Various Artists

This Is Ska!: 16 Original Ska Classics

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The second wave of ska erupted in England via Coventry in the late '70s and early '80s, in the midst of an incredibly fertile post-punk era. The tangents went in so many different directions and produced such lasting, varied sounds that it could now be called a "golden age" for creative music. And the ska revival was a fine moment indeed. You can't find many with an unkind word for the early 2 Tone label works of the Specials, Madness, Selector, the English Beat, Bodysnatchers, Rico, Swinging Cats, and later Bad Manners. These often-integrated groups mixed great style, rocksteady grooves, anti-racist feeling, and sociopolitical comment, which made them perhaps the finest full-on "revival" of any kind in music history. And certainly the "third wave" U.S. bands have their proponents, both for the top-end practitioners such as No Doubt, Rancid (post-Operation Ivy), and Mighty Mighty Bosstones, or the better lower end, such as Mephiskapheles, Scofflaws, Insteps, Dance Hall Crashers, and the Toasters. But what about the original scene, the 1962-1970, pre-reggae Jamaican sound? Perhaps the most fun, relaxing, smile-producing flavor in music since New Orleans Dixieland and R&B? This Is Ska! ladles it all up -- the good-time, utterly danceable, often instrumental (with happily chirping horns), therapeutic, truly gleeful music that arose from some of the deepest, most poverty-stricken ghettos in the Western World as an answer (and f*ck you) to the misery. It has the grace, tranquility, and easygoing cheer of a tropical spring day, of a lemonade and a hammock. It's completely lovable, and makes perfect use of the warm tube tones of mid-'60s recording, with throbbing bass a specialty. Perhaps This Is Ska! can be criticized as being incomplete. It lacks the genre's two biggest stars, Prince Buster and Laurel Aitken. But even without such leading lights, this sampler is representative, and includes the three most famous songs of that original era: the Skatalites' "Guns of Navarone," the Ethiopians' "Train to Skaville," and Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, a Message to You." With the additional presence of Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, and the Upsetters, there's no shortage of lasting talent.

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