The future of music

25 Best Ska Songs of All Time

November 6, 2023
Ska songs

I’ve compiled the best SKA songs to get you dancing with their infectious beats and energetic horns.

This definitive playlist features third-wave hits, 90s classics, and vintage gems from legends like The Specials, Reel Big Fish, and Less Than Jake.

Top picks of SKA songs

  • “Mirror In The Bathroom” by The Beat
  • “Time Bomb” by Rancid
  • “On My Radio” by The Selecter
  • “Badfish” by Sublime
  • “Gangsters” by The Specials
  • “Jamaica Ska” by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires
  • “Sell Out” by Reel Big Fish
  • “Rudie Can’t Fail” by The Clash
  • “Party At Ground Zero” by Fishbone
  • “One Step Beyond” by Madness

1. “Mirror In The Bathroom” by The Beat

The only way to start this list is by mentioning a classic ska song from one of the greatest ska bands.

“Mirror In The Bathroom” was a single from The Beat’s 1980 debut album, I Just Can’t Stop It.

It received a positive reception from music critics. 

The song title and lyrics had fans mistakenly assume it was about cocaine. 

But the composer, David Wakeling, has clarified it was about self-reflection. 

Or, more precisely, a song about narcissism

2. “Time Bomb” by Rancid

Ska music is deeply encoded in Rancid’s DNA.

During their prime, the American rock band ate, slept, and breathed punk rock. 

And if this hit is anything to go by, we can safely say they are one of the greatest punk bands in history.

“Time Bomb” is a ska rock, reggae rock, and ska-punk song that still excites many punk rock lovers.

It peaked at #8 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks. 

3. “On My Radio” by The Selecter

The Selecter had attracted plenty of attention with their first single, “The Selecter,” laying the groundwork for their illustrious musical career. 

Later, they recorded three songs under 2 Tone Records, including “Too Much Pressure, “Street Feeling,” and “On My Radio.” 

“On My Radio” reached #29 on the NME Top Singles in 1979. 

4. “Badfish” by Sublime

Sublime’s ska song was loved in California because the lyrics resonated with the locals. 

It also became one of the band’s best songs. 

“Badfish” was first released as a single on the band’s Jah Won’t Pay Bills demo tape in 1991.

Later, it reappeared as the 8th track on Sublime’s debut album, 40oz. to Freedom.

See also: Best Sublime Songs 

5. “Gangsters” by The Specials

The Specials, also known as The Special AKA, helped revive UK ska music. 

And their 1979 ska song talks about the band’s infamous French tour with a chaotic end. 

“Gangsters” was the band’s debut single that propelled them to the top of the ska music charts. 

Its success inspired bands such as The Selecter, Madness, and UB40. 

6. “Jamaica Ska” by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires 

Millions of people would not have been familiar with ska music had it not been for Byron Lee’s efforts to spread Caribbean music to the world. 

That’s why ska lovers worldwide still celebrate their “Jamaican Ska” hit. 

“Fun, fun, we’re having fun!”

“Now everybody can do the Ska.”

“The new dance that goes like this”

“Ska Ska Ska.” 

We bet fun is all you need from a ska song. 

And Byron Lee’s 2 minutes of crooning provides it. 

7. “Sell Out” by Reel Big Fish

Reel Big Fish’s signature track is also one of the most popular ska songs in history.

“Sell Out” was part of the band’s Turn The Radio Off full-length album that got massive airplay. 

The track is a sarcastic view of the record industry, with a glimpse of behind the scene incidents.

The horn section brings the feel-good vibes any beautiful ska song deserves. 

8. “Rudie Can’t Fail” by The Clash

Several bands wanted to ride on the new wave as the ska song became increasingly popular in England. 

And The Clash wasn’t left behind.

They released a punk reggae song titled “Rudie Can’t Fail,” which turned out to be precisely what they wanted. 

The horn section, vocals, and lyrics make the track irresistible. 

9. “Party At Ground Zero” by Fishbone

There was no going back for most bands and artists as soon as ska became popular in the US. 

And Fishbone, one of the best rock bands at the time, compiled a 6-minute long track to spread good vibes.

This one’s an excellent addition to your ska playlist. 

10. “One Step Beyond” by Madness 

“This is the heavy heavy monster sound/The nuttiest sound around.”

What more could you ask for?

At only 3 minutes, Madness’s “One Step Beyond” is packed with the energy and positivity of a perfect ska song. 

It’s a ska anthem everybody should listen to at least once. 

11. “007 (Shanty Town)” by Desmond Dekker & The Aces

Desmond Dekker’s song wasn’t popular until 1983 when Musical Youth released their rendition.

The song is centered on the themes of riot and protest, written after a student’s demonstration that turned violent.  

