The Ska, 2 Tone and Reggae Bands of the 1970s

The 1970s saw a revival of ska and reggae, with 2 tone music being created as ska was mixed with the faster beat of punk music. Of the three genres reggae music has the slowest beat and is the most recognizable sound. Reggae music originated in the late 1960s in Jamaica and during the 1970s it became more and more popular. The music is a combination of rhythm and blues, jazz, calypso and African music, and spread from the Islands of the West Indies where it has continued to be its home right up to the present day. The music is led by the drum and bass with these instruments setting the best. The bass guitar is dominant with the sound being thick and heavy with many of the songs covering social, political and religious issues.

Painting of Bob Marley
Painting of Bob Marley

The most recognizable reggae band are Bob Marley and the Wailers, and during the 1970s they produced many records. Marley achieved even greater success when in 1974 he left the band, relocating to England to pursue a solo career. The release of his 1977 album Exodus produced hit singles “Jamming”, “Waiting in Vain” and “One Love”, and went on to sell 75 million copies world-wide. Marley died in 1981 and the majority of his best music was produced in the 1970s. Jimmy Cliff was another reggae performer who also featured in the 1970s selling many records such as “Reggae Night”, “The Harder They Come”, and “Many Rivers to Cross”. However, in 1972 he starred in the film “The Harder They Come” which popularized reggae around the world. Reggae had a major influence on the punk scene in the UK as bands such as The Clash and The Ruts released records that had real reggae undertones. “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” released by the Clash in 1978 was a huge step forward for the band with its reggae rhythm and the topic of the song.

The emergence of UB40 started a wave of new bands being formed in the UK. UB40 were formed in Birmingham in 1978 producing 50 singles that went on to sell 70 million copies world-wide. The UK reggae bands used the same tempo as the Jamaican bands, but their songs were about the social and political issues associated with the British Inner Cities. During this time saw the emergence of 2tone music and its associated bands. The Specials were formed by Jerry Dammers and were influenced by both ska and punk music. The band hailed from Coventry and the band included both white and black musicians. Their success inspired other bands such as Selector Bad Manners and Madness to emerge and they all signed to the 2-tone record label. Madness were formed in 1976 and started out as a ska band, but as 2tone emerged they became associated with the genre that The Specials had created. Madness have gone on to become a British institution producing 15 records that have reached the UKs top ten. The band for a number of years tried to disassociate themselves from the skinhead movement that was drawn to their music, and this was an issue that the other 2tone bands had to deal with.

It was strange that a racist political movement were attracted to music, that’s origins were inspired by black musicians and was beyond belief. However, considering its extreme political ideology maybe this isn’t such a surprise after all. The reggae, ska and 2 tone bands achieved great success in the 1970s and it proved to be the start of a period that has seen many records sold around the world right up to the present day.