Our top 10 songs from The Skatalites list looks at the body of work of a Jamaican band famed for its ska and reggae sound. Before the band’s formation in 1964, its founding members spent almost nine years playing music together. However, saxophonist Tommy McCook had started his indulgence in music before the founding members of The Skatalites met. All through, Tommy played music around Kingston.
Surprisingly, Tommy had established his career as a jazzman. All though he resisted playing ska at first, he later gave when The Skatalites was established. The band’s first show was a surprise to many. Initially, The Skatalites got into a club for rehearsals. However, many people came to see them, spreading information about this new ensemble in town. The Skatalites released music while working with other musicians, including The Wailers, Delroy Wilson, Lee Perry, and Desmond Dekker.
Before the band rose to international fame, tough days quickly set in. One of The Skatalites’ prominent composers, trombonist Don Drummond, was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend. Don later died in 1969 at an asylum he had been remanded. Eventually, the band broke up with its members forming two supergroups, each led by Rolando Alphonso and Tommy McCook. While releasing music as The Skatalites, the band had recorded and issued the song “Guns of Navarone.”
“Guns of Navarone” would enter the top 40 songs on the UK Singles Chart in 1967. If anything, this served as a reminder to the band’s members that they were better together as The Skatalites. After a lengthy contemplative period, The Skatalites made their first reunion credit to bassist Lloyd Brevett who was releasing a solo album. The band would later join hands in recording an album for record producer Chris Blackwell.
Chris Blackwell is famously known for his immense work with successful artists, including Toots and The Maytals, U2, Bob Marley, and Grace Jones. However, the album recorded with The Skatalites was not released. This followed disagreements between Tommy and Chris Blackwell. Later, The Skatalites pursued their musical journey in 1983, credit to director Ronnie Burke who helped reunite its members.
The Skatalites had a successful show at the Reggae Sunsplash Festival. Thanks to Ronnie, the band rekindled its fire attending more concerts in Jamaica and international tours. Not a single of its founding members was left out in the rejuvenated band. Only the late Don missed out, with his position taken by other guest artists. In 1984, The Skatalites entered the studio to record a new studio album.
The Return of The Big Guns (1984) was the band’s new album released under Mango Records. Performing in the US is a lifelong dream for many international artists. The Skatalites attended their first US concert in the 1980s. After playing music as a support act to their friend Bunny Wailers in the US, The Skatalites signed a recording contract with Shanachie Records.
Under the Shanachie record label, the band released many songs, some of which were nominated for Grammy Awards. The Skatalites were later featured on True Love (2004), a Toots and The Maytals album. Other artists featured on the album included Eric Clapton, Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson, Jeff Beck, and No Doubt. Even though the album consisted of re-recorded songs alone, it won a Grammys for the Best Reggae Album. Here we present the best songs from The Skatalites.
#10- Freedom Sounds
Ushering us to the top 10 songs from The Skatalites is the hit “Freedom Sounds.” The song serves as a splendid introduction to the band’s album Ska Authentic. “Freedom Sounds” is delivered in a magnificent tune that blends ska and reggae elements. The saxophone in the song adds to its melodic vibe.
#9 – Ringo Rides
“Ringo Rides” is one of the most decorated songs from The Skatalites’ album, Ska-Boo-Da-Ba (1998). This album was a re-issue of the band’s 1966 album under the same name. The lightness and charm that the song offers make it quite a hit. While the sax feels a little prominent, you ought to love its great basslines, thanks to Lloyd Brevett.
#8 – James Bond Theme
Ball of Fire (1997) was released under Island Records after The Skatalites reunited. The album contains releases that have been reworked. “James Bond Theme” is one of the musical gems from the album. Seven minutes were just enough for The Skatalites to give their best on the song’s instrumental. However, the trombone and saxophone tower over other instruments in this release.
#7 – Wood and Water
When The Skatalites released their album Greetings from Skamania (1996), they barely knew that they would have it nominated for a Grammy Award. This was the band’s second time to have an album nominated for a Grammy Awards in the Best Reggae Album category.
Thanks to songs like “Wood and Water,” Greetings from Skamania (1996) reached such feats. The album lost to Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley’s 50th Anniversary (1995) by Bunny Wailer. Other artists nominated for the award were Gregory Isaacs, Sister Carol, and Maxi Priest.
#6 – Street Corner
Coming in at number six on our top 10 songs from The Skatalites is “Street Corner.” The song prominently features a reggae tune. Its uptempo yet harmonious instrumental gives you a reason to shake your head thanks to its catchiness. The drums in this song are beautiful and powerful, having them complement the saxophone’s sound.
#5- Ska Ska Ska
Striking a record deal with the American label Shanachie Records awarded The Skatalites greater fame in their musical career. This followed the release of albums that had the band nominated for the Grammys. Hi-Bop Ska! The 30th Anniversary Recording (1994) was the band’s first album nominated for a Grammy Award.
“Ska Ska Ska” is one of the best releases from the album. The song features relaxed vocals superimposed on an instrumental that oozes mellow beauty. Hi-Bop Ska! The 30th Anniversary Recording (1994) lost the award to “Bombastic” by Shaggy. Other artists who saw their albums nominated for the award include Burning Spear, Third World, and Ziggy Marley and The Melody Makers.
“Dynamite” is a genius release that will leave your jaws dropping. If you are looking for the songs that define Jamaican music, then “Dynamite” is a must-have on your list. While the song is more of a ska release, it features some reggae elements. Trumpets and the sax adds glamour to the song’s overall feel. Other artists to release a song under this title include Taio Cruz, BTS, and Sean Paul, featuring Sia.
#3- Guns of Navarone
When The Skatalites were still a new ensemble, its members recorded and released the hit “Guns of Navarone.” It was the band’s first song to feature on the top 40 on the UK Singles Chart. “Guns of Navarone” had its lyrics penned by Paul Webster with the music composed by Dimitri Tiomkin. Sean Paul released a song under the same title in 2020.
#2- Swing Easy
“Swing Easy” is a musical gem that brings out the authentic reggae feel in The Skatalites’ music. The song is featured on the band’s album Ball of Fire (1997). The reggae band Sound Dimension initially released “Swing Easy” in the mid-’60s.
#1- Rock Fort Rock
Coming in at number one on our top 10 songs from The Skatalites is the hit “Rock Fort Rock.” No song by The Skatalites has been popular than this release. The Skatalites established themselves as legendary instrumentalists with the release of this masterpiece. While the song is a ska release, its sound is spiced up with reggae, jazz, and Caribbean elements.
Top 10 Songs From The Skatalites article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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