2 Tone on TV: The ska revival's greatest hits | Virgin Media
2 Tone on TV: The ska revival's greatest hits

2 Tone on TV: The ska revival's greatest hits



On Friday night (13 May) Sky Arts celebrates 2 Tone, the Coventry record label set up in 1979 by The Specials' keyboard player Jerry Dammers. More than a label, it came to stand for a whole genre of music – the UK ska revival of the late 1970s and early 1980s – and a whole natty way of dressing and chucking yourself around the stage. To whet your appetite for the shows, here are some of 2 Tone's finest cuts.


Madness: The Prince

Camden nutty boys Madness didn't stick around on 2 Tone long – just long enough to put out their debut single, this tribute to Jamaican ska pioneer Prince Buster – but they were near-synonymous with 2 Tone even after they'd jumped ship to Stiff Records.

Suggs, Chas Smash and the rest of the Los Palmas 7 did the canny thing and added a pure pop sensibility to their version of ska. It ensured their place as one of the leading chart acts of the 1980s. It Must Be Love, Baggy Trousers, Our House, Wings Of A Dove, House Of Fun, the list goes on – just count those hits.

The Selecter: On My Radio

Just two years on the scene, with a solid four Top 40 hits, The Selecter burned bright. The very first 2 Tone single was a split 7", The Special AKA (as The Specials were initially called) on one side with Gangsters, The Selecter on the other with, um, The Selecter.

But their big breakthrough was On My Radio, perhaps the ska revival's catchiest moment, with a shining vocal from charismatic singer Pauline Black. It hit the top 10, but Black would be gone within a year and the rest of the band would be finished by 1981. However, they're back! Back! BACK! with Black leading her own version of The Selecter after winning a couple of legal scraps.


The Beat: Tears Of A Clown

Admittedly, Birmingham's The Beat didn't write this one but they certainly – as Sir Simon Cowell might say – "made it their own". The Specials' Jerry Dammers had often envisioned 2 Tone as a Midlands Motown, so Dave Wakeling and colleagues made it a kind-of reality with this choppy version of the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles classic.

FUN FACT: Wonky-dancing Beat guitarists David Steele and Andy Cox went on to be the wonky-dancing guitarists in late-80s pop-soul trio Fine Young Cannibals.


The Bodysnatchers: Let's Do Rock Steady

In fairly standard 2 Tone style, The Bodysnatchers were a going concern for just two years, 1979-1981, the glory days. A seven-piece female band from London, they were fronted by Rhoda Dakar who'd go on to provide the lead vocals for terrifying Specials single The Boiler.

The Bodysnatchers' sole hit (this one, right here) only reached number 22 in the UK charts, but is possibly the most hyperactive thing ever to have appeared on Top Of The Pops. Deep breaths now.


The Specials: Ghost Town

Where it all ended. Released in June 1981, Ghost Town was neither the last single of the 2 Tone movement nor the last we'd hear of The Specials in some shape or form, but it still felt like the end of an era.

Its release coincided with inner-city riots across the country and the song's eerie, sickly vibe (not to mention an oddly prescient lyric) chimed perfectly with the times. It went to number one with society crumbling around it. All that optimism down the tubes. Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple quit to form the Fun Boy Three and the 2 Tone story dissolved around them. What a ride though.

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