The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 917: The Post-Punk Explosion part 6: Ska

Every once in a while, music enters a period of flux where the direction of everything is, to put it charitably, undefined. All bets seem to be off, the rulebook declared invalid, and everyone is off doing their own thing. We hear and see and feel change, but we’re not sure what it all means just yet. Something is coming. But what?

I’ll give you an example. In the mid-to-late 1950s Britain, popular music was evolving and mutating very quickly. In the midst of the popularity of imported rock’n’roll records, the skiffle craze, and various flavours of folk music, some young people rejected contemporary sounds in favour of something that became known as “trad jazz.”

This was a revival of something close to Dixieland jazz from New Orleans, which emerged roughly around the same time as WWI. That meant music made with trumpets, trombones, clarient, the banjo, and upright bass. The new trad jazz acts mined what they believed to be the more pure, more authentic sounds of the past, hoping to be inspired again.

And it worked–for a while, anyway. Trad jazz actually carried over until the middle 60s. Everything from pop songs to nursery rhymes was fair game for trad jazz arrangements. If you want to explore what I’m talking about, look up Acker Bilk. He was seriously huge for a while.

I’ll give you another example, something that tangentially related to trad jazz. It also has its roots in Dixieland but took a big detour through the Caribbean before appearing in central Britain at the end of the 70s.

That was also a time when the direction of music seemed undefined. On the bright side, it meant that nothing was off-limits or out of bounds. It was the post-punk era. Popular music had been shaken up by punk so much that people were more willing than ever to try new paths.

This is part six of our look at the post-punk explosion: the time of ska.

Songs on this program:

  • The Specials, Enjoy Yourself
  • Prince Buster, Al Capone
  • The Skatallites, Tear Up
  • Desmond Dekker, The Israelits
  • The Specials, Gangsters
  • The Selector, The Selector
  • Madness, One Step Beyond
  • Bad Manners, Lip Up Fatty
  • English Beat, Mirror in the Bathroom
  • The Specials, Ghost Town

And here’s Eric Wilhite’s playlist:

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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