An estimated 92% of us experience earworms. Despite the annoying times we can’t get a chorus or a hook of an overplayed pop song out of our heads, getting a really good earworm stuck can be one of the best things, ever. We here at Nerdist are dead set on bringing you those types of songs—even if only for the weekend. So shove this into your grey matter!
I have spent a good part of my life defending my love of ska music while simultaneously being somewhat ashamed of doing so. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky enough to have a handful of friends who share in this love of horn-filled music so I’ve never felt I had to give up on it entirely. As part of this checkerboard patterned support group, there are times I will hear a classic ska song and feel the need to share it. In the past, that’s been limited to Facebook, email, and text messaging, but I’ve come to realize I can totally abuse the power this column grants me and go completely mad with music-sharing power. So yeah, the slight shame I feel in liking ska music ends today, my friends.
There are way too many songs to share to give the uninitiated a good grasp on all the great ska music out there in the ether so I have to choose wisely. The way I see it, if your goal is a central starting point for the genre you can’t do much better than some cover songs by The Specials. The following songs were great to begin with and when covered by the Specials become like a musical turducken that can serve as a central hub between all sorts of artists.
Should you already be a fan, I look forward to you sharing your favorites with me. If you hate ska entirely – I urge you to do your part and sarcastically send this article to that one ska-loving friend of yours who will thank you despite the attempted jab at their musical taste.
The Specials may just be the reason that ska bands everywhere focused so much of their time on making a good cover song. Their “2 Tone” ska eventually influenced “Third Wave” ska/punk like Operation Ivy, the Toasters, Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, and countless others. The best part of ska covers, at least in my mind, is that you don’t really need to choose allegiance as to “who did it better?” because these covers always seem to come from a place of real respect. They feel like they carve out their own place without harming the thought of the original. The original Toots and the Maytals version will always be the unrivaled version of the song and I’d like to think that everyone, including the Specials, would likely agree.
Not ones to cover just one great artist like Toots, the Specials also released their rendition of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1964 hit “Simmer Down.” Think about almost any other Bob Marley cover you’ve ever heard and how it just doesn’t seem right that the band is doing such a thing. The Specials’ version of this tune feels like it’s earned its place in the world and is immensely more respectful to a Marley tune than any jam band has ever been.
A Message to You Rudy
How could I not use this in a ska article consisting of cover songs by the Specials? This track is basically Ska Music 101 as far as I’m concerned and should be the prerequisite for anyone looking to move deeper into the genre. Should you somehow not know the song and still enjoy ska music, I implore you to explain how you’ve never come across it. The 1967 rocksteady song by Dandy Livingstone, originally titled “Rudy, A Message to You” didn’t have much traction until it was covered by the Specials in 1979.
Once this was written out, feeling the need to defend my love of this genre just seems silly now. Why does ska catch so much shade? Sure there’s some nonsense third-wave ska but every genre has those ridiculous low points. What could it be? What is it that makes so many people think someone who loves ska is such a dingus?
Oh yeah, forgot about all of that.
What are your thoughts on The Specials and ska music in general? What are your favorite ska covers? Let me know in the comments below!
Image: Wikimedia – Fantastic Price Records
Blake Rodgers writes for Nerdist from Chicago, IL where he lives happily with his Guinness World Record for High Fives. You can be his pal by following him on Twitter (@TheBlakeRodgers)