and-white checkerboard motif becoming popular as a message of racial unity. Many of the bands of the era were mixed-race groups by choice, and expressed opposition to groups like the National Front in England at the time.

7 – The Specials, “A Message To You, Rudy”
This was originally done by Randy Livingstone, and refers to “Rudy” as an example of the “rude boy” that was a ska aficionado/disaffected youth in the Caribbean .

8 – Fishbone, “Party At Ground Zero”
By this point, we’re into the mid-80s – and in America for a change (Mephiskapheles is American too, but they actually came around in the 90s). Fishbone and the Bosstones were two of the standard-bearers for American ska in the 80s, with Fishbone being the more political and the Bosstones just generally rocking harder. Gotta love anti-nuke ska party songs 🙂

9 – The Toasters, “Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down”
The Toasters are actually still touring, but they seem like they’ve been around for about 20 years at this point. Actually, come to think of it, I think Fishbone is still on tour as well.

10 – Mighty Mighty Bosstones, “Bad News and Bad Breaks”
Unfortunately, the Bosstones are on indefinite hiatus right now, and I doubt they’ll ever get back together. They had a great run, though – they were actually around for about a decade before they hit the charts with “Let’s Face It” in the late 90s ska craze. These guys started the “ska-core” sub-genre, blending ska and punk and paving the way for almost all of the 3rd
Wave ska bands in the 90s.

11 – Otis Reem, “La Unda”
I don’t know too much about this group, other than that this song kicks some serious ass. Its also a nice instrumental break between the 2nd wave/2Tone bands before and the 3rd Wave stuff to come.

12 – Reel Big Fish, “Alternative Girl”
In many ways the poster boys of the 3rd wave, RBF are a big party band (not surprising, since the 3rd Wave of ska generally ditched the political leanings of the earlier incarnations in favor of general fun and dancing)

13 – Save Ferris, “Come On Eileen”
Ah yes, another ska cover song 🙂 Save Ferris ditched ska as a format after their first big album unfortunately, reading the tea leaves about the ska craze. Ironic, actually, considering one of their earlier songs was “Support Your Local Ska Band”. Then again, No Doubt used to be ska at first before crossing over and blowing up all over the place. Save Ferris’ lead singer, Monique, was a guest vocalist on a few RBF songs, including “She’s Got A Girlfriend Now”

14 – Mass Hysteria, “Please Please Please”
I don’t know if they’re still together, but I really hope so – this band appeared on the “Ska Is Still Standing” compilation a few years ago, defiantly pointing out that although the 3rd Wave is gone, ska hasn’t gone anywhere.

15 – Edna’s Goldfish, “Veronica Sawyer”
The trials of being a ska-kid – not old enough to get into an adult club, but still wanting to go out and listen to bands…ska really is a genre that appeals to the young for some reason. Edna’s Goldfish were a 3rd Wave band that seems to have disappeared by this point.

16 – Straigher Than Pete, “The Hurt”
Another of the post-3rd Wave bands, I don’t know much about these guys either.

17 – Undercover S.K.A., “My Girl Became A Dude (The Transsexual Song)
What is it about ska and gender-bending? From lesbian songs like “Come On Eileen” and “She’s Got A Girlfriend  Now” to this one, maybe this is how the 3rd wave expresses its politics – by embracing alternative lifestyles or something.

18 – The Forces Of Evil, “Fight For Your Right To Skank”
The FoE are a ska super-group, with members from Reel Big Fish and a handful of other groups making this their side project. This is also an example of ska bands singing about their genre – which I don’t really hear from other genres so much. It goes back at least to the 2Tone era, when The Selecter did “3 Minute Hero” and dedicated it to all the radio stations that
don’t play ska.

19 – Culture Bandits/King Django’s Roots, “L’Khayim”
Yes, its a ska song in Yiddish. This is somehow related to Matisyahu, the hasidic reggae performer who’s been touring college campuses recently (he hit Ohio State a few months back, and I saw posters for a show of his in Ann Arbor when we were there)

20 – Alerte Rouge, “Vamos a la Vida de Noche”
I stumbled on these guys when I was taking French, and was looking for some music to practice my comprehension with. Not that it worked, the words go by too fast and I’ve forgotten most of my vocabulary 🙂

21 – Suburban Legends, “Up All Night”
Another kick-ass song, hopefully to end the CD in style. Suburban Legends are still around; they were one of the headlining artists at the Ska Summit in Las Vegas (was it last year? 2 years ago? I’m getting old…)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jamie permalink
    June 23, 2006 7:17 am

    Mentioning Fishbone and the Bosstones, I think it’s interesting to point out that both of those bands moved ska into new directions as well. Fishbone was definitely ska, but also very funky (got to see them live when I saw them open for the Beastie Boys back in 1987 during the License to Ill tour.

    And the Bosstones definitely crossed over into the punk world a bit (and still do, without a doubt).

    A lot of bands have followed the lead of one or the other with the ska/punk and ska/funk movements (probably more of the former, naturally).

  2. shelleymarie80 permalink
    July 4, 2007 3:53 am

    I am a fan of ska myself. One of my blogs lists a site pertaining to the hx of ska. You have a pretty good list. I love RBF and will be seeing them play with another good ska band called Less than Jake. Other cool bands to check out are Jeffries Fan Club, Mustard Plug, Codename Rocky and/or Skankin Pickle. May the ska be with you!

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