Ska music originated in Jamaica, and it’s viewed as the source of what would eventually become reggae. However, even though reggae became insanely popular, ska bands still exist even to this day. In fact, I think the names that appear in this list of the best ska bands of all time will probably surprise you.
From the UK, the band Madness had a number of hits in the late 70s and into the 80s, but I had to add them to the list. Their name is so apt as well as they were known for producing madcap videos for their songs. Expect a whole lot of fun and crazy lyrics from these guys, which is the reason why I love them. They can still excite huge audiences, and their tracks from 40 years ago are still being sung by the masses, which is an amazing spectacle to come across.
2. The Specials
Formed in 1977 in the UK, I think it’s fair to say that The Specials are one of the biggest ska bands of all time. One of their best songs was Ghost Town, and even though it’s not the heaviest track they ever produced, it gives a real insight into their talent when it comes to putting together a song. They are funky and groovy, and I feel that they are named aptly as well thanks to their musical skills. One thing I love about them is the way they could really slow things down at times and also explode into a real frenzy. It’s amazing.
3. Reel Big Fish
Reel Big Fish is carrying on the tradition of ska bands being fun-filled. These guys do take their music seriously but with such a smile on their faces at the same time. They became big in the mid-90s, and I do feel that was the highlight of their music. Check out the album Turn The Radio Off to get a real sense of how cool they are as a band. You may not even feel as if you are listening to ska punk when you put them on at first. But hold on and those familiar ska tones and tempo will soon erupt through your speakers.
4. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
This band was cool, and they knew how to throw together a song. This was absolute full-on ska music played with gusto, style, and a whole lot of energy. I’m talking about brass sections playing full blast, and those groovy tones you expect from ska music
. There was really nothing not to like about them. They had a few mainstream hits, but I think they are one of the bands that should have had even more success thanks to the sheer joy they could produce in their music.
5. The Skatalites
Hailing from Jamaica, The Skatalites were initially formed in 1963 but only played for two years. However, they came back in 1983 and continue to play to this day, with new members added in. This is the original ska music, and there’s something electric about what they play. Also, it just lets you go back in time to what ska music was like all those years ago. I just think they deserve this place on my list because they remove any modern-day take on ska music and transport you back in time like a time machine.
6. Less Than Jake
Formed in 1992, this ska punk band just doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down. They play with the same enthusiasm as they did when they started 30 years ago, and I find that impressive. They just love to be upbeat and positive in their songs, but that’s not exactly a bad thing, is it? Actually, some could argue they can go over the top with the energy they create, so expect to feel buzzing by the time you have finished listening to their music.
7. Bad Manners
This English ska band is led by Buster Bloodvessel, and they have been entertaining crowds since 1976. The energy they put into their songs is astonishing, and you know from the first few bars of their tracks that you are entering some kind of ska paradise. He is an amazing frontman, and even though they have been doing this for close to 50 years, you would think they had just started because of their energy and enthusiasm for music.
8. Streetlight Manifesto
Formed in 2002, this ska punk band hails from New Jersey. They tend to include some political messages in their music, but that’s not something that should put you off listening to them. Instead, it’s the funky tunes and ability to pull together some cool melodies, which has led me to put them on my list. This is ska music you can really groove along to, and that’s such an amazing thing in my book.
I admit that Fishbone is a band only ska lovers may have heard of, but they deserve greater success. Formed in 1979, they blend together their concept of party music mixed with some politics and personal protests. In other words, they pack a lot into a song, and that’s why you need to really pay attention when listening. It’s only then that you will get a real sense of what they are about as a band.
10. The Aggrolites
This band was formed in 2002, and they move between straight-out ska music and more reggae styles. I do love that change in styles as it spices things up more than you would usually expect. However, the one thing you do know in advance is that this band is lively and capable of putting on an amazing show. Also, their songs will have you tapping along in next to no time even if you had no intention of doing that in the first place. It’s just happy music, and we need more of that.
Goldfinger is another one of those bands I just couldn’t leave off this list. Formed in 1994, they have moved from ska-punk to more punk rock and back again. They were actually part of the third wave of ska and helped push the genre into the mainstream. Their energy and vibe will infect you, and you may even become a ska fan after listening to them. Even if that’s not the case, I think Goldfinger could very well make it onto your playlist.
Formed in 1994, Ska-P is actually a Spanish ska band, but their songs will be very familiar to any individual who loves ska music. They are certainly a bit hardcore when it comes to their political stance on things, but if you look beyond all of that, what you have here is a classic ska punk band that knows a thing or two about getting you up and being absorbed in their music.
