Here's a little history session. Ska as we originally knew it was the music of Jamaica from the late 50's and mid 60's. These artists combined what at the time, was the common mainstream Rhythm and Blues, Calypso, Jazz & Mento.. Put them together with the help of a heavy steady bassline, and created what we know as Ska. These artists, such as Desmond Dekker, Toot's & The Maytals & The Skatalites, were the first to popularize the genre outside of Jamaica. During the 60's, with the Mod movement, the general culture shift saw massive changes in what music people were listening to.
So in the late 70's we saw the rise of 2 Tone Ska. We saw artists such as Madness rise up from the working class families in Coventry, soon joined by The Specials. The Clash were the first bands to combine Punk and Ska on the self titled album The Clash, also on the White Man In Hammersmith Palais single from 78.
Madness are considered the creme de la creme of 2 Tone, this is because of their long string of hit singles throughout the 80's. Songs such as One Step Beyond, Our House, My Girl, Baggy Trousers, House of Fun & Embarrassment, put Madness on an extended level of stardom than the other lesser known acts from the 2 Tone era.
The Specials, have the album. The self titled album was produced by Elvis Costello and included mostly covers from earlier Reggae/Ska tracks. A Message To You Rudy kicked the album into position, whilst Monkey Man laid new grounds on Ska music and cover songs in general, today still being classed as one of the best cover versions. Too Much Too Young was the bands coup de gras. At over 6 minutes it's a Skinhead classic. This is the ultimate Ska jam, where the song is just repeated in a different fashion some point during the song. The Specials also gave Ghost Town to the world, this is a song about the city of Coventry, during economic decline, Thatcher era, unemployment and riots. The song captured the political rebellious spirit of the public and was picked up by the public ans managed to reach number 1 on the UK charts. Free Nelson Mandela is a political song based obviously on the life and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, calling for his release.
The Beat being one of the outsider bands (being from Birmingham). This band had a better grasp on songwriting and the Punk side of Ska. The Beat are by far the most energetic and upbeat, debut album I Just Cant Stop It, is a perfect example of 2 Tone Ska. The whole album shares the same passion and movement, from rhythmic Ska root guitar playing, mixed with excellent brass playing and steady bass. Rough Rider, is my favourite The Beat song and also my favourite from the 2 Tone era. It's originally a Prince Buster song, but re invented by The Beat, with distinct toasting placed in areas.
The Selecter were never a focus during the 2 Tone period, they were always the band that was placed behind The Specials & Madness. With all 3 bands being from Coventry, it gave a different out look to Coventry on a whole, they didn't have musical export prior to these bands. One of The Selecter's most famous song, being a James Bond cover. Taking the main riff from James Bond and putting it into a Ska style. It works, it's scary.
So that's 2 Tone Ska, the music of the Midlands, they took Ska, combined it with Punk. It worked, mostly because of the period that Britain was in. The public perception of the government was declining, this music combined with with Skinheads of the time pumped 2 Tone into the mainstream.
Ska ended in 1984. The rise of New Wave and Pop ended the Ska period. Artists such as The Human league, Spandau Ballet, The Cure & Ultrovox all released albums, sure Madness still made albums, but they were not met with public and critical acclaim. What came after, in the 1990's in USA, shouldn't be mentioned in the same text as 2 Tone and First Wave Ska. The lack of musicianship and skill hurts me.