The 20 Best Ska Songs of All-Time

two-tone-logo1-skaI’ve been a fan of ska music was since I was a teenager. I played the trombone in the marching band, so I always thought I would make a ska band one day, but I wasn’t really good at it.

There are many ska bands that broke into the mainstream, but some of the best bands never reached that level.

I formed a list of the 20 best ska songs of all-time. I didn’t want to repeat bands, so I didn’t list ten Operation Ivy tracks, which would probably happen. I know I didn’t list The Toasters, The Specials and some of the other great ska bands, but it was hard to narrow down this list to only 20 songs.

Here are the top 20 ska songs of all-time (in no particular order).

Operation Ivy – “Sound System”
You can’t make a list of the best ska music of all-time without including Operation Ivy first. They influenced so many modern-day ska and punk bands. They are on the Mount Rushmore of ska music.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “The Impression That I Get”
When the Bosstones charted on the Billboard Hot 100, the genre hit the mainstream. It was important for the growth of the genre.
Mephiskapheles- “The Bumble Bee Tuna Song”
“El Coo Cool” was one of the first ska song I heard, but “The Bumble Bee Tuna Song” was the first. My friend had this song on a mixtape a friend made for him. Yes, it was an actual cassette tape. I nearly worn out the tape from rewinding it over and over again.
The Suicide Machines – “Hey”
The Suicide Machines was one of the most popular ska bands to emerge in the late-90’s. If you were a fan of ska/punk and lived in the Midwest, you probably made a trip up to Detroit to see them play live.
Slapstick – “There’s a Metalhead In The Parking Lot”
Slapstick was only together for a few short years, but they made an impact. They became more popular as years went by and even reunited a few times to play a show. The bass player of Slapstick went on to join Alkaline Trio.
Less Than Jake – “History of a Boring Town
Less Than Jake was another ska band to breakout in the late-90’s. I remember buying their “Losing Streak” album in high school and trying to play the songs on my trombone (yes, I was a band geek).
Random Hand – “Anger Management”
Random Hand is one of the newer bands/songs on this list. They are a British ska-core band. A genre that is slowly going extinct.
Streetlight Manifesto – “Here’s to Life”
Streetlight Manifesto made a name for themselves when they released “Everything Goes Numb” in 2003. They are still together and actively tour. They also just released the album “The Hands That Theive”.
Reel Big Fish – “Take On Me”
A few ska bands recorded covers that made them very popular. The most popular ska cover would be Reel Big Fish’s “Take On Me”. Even though they released better songs than the A-Ha cover, they’ll always be remembered for this song.
Save Ferris – “The World Is New”
Like Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris recorded a cover of “Come On Eileen” that pushed them to the mainstream. I liked that cover a lot, but “The World Is New” best suits their style. They released a few albums, but hits were few and far between.
Goldfinger – “Superman”
Most people would remember this song as being used in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater game series on Playstation. Goldfinger has bigger hits, but for some reason this song is the one they’re best known for.
Jeffries Fan Club – “Dream Girl”
Jeffries Fan Club wasn’t a widely-known ska band, but they influenced a lot of bands. They were only together for five years, but recorded some great ska music.
Sublime – “Date Rape”
Not many people associate Sublime as being a ska band, but they did release a few ska songs early in their career. “Date Rape’ is the most popular of them.
The Aquabats – “Idiot Box”
When I first bought an Aquabats album in the 90’s, I never thought they would one day have their own children’s television show. I haven’t heard any of the recent stuff, but their first three albums were great. Blink-182’s Travis Barker was a member before joining Blink.
Arrogant Sons of Bitches – “So Let’s Go Nowhere”
ASOB is one of my favorite ska bands. Their energy is hard to ignore. They play fast with strong bass lines.
The Planet Smashers – “Life of the Party”
I’m really touching every major country with this list. The Planet Smashers are a Canadian ska band that still plays a few times a month after some of the original members left the band in 1997.
MU330 – “Hoosier Love
MU330 was one of the best ska bands to come out of the Midwest. They started in the late 80’s and played together for twenty years before they went on an indefinite hiatus. I hope they get back together one day and record some new material.
Skavossas – “Footsteps”
Okay, this pick was personal. Skavossas was a small band from Fort Wayne, Indiana and was the first ska band I saw play in person. The band broke up after a few years and many of the members went on to start other bands.

15 thoughts on “The 20 Best Ska Songs of All-Time

    1. James

      Completely agree, the title should read, ‘My Favorite Ska Songs’, and not ‘The 20 best ska songs of all time’. There isn’t a single Jamaican act in the list.

      Reply
        1. James

          Yeah, I don’t really have a problem with the strength of the list itself – which I actually like, it is just the title of your article which I feel is misleading.

          My issue is that there is no Desmond Dekker, Skatalites, Wailers, Madness, Specials or Prince Buster. All these acts wrote defining songs of the genre, were commercially successful and yet not one is represented here.

          As I said, the list is strong but the title is misleading.

          Reply
          1. AmeliaAmore

            I completely agree. Sad to see the classics of the first and second Ska wave missing. Still, The 20 Best Ska Songs of Third Wave! Good post.

      1. Timmer

        Ghost Town isn’t too shabby. The whole first album is a masterpiece.

        Message to Rudy, Concrete Jungle, Free Nelson Mandela (When known as Specials AKA). There is so much more to it than just that (Other artists). It’s tough because there aren’t too many if ANY definitive music guru’s who really sliced and diced the genre and it’s generations. I am a music curator for Songza and found you guys looking for great ska and summer music I forgot.

        Thx!

        Reply
  1. Dwight

    Holy shit! I was checking out this list and was pleasantly surprised to see Skavossas at the end! I used to live in Fort Wayne when they were really popular. Interestingly enough, Todd Hembrook started singing for Deals Gone Bad in Chicago when I moved there.

    Reply
  2. Thom

    just some comments on song choice. 1 I like the whole gamut of ska music and you seem to say that the “BEST” ska is only from the 90’s third wave Dereck Grant of the Suicide Machines has also joined Alkaline Trio so that band is working fron a very ska base, though Dereck (who I went to high school with and tried to join the Suicide Machines with)was always a very punk/metal (think Misfits) guy. From the other concerned replies you got you must know that this is more of a “my favorite” and less of “the best” list It may be “the best to you” and that’s OK. Have you ever heard The Articles (Moon Ska 1997 artist) a ska/jazz act from Detroit that is on my “the best ska for me” list I am just trying to compile a list of stuff to take to a physical therapy place that I can put on my MP3 player to introduce them to a favorite sound of mine.

    Reply
  3. Chris

    Love the MidWest rep here.. I would love to suggest some more Detroit flavors instead of Jack Kevorkian and the Suicide Machines – what about Parka Kings?

    Reply
  4. Emma

    Missing out the Skatalites, Madness and the Specials is a very leftfield choice – especially when you consider that these three acts are widely praised for the quality of their discographies. Madness have sold around 10 million singles and are one of Britain’s most successful bands, the Specials kicked the door open for ska-punk and founded 2-tone, and the Skatalites should dominate any top 20 list just through the sheer amount of quality work they put out during the sixties.

    Incidentally, I don’t mean to be picky but if you regard popular by worldwide sales rather than personal opinion, then My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small is actually the most popular ska cover of all time.

    Reply

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