13. Catch 22
Formed in 1996, this band was forced into changing their lineup after just a couple of years, but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to make amazing music over the years. Filled with energy and the ability to really bounce around between songs, they will leave you feeling far more upbeat and alive than you did before you blasted them through your speakers. Even your speakers will start to bounce around feeling happy at the music you are playing through them.
14. Mad Caddies
Formed in 1995, this band has so far produced seven different albums, and I find it sad they have not had the same impact as other ska bands. One thing they love is to incorporate horns into their music, and even though there are times when it feels as if they do it too much, you cannot help but feel filled with joy as a direct result of the speed and vibe coming from their music. A warning though, this band is fast and frantic, but it’s fun trying to keep up with them.
15. The Interrupters
This ska punk band was formed in 2011, and I’ve included them as the lead vocals, courtesy of Aimee Allan. They are outstanding and add so much passion and power to their music. There’s nothing different about their approach to ska punk, but there’s no doubt they cover everything you expect from the genre. It’s explosive, it’s groovy, and this more modern approach to ska punk will blow your socks off.
Formed in 1991, this band has managed to tour the world with their approach to ska music, and it’s easy to see why they are so popular as soon as you listen to their tracks. Their biggest album was in the 90s and called Twenty-Eight Teeth, and it’s probably also one of their best. Expect all the usual vibes and multi-instrumental approach when you fire up music from this ska band.
Formed in 1997, they were part of that third wave of ska music that swept across the States in the late 90s. However, they stuck to the roots of ska music, and I also love how everyone says they are the coolest band you will ever come across. They see music as being nothing more than fun, and that comes across loud and clear in their songs. I think they are an absolute must for you to listen to.
Even though they are now more of a punk rock band, Rancid did also incorporate ska punk into their sets. Formed back in 1991, they were at the front of the new punk movement, and they did the same for the ska element as well. Expect a roughness to their sound, and play it loud as it’s the only way you can ever hope to enjoy this music.
19. The Suicide Machines
Incorporating both ska punk and punk rock music, The Suicide Machines have a certain crazy feel to their music, and that also comes across in the energy that they create in each song. There’s a sense of real madness when you run into their music, and even though they have been around for years, they have the same insane approach as they have always done.
Formed in 1988, this ska band rocked for 20 years until 2008. During that time, they brought their own madcap approach to ska music to crowds around the country, and their concerts were known for their own manic energy that constantly excited their audience. But they also loved to inject a lot of fun and humor into their tracks. You never knew where they would go with their songs, and I just love that sense of unpredictability.
21. The Allstonians
This band really came to the fore in the 90s, and they still perform for audiences today. They blend both ska and reggae which makes sense considering the roots of ska music. I love how they did stick to the origins of the genre, so expect a multitude of instruments brought together in a cool and fun way. This is non-aggressive ska music the way it was designed to be.
Capdown is a band from the UK that blends together punk, rock, and ska into their music. This is a fantastic mix, and it does mean you have the opportunity to see how three different genres can actually work together well. This is something they do with confidence, and even though it’s not all-out ska music, I still think they are worth adding to the list thanks to their musical ability.
23. New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble
The name of this band is self-explanatory as to the type of music they produce, and I do love the combination you get with them. Formed in 1994, they have gone through various members, but their style of music and those catchy tunes remain the same. Overall, I just love them because of the way they take two completely different styles and push them together in ways you never imagined.
24. Five Iron Frenzy
Formed in 1995, Five Iron Frenzy love to really bring a sense of humor into their music, and that is certainly something that comes across loud and clear. Their music has a real off-beat feel to it, but it’s the kind of thing you can listen to with a real smile on your face. They jump around, bring a whole lot of energy to their music, and they will also get you up and dancing even if you are just listening at home.
25. We are the Union
Formed in 2005, this ska punk band blends influences from the 90s as well as around their own time, and it does result in a pretty unique sound that is still strongly ska. I think this band has an insane ability to pick you up and carry you along through their music, and I promise you will love the ride they take you on. Their lyrics are inventive, and so are their melodies. I don’t believe you need to be a huge ska fan to really love the music they produce.
Barry has worked as a freelance writer for over a decade and has developed an eye for detail when it comes to unearthing cool and interesting facts.
His love of music stems from his student days checking out up and coming bands playing in the darkest corners of bars and clubs in Edinburgh.
The love of uncovering something new also remains with him. With an appreciation for music that’s best described as eclectic, his musical tastes range from Eric Clapton to Eminem through to Snow Patrol and Incubus. The memories that music can bring back to the fore is something he tries to portray in his writing.
For him, the voyage of discovery and unearthing something new is what makes this task of writing for MusicGrotto.com so interesting.