Tuesday, December 30, 2008


In the dead of winter, you dream of warmer climes—such as the Caribbean. Jamaica, for instance. About the time Elvis was popularizing rock ‘n’ roll in 1956, a group of young black men in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica were transforming American rhythm and blues, that they picked up from radio stations located in Miami and New Orleans, into ska. The called themselves the Skatalites after the Jamaican English imitation of the music’s energetic rhythm, ska-aska-ska-aksa. While ska antedated both rocksteady and reggae (the latter a form of ska that incorporated Rastafarian-derived rhythms—or “ridims”), interest in late 50s and early 60s ska surged as a result of the 2 Tone movement in Britain in the mid to late 1970s, a form of music that developed as a result of British bands re-inventing the Jamaican music they heard growing up—bands such as The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, The Beat, Bad Manners, and The Bodysnatchers. While 2 Tone records were imported into the United States, those whose tastes inclined toward punk encountered the British form of ska through bands such as the Clash. The evidence for this can be found in the soundtracks of two films. Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves” (1976) appeared in Guy Ritchie’s LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998), a British film, while the Clash’s version (1977) was used in Wes Anderson’s THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001), an American film.

Interviewed by Michael Jarrett in May 1995, Mick Jones, former lead guitarist with the Clash, explained how reggae and ska became forms of music embraced by punk rockers:

Reggae was punk’s other chosen music. There weren’t enough good punk records, and so DJs used to supplement them with what was happening on the reggae scene. One of the main DJs was Don Letts.... He used to turn everybody on to new records from Jamaica. Also, where we grew up [in Brixton], there was a big West Indian population. There was bluebeat and ska--before reggae. We grew up around that music as well. In the way that the Stones used to cover the latest r&b hits, when they started, the Clash did “Police and Thieves.” It was the latest hit of that summer [1976]. That’s how we ended up doing it. We weren’t trying to do reggae. We were trying to do our approximation--where we were coming from. It turned out differently. It wasn’t like the Police doing a “wet” reggae thing. (166-67)

Various, A Checkered Past: The 2 Tone Collection (Chrysalis)
Various, The Real Jamaica Ska (Sony)
Various, Roots of Reggae, Volume One: Ska (Rhino)
Various, Respect to Studio One: 33 Dancehall, Reggae and Ska Classics (Heartbeat)
Various, The Rough Guide to Ska (World Music Network)

“Police and Thieves”:
by Junior Murvin - This Is Reggae Music, Vol. 3 (Island)
by The Clash - The Clash (Sony)

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