Genre of the Week: First Generation Ska Revival

This one annoys me. I guess many of you will have heard of ska. A supposed "revival" of this sound was done in the late seventies/early eighties, known as second wave ska revival. Then in the nineties there was a pop-punk-influenced third wave of ska revival. Do you spot the fucking gaping hole?

That's right, where on earth in this very common story (retold countless times) is the first wave of ska revival? A lot of people just slate over it and pretend second wave revival is in fact just "second wave ska", but the standard nomenclature suggests otherwise.

It would just be a meaningless quirk of music history if first wave ska revival didn't exist. But it does, however briefly and trivially.

In 1969, by then ailing ska legend Prince Buster released a rocksteady-tinged early reggae track called Big Five, a "slackness" (bawdy) cover of Brook Benton's Rainy Night In Georgia. It was a moderate hit among the skinheads, but Buster was unable to follow it up properly. So a previously unknown london night club bouncer named Alex Hughes stepped in and released a follow-up (Big Six) under the name Judge Dread, and had a substantially bigger hit with his version. Then he spent the rest of his surprisingly long career releasing a number of other novelty reggae tunes, including obvious re-follow-up (and substantially bigger hit) Big Seven and a cover of Je T'aime.

They all sound a lot more early reggae than ska but there was a lot of nomenclature confusion in the early seventies, and Prince Buster was (supposedly) a "ska" artist so Judge Dread got labelled one too. There are also some ska artefacts in his music, like the harmonic progression. And anyway, sounding much more early reggae than ska never hindered later ska revival artists.

Judge Dread is a crucial bridge in the seventies between the ska of the sixties and the "ska" of the eighties. These days he's occasionally lumped together with the (by then dying) skinhead reggae, and sometimes with the later second wave, but he stands all on his own as the bearer of tradition and as the first wave of ska revival.

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