Friday, October 14, 2011

Dance Party Friday: SKA-MAZING!!

A couple weeks ago, the Dance Party was about the music my friend Justin introduced me to. I mentioned that he was in a ska band - he's the one who played ska for me for the first time.

I am not a ska expert, but . . . did you know that reggae actually developed out of ska? It's true! Ska started in Jamaica in the 50s and 60s. I don't know much about its evolution there in Jamaica, except that by the late 60s & 70s, reggae was king. Here's what I've pieced together from stuff I've read over the years - imagine rock in the 1950s - Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, those guys. More bouncy, energetic - that was ska. Then as doo wop, Motown and soul began emerging - slower rhythms, more funk - ska made that same evolution into reggae. I think. :)

HOWEVER! Ska was revived in England in the 70s in what is sometimes called the "2nd wave" or "2 Tone" ska era. 2 Tone wasn't the only, but was the biggest English ska record label. The black and white checkers that is associated with ska comes from their logo:

Eventually its popularity died out. In the 90s, ska came back in the U.S. I was around during that 3rd wave and enjoyed it quite a bit. There are still ska bands all over today, though the genre isn't popular the way it was 15 years ago.

So, without further ado, I'm going to go chronologically through the years and play some of the songs and artists that my friends and I have come to know and love. I'm also going to include some music that wouldn't be categorized as ska, but has obvious ska/reggae influences.

Skatalites – Guns of Navarone
The Skatalites are one of the bands that got ska off the ground in Jamaica and this is probably their biggest hit. I need more of their stuff, like whoa.

Desmond Dekker – The Israelites
Desmond Dekker was another early ska artist who went on to have great success in the 60s and 70s. Love this song.

Toots & the Maytals - Pressure Drop
The Clash later covered this, and it's been covered by many others. Great classic ska by a massive ska/reggae band. If you're into ska/reggae and you don't listen to these guys, you need to rectify that situation IMMEDIATELY.

Bob Marley and the Wailers - Ska Jerk
Um, recognize that name? That's right, these guys were ska before they were reggae! And do you recognize the melody when they sing ska jerrrk? Sounds very similar to a U.S. r&b song from the 60s, though I can't place it at the moment.

A Message to You Rudy - The Specials
The Specials are my favorite ska group, hands down. I love their style, I love what they added to ska classics. I love their messages of racial unity. You'll notice the name Rudy/Rudie a lot in ska music, in reggae. This is from the term "rude boy" or "rude girl" which basically means a street kid, a tough, a punk, a troublemaker. I had fun explaining this to some friends a couple years ago when they were singing Rude Boy by Rihanna.

The Beat - Ranking Full Stop
The Beat (known as The English Beat in the U.S.) is another favorite of mine, also from the 2nd wave in Britain. Their sound is often a mixture of ska and the New Wave sound that was developing at the same time.

Madness - The Prince
You may remember Madness from their song "Our House" but they did have a song on the 2 Tone label . . .

The Clash - Rudie Can't Fail
The Clash aren't really a ska band but they definitely have ska/reggae influence in a lot of their music.

The Police - Canary in a Coalmine
The Police will be a favorite band of mine for life, and one reason is the prevalence of a ska/reggae sound in their music. No shock that they were forming alongside guys like the Specials.

Fishbone - Skankin to the Beat - SUCH A FUN SONG!!!
Now that I think of it, Lloyd Dobler introduced me to ska, not Justin! I love the movie Say Anything, and John Cusack's character, Lloyd Dobler, loved Fishbone. In fact, he wore a Fishbone t-shirt in the scene where Lloyd holes up in the bathroom to call Diane Court and ask her out on a date. I got this soundtrack in my freshman or sophomore year and fell in love with this song, though it was a slightly different version. Justin didn't tell me about ska until senior year of high school. :)

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Simmer Down
A nice 90s ska cover of this classic song. The Bosstones were probably the first ska group Justin introduced me to (though not all their stuff can be categorized as ska) (have I said that enough? geez). It's a plaid, plaid world, y'all.

No Doubt - Spiderwebs
No Doubt isn't a ska band but there's no denying that they have ska influences in their music, and there's also no doubt that like it or not, they were one of the factors in ska's resurgence in the 90s. I happen to like No Doubt, though I don't consider them a ska band - just a pop/rock band with ska tendencies . . . at times.

Sublime - Wong Way
Yet another band that wasn't necessarily a ska band, but had a ska/reggae influence, and was out around the same time as full-on ska bands. They helped make the genre accessible to the masses.

O'Phil - Reno
So Justin ended up joining a local ska band, which was the most popular local band of any genre, really, at the time. Interestingly, first Justin was in a teeny ska band of guys we went to high school with, at the same time that I was going to O'Phil shows. O'Phil, like a lot of ska bands, weren't straight up ska, they blended it with other genres, namely punk. I'm sure they could give a much better description of their sound and influences, but that's how it came across to me.

A couple years later, Justin had joined O'Phil and invited me to see them play in a college town (Lawrence, KS) an hour away from my college town. So I made the little road trip, enjoyed the show and catching up with Justin. I think I might have also met Brandi, his then-girlfriend, now-wife. Hi Brandi! :)

So at the show I was sitting near some guys who (it turns out) went to school with me, they'd also made the road trip to see the O'Phil show. We exchanged numbers and I began hanging out with those guys . . . turns out they were in a ska band, too (and actually knew O'Phil - I later went to a show where they both played)! Here they are:

Ruskabank - My Friends
I hung out with these guys a while . . . dated one of them briefly and when that ended, so did my friendships with the band members. I get it, bros before . . . well, whatevs. They were a fun group of guys and their shows were just Tons. Of. Fun.

MU330 - La
I saw these St. Louis ska guys play with O'Phil and a small band (also from Missouri) called Big Bad Chubba. I only remember this because I *still* have a t-shirt from that show. It's a take on the Mountain Dew logo & commercials, and says "Dew the Ska!". In fact, I have a picture of that shirt somewhere on Facebook . . . lemme find it . . . I bought a MU330 CD and a Big Bad Chubba TAPE at that show. Fun Fact: MU330 was named after a music class in the high school where the band members went. I know this because I was talking about the band once with a friend who went to that high school. He's a big music dude and was apparently a few years behind those guys in school.

I was getting ready to perform at a dance competition, so my makeup is a little heavy.

Check it out, y'all - ska isn't dead!

Big D and the Kids Table - Noise Complaint
A co-worker of mine (also from St. Louis so I had fun sharing my MU330 fun fact with him) loves ska and this is maybe his favorite band. I asked him for a couple dance party suggestions . . . he saw them when they were in Chicago recently and got to chat/enjoy a beer with Big D.

Ska is also not dead when you teach your kids to love it!!! This is a video from Yo Gabba Gabba, every hip parent's favorite kids show. I mean, dude - they have Biz Markie on their show regularly. Tell me what's not to love. Pickitup! Pickitup! Pickitup pickitup pickitup!

Spunge - Kicking Pigeons
And this one goes out to Amy and her hatred of Chicago pigeons.

Vampire Weekend - A-Punk
Maybe this is 4th wave ska? Hmm . . . hipster ska.

So, who am I missing?

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