Dig that awkward announcer! I’ll try my best to do better.
In the 50’s and 60’s, Jamaica was getting an influx of American music, notably jazz and rhythm & blues via radio broadcasts from New Orleans; crossbreeding these sounds with calypso resulted in ska, which has not only been through at least two revivals, but also birthed rocksteady and reggae (from whence came dub, and dancehall, and ragga…)
We are going to focus here on first-wave ska, though we will touch on some second-wave / 2-Tone ska and some reggae tangentially.
(If you are into third-wave ska or beyond I can’t help you, most of that stuff is pretty dire except for Hepcat; I’ll give the Bosstones a pass out of nostalgia for some good singles and a fun live show).
Prince Buster – Rough Rider
As you may have noticed, it’s not just the beat that’s a bit “blue” there.
Here’s another naughty number, also covered by The Beat:
Prince Buster – Whine and Grine
Prince Buster – Madness
And he was also the source one of Madness’ best-known songs. Don’t watch THAT, watch THIS:
Prince Buster – One Step Beyond
This next track is important; not just for showing that the propensity for bad pun bandnames goes all the way back to ska’s beginning, but for featuring a few guys you may have heard of: The Skatalites here are working with an early incarnation of The Wailers, who would go on to massive worldwide fame.
This, then, is Bob Marley’s first hit (though fellow Wailer Peter Tosh said he hated it):
Skatalites – Simmer Down
This classic was also originally credited to the Skatalites, who played on it; later archivists credited it simply to the singer, who was one of the Skatalites’ dancers. Though her vocal lacks some confidence and polish, it’s a powerful and direct declaration of love anyway – I like the repeating brass fanfare:
Marguerita – Woman a Come
Always loved this jazzy tune. It’s a little darker and moodier than most ska:
Skatalites – Fidel Castro
But ska is generally upbeat (musically, if not always lyrically) happy dance music. Kids of all ages love it.
Accordingly, here’s a family-friendly classic by Desmond Dekker, who later recorded the reggae all-time-great “Israelites”:
Desmond Dekker – Honor Your Mother & Your Father
Continuing the religious theme (no religion), here’s some other reggae titans that also started out in ska, the mighty Maytals (some early recordings of whom were mis-credited):
The Maytals (as The Vikings) – Six and Seven Books of Moses
And Jimmy Cliff, of The Harder They Come fame:
Jimmy Cliff – King Of Kings
Have I missed your favorite? If so, pick it up in the comments.
Here’s a Spotify playlist, incorporating these songs and more (a little reggae might’ve snuck in, as well as some second- and third-wave ska bands):