Which Ska band was the first one you ever heard? “Too Much Pressure”, perhaps? Or “Monkey Man”? If it was either of those, you’d been missing out on some great bands for a long time! The following band deserves some credit for paving the way for modern ska and bringing it from obscurity into mainstream music, so we’re giving them the recognition they’ve earned. This list is a compilation of the 23 best Ska bands. Whether your favorite ska band made a list or not, feel free to add it with a comment!
Table of Contents
- 1. The Specials
- 2. Madness
- 3. Toots & The Maytals
- 4. The Beat
- 5. The Skatalites
- 6. The Toasters
- 7. Dance Hall Crashers
- 8. Bad Manners
- 9. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
- 10. Skankin’ Pickle
- 11. The Selecter
- 12. Fishbone
- 13. Bim Skala Bim
- 14. Hepcat
- 15. Streetlight Manifesto
- 16. The Aquabats
- 17. Operation Ivy
- 18. Less Than Jake
- 19. Rancid
- 20. The Slackers
- 21. Reel Big Fish
- 22. The Aggrolites
- 23. Sublime
1. The Specials
Ska revival band from England In The Specials, often known as The Special AKA, was founded in Coventry in 1977. The band’s music combines various styles, including ska, rocksteady, reggae, and soul. The Specials are regarded as one of the essential bands in the 2 Tone movement and one of its founding bands. Their first single, “Gangsters”, an attack on the British music industry, remains their best-known song.
Madness is an English ska band from Camden Town, London, formed in 1976. No members of the original Madness, including Geraldine “Jabberwocky” Mary Clarke and Michael “Chrissy Boy” Clempson, have left the group.
3. Toots & The Maytals
One of the most well-known ska and rocksteady vocal ensembles is the Jamaican group The Maytals, also known as Toots and the Maytals, from 1972 to 2020. The Maytals, instrumental in making reggae music mainstream, were founded in the early 1960s. They are known for hit singles such as “Punky Reggae Party”, “Pressure Drop”, “(Come On) Let’s Be Greezy,” and “Do the Reggay.”
4. The Beat
The Beat is a British 2 Tone and ska revival band formed in England in 1978. The group was fronted by Dave Wakeling, Ranking Roger, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, and Saxa, a.k.a. Lionel Augustus Martin. Their music combines punk rock, ska, pop, soul, and Latin. They have released more than 20 singles since 1982 and five studio albums since their reformation in 1988.
5. The Skatalites
The Jamaican ska band The Skatalites has been performing since the late 1960s and has had a significant role in spreading ska music across the globe. The founders of the Skatalites were musicians Tommy McCook, Rolando Alphonso, Lester Sterling, Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb, Don Drummond, Jah Jerry Haynes, Jackie Mittoo, and Johnny Moore. They played on records by Prince Buster and backed many other Jamaican artists who recorded during that period, including Bob Marley & The Wailers, on their first single, “Simmer Down.”
6. The Toasters
One of the first American second-wave ska bands is The Toasters. The group formed in New York City in 1981 and has produced nine studio albums, mostly under Moon Ska Records. In 1983, the group self-released “Beat Up,” their debut single. Recriminations, their debut EP produced by Joe Jackson, was recorded in 1985.
7. Dance Hall Crashers
Dance Hall Crashers, sometimes known as DHC, is an American ska punk group founded in Berkeley, California, in 1989. Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman, former members of Operation Ivy, originally formed the band, which has had a variety of lineups throughout its career. The most recent lineup (last in action in 2004) featured Elyse Rogers and Karina Deniké on vocals, brothers Jason and Gavin Hammon on guitar and drums, and Mikey Weiss on bass.
8. Bad Manners
English two-tone and ska group Bad Manners is fronted by Buster Bloodvessel. Two early performances were top of the Pops and the live documentary Dance Craze. They debuted in 1976 with the release of their album “Ska ‘n’ B”. Although their earlier recordings were rooted in traditional ska and reggae, they are best known for their third studio album, “Ska ‘n’ B”, which blended ska with a punk rock sound.
9. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were a Boston, Massachusetts-based ska punk group founded in 1983. The Bosstones are frequently recognized as one of the forerunners of the ska punk style known as ska-core, which combines ska with hardcore punk elements. The band began touring and recording heavily in the 1990s after the release of their 1989 debut, Devil’s Night Out. They significantly impacted the growth of the American third-wave ska genre. It is of the first bands to popularize the genre among a wider audience of musicians.
10. Skankin’ Pickle
American ska punk group Skankin’ Pickle was active from 1989 to 1997 and was founded in San Jose, California. Traditional ska, punk, funk, hardcore punk, rock, reggae, rap, hip-hop, speed metal, and polka were regularly used by the group in their music. Dr. Strange Records released its debut album in 1993.
