The Specials released their first single in July 1979 which is considered the spark that caused the ska-punk fire. Though they get credit with being the ones to make it more well known they were not the only ones to mix punk and new wave with ska and reggae. Aside from Arthur Kay having already released records with the 2 Tone sound before the Specials, The Slits, United Balls, and Plastic Bertrand were incorporating ska into their music as were many bands in the UK and throughout Europe.
But in the US there were a few bands playing reggae and those that were were not mixing it with punk or new wave. Not yet anyway. But in California in 1978 there was a band called The Offs.
They mixed their punk music with r&b, soul, reggae, dub, and even German experimental music.
They later moved from the West Coast to New York but continued going back frequently to play shows in San Francisco and L.A.
Here's just about everything they ever recorded before lead vocalist Don Vinil died in New York in 1983.
"624803 / Johnny Too Bad" 7"
"Zero Degrees / Everyone's a Bigot" 7"
"I've Got the Handle" alt. version from a 415 Records Compilation
"My World / You Fascinate Me" 7"
3 tracks from a live compilation called "Can You Hear me? - Music From the Deaf Club"
"The Offs First Record" (Their first, last, and only full length. The cover was designed by famed New York artist Basquiat and the original was sold on eBay IN 2008. I don't remember what it sold for but it wasn't much.)
1 You Fascinate Me
2 Cool Down
3 True Story
4 Why Boy
5 Body Hesitation
6 I've Got the Handle
7 One More Shot
8 Bye Bye Baby
This live show is actually a compilation of 3 live shows:
There are 20 tracks. The song "624803" was recorded July 5, 1980 and the songs "100 Dollar Limosine", "Johnny Too Bad", and the 2 Lou Reed covers "Sweet Jane", and "Heroin" were recorded March 1, 1980.
R.E.M. released their second album Reckoning in 1984 and Harborcoat is the first song on that album. It was not a ska song but it did have that familiar ska upstroke guitar in a few places.
Anytime the band played Harborcoat live it had more of the ska feel to it than the version on the album does...especially in 1984-1985:
When their first album Murmur was re-released on CD in 2008 it included a live version of Harborcoat that showcased the ska sound.
Although it is not a straighforward ska song (I don't think R.E.M. ever did one - please prove me wrong), it is a great song and the best version I found of it was from a show from the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago from 1984:
This download includes 3 versions of Harborcoat - the 1984 Aragon Ballroom version, the live version from the Murmur deluxe edition, and the album version from Reckoning - for comparison (there are many more versions out there and I have a lot of them).
A few of my 'all time favorite songs ever' (there are a million of them) are R.E.M. songs. -Feeling Gravity's Pull, etc. ...but I won't bore you with that. What I will do is tell you that, while Murmur is considered to be their first album, there was an EP in 1983 called Chronic Town which is included in this download, just because. (Carnival of sorts (Box Cars) is one of my aforementioned 'all time favorite songs ever').
Here's a rarity from New York from 1979. The band didn't list their real names on the record sleeve so it's hard to determine who they really are. I'm pretty sure that this is the only recording released by them under this name.
You might know the song Hire High School Girls from the Dirt Records compilation Dirt Compilation Volume 1 (which I do not have.....damnit), but it's not only the A-side with the slight ska influence, but the B-side has it as well. The A-side is good, but I like the B better.
A - Hire High School Girls
B - Out of the Frying Pan (Into the Eighties)*
I'm not very familiar with the history of ska and reggae in Tennessee but I'm willing to bet this is one of the first.
The Man Boys were three brothers who captured the 2 Tone sound perfectly. When you first listen to this, try to ignore the juvenile lyrics which, really, aren't that bad, and just listen to the incredible songwriting and appreciate how well these guys captured the ska sound - but went totally unnoticed.
I don't know how many copies of this record were pressed but I'm guessing between 300 to 500, and there is no song on here called "Soul Rebels Capturing the Beat" - that's just the name of the record, but it shows their influence.
I don't know whatever happened to them or whether or not they had any other releases, but this is one of those great records that nobody knows about.
The Zero Heroes were a Swiss mod-ska band from Geneva, Switzerland that released a couple of albums and a couple of singles. The two albums included all of their songs with the exception of the b-side from the No Illusions single. All of their releases were on a French label and, so, there is a lot of conjecture that they are a French band but they are, in fact, Swiss.
The band formed out of the ashes of two Swiss punk bands The Bastards and Jack & the Rippers.
Jack & the Rippers experimented with the ska/reggae sound with the song "Endless Peace" but the Zero Heroes were a new direction for both bands. They played very well written power-pop (mod)-ska songs. (with less ska on the second album.)
Crash Boom Bang (1982)
1 Crash Boom Bang
2 Movie Star
3 Straighten Up Your Image
4 Trip Across the Ocean
6 Little Girl Lost
7 Zero Hero Man
8 Walk, Don't Run
9 Deep in the Jungle
10 Running Dog
11 No Illusion
12 Music Fashion Magic