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 45Pussycats Ska 45Coffee 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 45Baja Ska 45Blue Beat - Jerry Kennedy 45Toni 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 SmallBlues Busters 45Lucky Old Sun 45Watermelon 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 LPBlues 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.


LINK to King Records Goes Ska

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