The Origins of Ska with Seven Songs

The British Ska (also known as 2Tone) period during the late 1970’s and early 80’s was a time of tense political opinion in the U.K. With many periods like this great music is often the result.

The Ska sound originally from Jamaica predated the sounds of both rocksteady and reggae.

The distinct sound of Ska combined elements of American jazz with Caribbean mento and calypso along with rhythm and blues. Usually with a walking bass line and rhythms on the off-beat often on an electric bass.

The first elements of this music date back to the late 1950’s and early 60’s with legends like Prince Buster and would become the dominant music genre in the early 60’s in Jamaica and was also a favorite of British Mods.

Here is the track list:

  1. Prince Buster – Al Capone – 1967 (U.K.)
  2. Millie Small – Bloodshot Eyes – 1965
  3. Delroy Wilson – I Want Justice – 1965
  4. The Paragons – The Tide is High – 1966
  5. Desmond Dekker and the Aces – 007 Shanty Town – 1967
  6. The Ethiopians – Train to Skaville – 1967
  7. Toots and The Maytals – 54-46 That’s My Number – 1968

To find out more about each track keep reading

1.Prince Buster – Al Capone – 1967 (U.K.)

The first track is from someone who many consider Ska royalty – Prince Buster, Al Capone was released in 1967.

  • Formed: 1961 to 2016
  • Location: Kingston, Jamaica
  • Original Known Members: Prince Buster (Cecil Bustamente Campbell)

The music that Prince Buster (real name Cecil Bustamente Campbell) released in the 60’s influenced and shaped Jamaican Contemporary Music which both reggae and ska artists would draw on later.

His career began to slow down in the 1970s as the predominant style moved away from ska and rocksteady towards roots reggae.

The U.K. ska revival at the end of the 1970s that started with the 2-Tone label from Coventry introduced Campbell’s music to a new generation of listeners.

2.Millie Small – Bloodshot Eyes – 1965

Here is the amazing Millie Small from 1965 with the single Bloodshot Eyes.

  • Formed: 1962 to 1972
  • Location: Jamaica
  • Original Known Members: Millie Small

Bloodshot Eyes reached number 48 in the U.K. chart.

Mille Small also known as Little Millie Small began her career when she won a talent contest (Vere Johns Opportunity Hour), at the age of twelve.

She moved to London from Jamaica in late 1963 under the management of Chris Blackwell who found Island Records, which has been called “one of Britain’s great independent labels”

Her biggest hit was “My Boy Lollipop” which reached number two both in the UK Singles Chart and in the US Billboard Hot 100, and number three in Canada.

3.Delroy Wilson – I Want Justice – 1965

Staying in 1965 here is a track by Delroy Wilson, I Want Justice.

  • Formed: 1961 to late 1980’s
  • Location: Kingston, Jamaica
  • Original Known Members: Delroy Wilson

Beginning his career at the tender age of 13 he is known as Jamaica’s first child star. When his voice matured in his teen years it was around the time of Ska’s transition to rocksteady.

Wilson enjoyed reasonable success in the late 60’s and early 70’s and toured the U.K. in 1970. His enduring legacy to Jamaican music was recognised by a special plaque awarded him by the Jamaican government and presented by Prime Minister Patterson.

4.The Paragons – The Tide is High – 1966

John Holt the singer / song writer for The Paragons gave us this familiar tune in 1966, The Tide is High.

  • Formed: 1964 to 1970, late 1970’s to early 1980’s
  • Location: Jamaica
  • Original Known Members: Garth Evans (aka Tyrone Evans), Bob Andy, Junior Menz, Leroy Stamp

I’m sure many of you will recognise The Tide is High because in 1980 Blondie released her version which reached number one in the U.S. and the U.K.

It was also a number one hit for Atomic Kitten in 2002 – not bad for a song that is over 50 years old.

Holt pursued a solo career in 1970 but by the end of the decade The Paragons were back together and released new albums in the late 70’s and early 80’s

5.Desmond Dekker and the Aces – 007 Shanty Town – 1967

Let’s look at a 1967 rocksteady song by Jamaican band Desmond Dekker and the Aces – 007 Shanty Town.

  • Formed: 1963 to 2006
  • Location: Jamaica
  • Original Known Members: Desmond Dekker, Wilson James, Easton Barrington Howard

This was also a hit in 1983 for Musical Youth and is regarded as the most enduring rude boy song.

The term rude boy originates from 1960’s Jamaican street culture referring to discontented youths who wore sharp suits, thin ties and pork pie hats showing an influence from American Jazz fashion.

This same style would be adopted later by Ska fans in the U.K.

6.The Ethiopians – Train to Skaville – 1967

One of the most loved Jamaican harmony groups ‘The Ethiopians’ released this track Train to Skaville in 1967.

  • Formed: mid-1960’s to 2011
  • Location: Jamaica
  • Original Known Members: Leonard Dillon

The Ethiopians released a number of significant hits between the mid-60’s and early 70’s and were one of the first Jamaican acts to perform widely in the U.K. touring in 1968.

Train to Skaville had a big impact for the group overseas because it appeared briefly in the UK Top 40.

7.Toots and The Maytals – 54-46 That’s My Number – 1968

This next track by Toots and The Maytals has an interesting back story to it (keep reading) – 54-46 That’s My Number – from 1968.

  • Formed: 1962 to early 1980’s –  1990’s to Present
  • Location: Jamaica
  • Original Known Members: Frederick “Toots” Hibbert, Henry “Raleigh” Gordon, Nathaniel “Jerry” Mathias

The lyrics of 54-46 That’s my Number describe Toots’ time in prison, a follow up version would be released a year later entitled 54-46 Was My Number.

The song would later be covered by Aswad a British reggae group in 1983 but would only reach number 70 for them.

In 1978 The Clash paid tribute to the band with their song ‘Jail Guitar Doors’.

An interesting fact, their 1968 single “Do the Reggay”, was the first song to first use the word “reggae”, naming the genre and introducing it to a global audience.

Hope you enjoyed the list and the music.

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  1. Fascinating insight to the roots of ska, as I’ve only know about a handful of these songs even though I know most of the artists mentioned

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