Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

1960s Ska in the US Market

Thousands of thanks to 45Cat chatboard contributor, OldOak, who freely offered up this bit of research related to the topic of U.S. Reggae 45s  — I have simply added links to YouTube streaming audio and/or filmed performances of the artist and song in action:

Ska was one of the dance crazes of the summer of 1964, inspiring a fair number of records in the US — all 45 releases below are from ’64:


Jamaica Joe 45
Pussycats Ska 45
Coffee St. Ska 45

[*Editor’s Note:  “Come On and Ska” by The Pussycats was written by “Tommy” Dowd, former Manhattan Project participant who would later become audio engineer extraordinaire for the Atlantic label]

Here are a few more non-Jamaicans joining in on the very brief ska craze in the US. I add them only because I think we’re getting near to exhausting the ’64 US ska records.

  • Toni Fisher = “The Train Of Love/ The Springtime Of Life” (Signet 664)
  • Jimmy Griffin = “Try/ You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” (Reprise 0304)
  • Cambridge Strings = “Charmaine” (London 9683)
  • The Rhythm Kings = “Latin Ska” (Tollie 9014)
  • Frederick Fennell and His Symphonic Winds = “76 Trombones Ska” (Mercury)
  • Toni Wine = “A Boy Like You/ Funny Little Heart” (Colpix 742)
  • Lester Lanin = “West Indies Ska” (Philips 40217)
  • Baja Marimba Band = “Baja Ska/ Samba De Orfeu” (Almo 211)
  • Jerry Kennedy = “Blue Beat” (Smash 1907)
  • Woody Herman Orchestra = “C’mon And Ska” (Philips 40213)


76 Trombones Ska 45
Baja Ska 45
Blue Beat - Jerry Kennedy 45
Toni Fisher 45

“Apparently, at this time, in addition to Prince Buster and Byron Lee & The Ska Kings, Atlantic signed the Blues Busters (who had already released a single on Capitol in 1962), Stranger and Patsy, The Charmers, and The Maytals.  Ahmet Ertegun went to Jamaica and made some recordings, intending to release a dozen or more singles (see Billboard, May 23, 1964).  I think they ended up releasing only one album with these artists, “Jamaica Ska” (SD 8098), and three singles, plus a couple by Millie Small.  Too bad.  Also, I’m pretty sure it’s The Maytals you hear near the end of “Oil In My Lamp” by The Ska Kings.

As far as US releases of Jamaican artists go, up through 1965 there was only:


My Boy Lollipop - Millie Small
Blues Busters 45
Lucky Old Sun 45
Watermelon Man Ska 45

[**Editor’s Note:  Guitar army commando, Billy Mure, is the arranger on the last 45 listed, as well as composer of “Ska Dee Wah”]

“It turns out there were more ska records released in the US than I ever suspected.  Why then no Maytals or Jimmy Cliff?  Monty Morris [of the Ska Kings] got two!  I guess the whole thing just didn’t last long enough.  It really rode the popularity of only one record, Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop.”   The Ska Kings got to #98 in Billboard with “Jamaica Ska,” Millie’s next record didn’t break into the Top 40, and it was over.  But it’s amazing how many records were made and released within a few weeks of Millie’s brief success.  This also coincided with the top Jamaican artists performing at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.  Official embassies of dancers were also sent by the Jamaican government to New Jersey and Philadelphia to teach and promote the new dance.  Prince Buster tells what this meant for Jamaica in “Everybody Ska” (Amy 906).

“Here are a few from 1967:


Prince Buster RCA LP
Blues Busters UA 45

Old Oak notes —

“‘Ten Commandments’ was actually a hit, reaching Billboard #81 (Pop), #17 (R&B).  RCA and King competed with two versions of the follow-up answer song (same lyrics, different singers), but neither charted.  As with all novelty songs, you might enjoy it the first time, but you never want to hear it again.”



(March 3, 2020)

Zero to 180 just discovered a Columbia ska 45 that “bubbled under” Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart, peaking at the #134 spot on July 25, 1964 —

Shrimp Boats (Jamaican Ska)”

Jerry Jackson [1964]

45 picture sleeve

Netherlands – 1964

(reissued in 1973)

45 also released in Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Austria

Bonus Bit!

The Ska Is Coming!

Music Business

May 23, 1964

Traffic between New York and Kingston, Jamaica, has notably increased recently as the Jamaican government has extended several invitations to members of the U.S. music-record business.  Purpose is to evaluate the commercial possibilities in the American market for the Ska, or West End (Kingston) blue beat.  The results of the trips are beginning to show up in singles releases.