Derrek’s song was a #1 hit in Jamaica and peaked at #14 on the UK Singles Chart. 

12. “Ruddy, A Message to You” by Dandy Livingstone

Dandy Livingstone’s song laid the foundation for the ska music genre.

Many people probably remember The Specials’ 1979 rendition. 

But the original version was just as good as anything else. 

The mid-tempo song with a horn section was a straightforward message to youthful criminals to right their wrongs before it’s too late. 

13. “Enjoy Yourself” by Prince Buster

Prince Buster was Jamaica’s undisputed King of Ska.

And it’s hard to list his best songs in order of popularity. 

Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians are credited with creating the first-ever version of the song. 

But Prince Buster’s version was just as popular.

It’s a great fit into any ska playlist. 

14. “Ska Ska Ska” by The Skatalites

The Skatalites paved the way for many ska artists.

And their “Ska Ska Ska” song was the epitome of the ska music genre.

We promise you will love it. 

15. “Forward March” by Derrick Morgan

“Forward March” is an independence song that united the Jamaicans.

It resonated with the people’s feelings and became an instant hit. 

Throughout the narration, Morgan emphasizes the desire to unite to make Jamaica great again.

The pure joy of breaking free from British rule is in the singer’s voice.

16. “Beer” by Reel Big Fish

Reel Big Fish has many great ska songs to complete any playlist.

The crowning moment for their 1996 rock song was when it became the soundtrack for the 1998 comedy film BASEketball. 

While “Beer” wasn’t as successful as “Sell Out,” it endeared them to the ska faithful. 

It is a song about heartache, longing, and drowning your troubles in a favorite drink. 

17. “Superman” by Goldfinger

Goldfinger’s song blends ska, rock, and punk elements. 

Its lyrics bring feel-good vibes to everyone. 

It resonated with many of Goldfinger’s fans. 

Anybody playing the song experiences pure 90s nostalgia, partly because it was one of the most popular ska songs at the time. 

And we can’t think of a better way to complete your ska playlist. 

18. “Lip Up Fatty” by Bad Manners

We promise this isn’t the last song from the Bad Manners targeting fat individuals. 

But let’s talk about the composition. 

“Lip Up Fatty” was a delicate blend of harmonica and brass instruments, quickly becoming a fan favorite amongst ska lovers.

19. “The Tears Of A Clown” by The Beat

Nobody summed up the feelings of loneliness and isolation better than Smokey Robinson. 

The Beat released their version in 1980 during the UK’s ska music revival. 

20. “Nelson Mandela” by The Specials 

Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment by the South African government attracted global attention. 

And Jerry Dammers wrote the first official song, demanding the release of the South African freedom fighter. 

The Specials performed the track, triggering a global campaign against Mandela’s imprisonment. 

It was one of the most influential ska songs in the 80s.  

21. “The Impression That I Get” by The Mighty Bosstones

The Mighty Bosstones’ signature song ranks highly in the list of the most famous ska songs. 

It resonated with Australian listeners and still gets massive airplay today. 

The track topped the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and peaked at #20 on the US Billboard Hot 100 Airplay. 

22. “Nobody Likes A Bogan” by Area 7

Area 7 originated in Melbourne as one of the best Australian ska bands. 

They had one of their greatest success with the single “Nobody Likes A Bogan,” released in 2002. 

23. “Super Rad” by The Aquabats

“Super Rad” appears on The Aquabats’ second studio album, The Fury of The Aquabats!

The song undoubtedly put the American rock band on the map. 

Musically, “Super Rad” adopts a conventional ska style, with captivating guitar lines and a bass-inspired melody.

While the track wasn’t a chart success, it received massive airplay and was instrumental in reviving the American ska in the 90s. 

24. “Ska Wars” by Capdown

Only a few people talk about the Buckinghamshire boys these days. 

But they were a household name in the UK in the 2000s, with “Ska Wars” as one of their signature songs. 

Capdown’s fame was short-lived, just like the popularity of ska music.

In an ideal world, the English punk rock band would still be rocking the airwaves with a new ska wave today. 

25. “Friday Night” by Lily Allen 

Lille Allen’s description of aggressive encounters at a nightclub completes our list of the best ska songs of all time.

The night begins at a pub before moving to a club and, finally, on the dance floor. 

Best Ska Songs – Final Thoughts

Ska music is as old as the 1950s, tracing its roots to Jamaica and other Caribbean countries. 

The 70s saw a great revival of the music genre, with names like The Special A.K.A. leading the resurgence. 

But the 90s was undoubtedly the greatest decade for ska music, with notable bands like Reel Big Fish spreading the wave. 

Here’s hoping our list of the 25 best ska songs has given you something to smile about as you remember the good old days when nothing felt better than listening to a melodious ska song.

Now, create that playlist.

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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