4 Aug 2014

skasampler - getting into ska and reggae

What comes to mind when you hear the word reggae? Bob Marley? Weed and dreadlocks?  Although they are both huge parts of traditional reggae, there is so much more the genre than that, including the incredbile - Ska. The music scene around where I live is pretty much dub/reggae/ska so for a massive ska fan and mod, it's awesome. I've only recently began to appreciate it, since this time last year when myself and my mother trotted off to a 3-day festival in Yarmouth, aptly named, Skamouth. Neville Staples from The Specials headlined, and it was probably one of the best days of my life. My mind was suddenly blown open to the fact that this genre is alive and better than ever, thriving off the old skinheads and mods who aren't ready to say goodbye to it all just yet as well as the new generation who are preparing to take it all in (there's a lot more kids there than you would expect.) Since then, we have attended two more 'Skamouth's,' as well as numerous local scooter rally's. In the past year, we've learnt to skank, (not very well I might add) been part of a Vespa/Lambretta ride out, met some amazing people, including Neville Staples himself, and danced until we couldn't dance anymore. Ska and Reggae are two of the most fun genres, and play a huge part in joining together sub-cultures throughout history, so this post is all about introducing you guys to the fantastic world of Ska through a combination of my favourite songs.

1. Rat Race / The Specials
The Specials are probably one of the most famous ska bands. The recent announcement of a tour with the original line-up as well as doing a handful of festivals including Isle of Wight, has restarted the massive buzz around this band. The song 'Rat Race' was released in 1980, through the released of their second album 'More Specials.' Although not included in the UK LP pressings, it is up there with The Specials' most well known and well loved songs. A true classic, and amazing fun to dance to.

2. One Step Beyond / Madness
Madness are hugely famous for their massively fun ska sounds. One Step Beyond is no exception. Definitely my favourite song to dance to (myself and mum have actually worked out a routine to it) as it starts with an echoing dialogue, before throwing you into a fast, high energy brass melody over an even faster drum beat. Pretty much the only lyrics in this song is the repetition of 'One Step Beyond' but the music is so phenomenal that if it was being sung over, it would totally spoil it. Absolutely worth a listen.

3. Too Much Pressure / The Selector
Just as high energy, just as fun, this song was the title track from The Selector's debut album which charted at number 5 in the UK. Released in 1980 and recorded in ska-central, Coventry, this song channels incredibly strong Jamaican influences and mixes it with the then thriving Punk genre to create a totally unique and genius sound. 

4. Freezing Up Orange Street / Prince Buster
Older, dirtier, with a more classic dub/reggae sound, this song is set to an incredibly jaunty melody, with a beat indicating the shift in sound from rocksteady to reggae, while the tempo is steady. The bubbly keyboard adds to entertainment, and a breezy sax opens the piece in fine style. It's very much a reggae song, not so much ska, but as one of my favourite reggae songs, I wanted to include it on this playlist. Marvellous. 

5. Geno / Dexys Midnight Runners
An utter classic song, which starts sing-a-longs and skanking wherever you go. Geno, is some of Dexy's best work. Once again released in 1980 in the height of Ska, this song was the bands second single, and their first number 1. It was a tribute to soul singer, Geno Washington and the song went on to excite audiences around the world. Although not listed as a definite 'ska song,' it has been played at all the festivals and scooter rally's, and the mods/punk/skinheads/skaheads all love it, so why not include it on the list?

6. Israelites / Desmond Dekker
One of the more skinhead-reggae songs on here, Dekker was a pioneer, the man in charge of bringing a new edge to the reggae that the Skinheads took in. This song is one of the most famous, and I have heard it played many a time, and everytime the floor is filled with fred perry's, shaved heads, braces and red docs with yellow laces. An anthem of sorts. Brilliant combination of Jamaican influences, reggae, ska and skinheads. You just have to dance to this song, and it usually kicks off some singing as well.

7. Too Much Too Young / The Specials
The Specials deserve a second song, because not only were they the main pioneers of the Ska Genre and credited by many as bringing it into the mainstream, but they are one of my favourite ska bands to this day. Too Much Too Young has a very important message behind it, but wrapped up in catchy melodies and tempos the message doesn't seem forced down your throat. 'You're married with a kid when you should be having fun with me' doesn't seem like it contains a strong double meaning, but the band have said it is addressing the problem that was happening with teenagers getting married and having kids 'much too young.' Altogether, a brilliant record which tackles an important issue.

8. Everything I Own / Boy George
Seemingly an outcast on this list, Boy George would not be your first choice to add to a ska/reggae playlist, but not only is this song absolutely spectacular, but it also channels massive reggae influences mixed with Boy George's pop element. This was the first of many dub-inspired songs that he would go on to create, because if you give his new album a listen then you can 100% hear the influences there. (the new album is called This Is How I Do, definitely recommend listening to it.)

9.  54-46 Was My Number? / Toots & The Maytals
Pretty much the soundtrack to the festivals I attend, it's breaking a tradition if you leave before having a skank to this song. A DJ at the past two scooter rally's I have been to is called Olas Boss (see photo below) and this song is his set closer always. He actually has the words tattoed on his forearm, so people expect this song. It's a phenomenal song, and if you listen to nothing else on this playlist, listen to this song. There's many versions of it, but nothing beats the original, which is the version listed on the playlist. 

10. My Boy Lollipop
Another skinhead anthem, this lively track sung by 'Millie' always gets people onto the floor. With a northern-soul-esque rhythm to it, it can usually spawn a display of talented dancers who spin and step-ball-change like nobody's business while the rest of us do the twist.. Either way, it's a funky as hell song and being only 2 minutes long, the childlike voice doesn't ever get too annoying. 

11. I'm In The Mood For Ska / The Skatalites
One of the original reggae bands from the 60's, The Skatalites, from Jamaica only initially lasted two years between 1963 and 1965, before breaking up. However, during the revival, they reformed and have played together ever since. This particular song was not released until 1995, but it is known as one of their most popular tracks outside of the 60's. Although in the title, it closely resembles a reggae track rather than a ska one, but it's still a very upbeat and unique song. 

12. Walking On The Mood / The Police
A more mainstream reggae record, The Police released this song in late 1979. Rather than using an excessive brass section, they use dirtier bass riffs and chord progressions to get that dub feel. The song itself combined their reggae influences with the mainstream style that The Police were just getting to grips with. It is also credited with partially bringing this style of reggae into the public eye.

13. On My Radio / The Selector
The second song on this playlist by ska band, The Selector. This song is one of my favourite records released by this band, and it's a total classic. Less heavy than a lot of the ska songs mentioned on this list, but just as fun. With a sort of bouncy rhythm to it, this song never fails to get the audience dancing and is a real floor filler. 

14. Green Onions / Booker T & The MG's
Definitely up there with my favourite songs ever released. Green Onions is the living embodiment of the word funky. Nothing gets a crowd skanking like Green Onions. I recently had the amazing chance to see this live, and it was a phenomenal experience. I originally heard this through the Quadrophenia soundtrack, while admiring Sting's dancing in that night club in Brighton. Although not in any way, shape or form a classic reggae or even ska track, this song came about in the thriving Mod subculture and stuck around ever since to be categorised alongside ska and reggae songs. I personally class it as one of those, and honestly think it's the best song released from the 1960's. 

Overall, I think ska/reggae music is something that everyone can and should enjoy. No matter what type of music you are into, give this playlist a listen and try and find at least one song makes you want to get up and dance.