Capitol Records was the first to release an imported single three weeks ago, Byron Lee‘s “Sammy Dead,” and “Say Bye Bye.”  This week, three new singles on the new beat were released on Mercury (“Suzie Ska“) and “Day-O” by Jeff Bowen), Atlantic (“That Lucky Old Sun” and “Don’t Make Me Cry” by Prince Buster and the Ska Busters), and MGM (“Fare Thee Well”) and “Mockin’ Bird Hill” by The Five Strangers).

About the new beat (and accompanying dance), Atlantic Records’ president Ahmet Ertegun had some provocative things to say last week.  While Atlantic’s first release was an imported master (which is a hit down there now) Ertegun feels that to reach a commercial market here will require a good bit of engineering and recording know-how.  The basic elements are a 4/4 shuffle-type rhythm with a strong accent on the off-beat (played by organ, guitar, and as many horns as are available) so that the ear actually only hears the off-beat once the piece gets into motion.  The tunes used can be standards, calypsos, or even gospel types, with plenty of emotional leeway.

Ertegun took his chief engineer, Tommy Dowd, with him to Jamaica, where in eight days they recorded over 40 sides by various groups which he has now signed.  It is his feeling that the material and professional recording techniques employed give him a pretty good chance for coming up with some hit records.  However, he was quick to note that a tune will most probably make it on its own, rather than because it is the Ska.

The blue beat and ska grew up in the West End section of Kingston and, like the Twist, has begun to attract the upper classes in Jamaica, where the dance is now the rage.

Ertegun suspect that, as with the twist, the ska will have a field day in France, and is arranging for release his new singles there simultaneous with US release.  He has films of the dance, which he is readying to show to teeners at hops and for television demonstration.

Nobody knows whether the ska can reach ‘fad’ proportions.  But nobody is ready to say yet it won’t.



That same week edition’s of Cash Box carried a very similar piece:

Ska Craze In The Making

Cash Box

May 23, 1964

NEW YORK — Is there a hot sound fad on the horizon?  A number of labels think so and feel a Jamaican based rhythm called “oom-ska” or simply “ska” can run rampant on the US charts.  

In fact, the Top 100 already contains a ska-influenced rock ‘n roll recording by way of England.  It’s by Millie Small, a Jamaican whose disking of “My Boy Lollipop” is climbing up the charts – it’s 72 this week.  Smash Records is the lucky US outlet for the disk.  

Smash’s parent company, Mercury, is also represented with a ska date, an item called `Susie Ska” by Jeff Bowen.  Other labels with ska releases include Capitol and Atlantic.

Capitol has had several singles releases on the market for the past few weeks, and may issue two or three LP’s on rush release.  They are Byron Lee‘s “Jamaica Ska,” imported from England, and a release by Ezz Ricco.  Atlantic’s side is “That Lucky Old Sun” by Prince Buster and the Ska Busters, also from Jamaica.

The beat, which includes calypso elements in its blend of various musical ideas, is described as a shuffle rhythm with a heavy afterbeat.

US interest in the sound seems to have stemmed from Capitol’s distributor in Jamaica, who also owns a studio where ska sessions have been taking place.  The Jamaican Government, eager to spread the sound to other parts of the world, has invited members of the music trade to see the rhythm first hand.

The US EMI representative, Transglobal, was among the first firms to take up the invite.  The firm’s Paul Marshall and Roland Rennie took the trip, which resulted in Capitol’s “Jamaica Ska” side.

So far, Atlantic Records has shown the greatest interest among U.S. labels in the beat.  Label topper Neshui Ertegun and recording engineer Tom Dowd last week returned from a 10-day trip to Jamaica, also invited by the Jamaican Government.  During that time, the pair cut 40 sides and inked four ska groups to exclusive Atlantic pacts.  The acts are The Maytals, Blues Busters, The Charmers and Stranger and Patsy.  Atlantic’s first Ertegun-cut ska date was due last week.

It’s also understood that Columbia Records is on its way to Jamaica to bring the sound back for its catalog.  The instrumentation of the groups that play ska usually consist of five trumpets, an electric guitar, an electric bass and drums.  The heavily accented rhythms of music are produced by the bass and guitar, supplying the shuffle-beat effect.

The label of “oom-ska” approximates the way the beat sounds.

Much of the individuality of the ska beat is owed to its amplification by sound systems, including turning up loudspeakers to full volume.  These systems are present wherever ska is performed in Jamaica.

Dancing to ska is somewhat similar to doing the twist.  Unlike the twist, which caught the fancy of high-society after the teeners had gotten to it, ska made its debut in the US at Shepheard’s, a fashionable New York discotheque.

Hearing the new beat and seeing ska performed for the first time by dancers who learned it where it began, New Yorkers took to the floor to try it, among them Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Murray, who danced with two of the Jamaican troupe.



LINK to King Records Goes Ska

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