11. The Selecter
The Selecter are a ska band from Coventry, England. It was formed in 1979. The Special AKA’s hit tune “Gangsters,” the first 2 Tone Records single, was the b-side of their debut single, also titled “The Selecter.” It was released in March 1979 and reached its UK Charts high at position six.
A combination of ska, punk, funk, metal, reggae, and soul music is played by the American rock group Fishbone, founded in Los Angeles in 1979. According to AllMusic, one of the most distinctive and diverse alternative rock bands of the late ’80s is this quartet. In their early years, Fishbone was primarily regarded as a ska and funk band, but as time went on, they became more guitar-driven, focusing on rock and soul music.
13. Bim Skala Bim
Skala Bim Bim, a ska group from Boston, was inspired by the bands of the two-tone movement in England and musicians like the Clash, UB40, and Bob Marley. Since its formation in 1983, Bim Skala Bim has released twelve LPs, won ten Boston Music Awards, and eight Boston Phoenix Reader’s Poll awards, and was twice named “Best of Boston” by Boston magazine. The “Bones” album by Bim Skala Bim was ranked 19th in the “Boston Top 40 Albums of All Time” list by Boston Business Journal in March 2013.
A ska and reggae group called Hepcat was founded in southern California in 1989. Their deep harmonies and laid-back rhythms were unlike those of their contemporaries and more reminiscent of performers from the 1960s first wave of Jamaican ska, including soul, jazz, and R&B influences. Out of Nowhere, Hepcat’s debut album was released in 1993 by the ska label Moon Records in New York.
15. Streetlight Manifesto
American ska punk band Streetlight Manifesto is from New Brunswick, New Jersey. Tomas Kalnoky, the band’s guitarist and singer, started it in 2002. Streetlight Manifesto is renowned for its political songs that personify social problems and focus on sociopolitical themes. Everything Goes Numb, their debut album, was distributed by Victory Records in 2003. In 2003, the group headlined and sold out their debut performance at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
16. The Aquabats
The MC Bat Commander, also known as Christian Jacobs, founded the American rock group The Aquabats in Huntington Beach, California, in 1994. Although they have been active since the 1990s, their popularity has grown significantly since the launch of their Cartoon Network television series, “The Aquabats! Super Show!” in 2012. On June 13, 2017, the show was terminated after two seasons; nevertheless, a live-action film with the same name is expected to be released in 2019.
17. Operation Ivy
American punk music group Operation Ivy was founded in Berkeley, California, in May 1987. The group significantly impacted the development of Lookout Records and the so-called “East Bay Sound” because they were one of the first to combine aspects of hardcore punk and ska into a new hybrid known as ska punk.
18. Less Than Jake
Gainesville, Florida-based Less Than Jake is an American ska punk band founded in 1992. Chris DeMakes sings for the ensemble, including Roger Lima on trumpet, Vinnie Fiorello on trombone, Joe Gittleman on percussion, and Peter “JR” Wasilewski on trombone (bass). Pecore, the group’s debut album, was released in 1995. Their latest full-length record was Borders & Boundaries, released on March 17, 2018.
The Berkeley, California-based punk music group Rancid was founded in 1991. In 1994 guitarist and vocalist Tim Armstrong released his first solo album, Tim Timebomb, and gained significant popularity after signing with major label Hellcat Records. Rancid’s first release for that label was the 1996 EP Let’s Go. The band’s second studio album, Ruby Soho (1997), was a commercial success, peaking at number nine on the “Billboard” 200.
20. The Slackers
American ska group, The Slackers, was established in 1991 in Manhattan, New York. The band’s music combines various genres, including jazz, ska, rocksteady, reggae, and dub. The Slackers’ fame is due to their long history, extensive tours of North America, Europe, and other continents, and signing with illustrious punk label Hellcat Records.
21. Reel Big Fish
Reel Big Fish is an American rock band formed in 1991 in Orange County, California. The band was founded by vocalist and guitarist Aaron Barrett, guitarist and backing vocalist Matt Wong, bassist and backing vocalist Brian “Scoop” Niedermeyer, and drummer Pat Bunch. The band’s name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Coen Brothers film Fargo.
22. The Aggrolites
The Aggrolites is a 2002-founded American reggae band based in Los Angeles, California. They are to create tracks for a new Derrick Morgan album after forming in 2002 to support the reggae legend live. Although the project was never released, the Aggrolites were inspired by the recording sessions to form a regular band.
American ska punk group Sublime was founded in 1988 and is based in Long Beach, California. The band has garnered attention and critical acclaim for its fusion of musical styles, touching on reggae, punk rock, ska, surf music, and hip hop. The band was notable for Singles such as “What I Got”, “Santeria,” and “Doin Time”.