Two ToneTwo Tone: The Albums – box set review

The Albums by Various

Chrysalis Records

8CD box set

Louder Than War Bomb Rating 4

Buy the box set here

Two Tone label founder Jerry Dammers has gone up a notch on my cool-o-meter by releasing a box set of the first eight albums released on his label, to mark the 40th anniversary. A step back into the nostalgia of youth in the eighties and the black and white imagery of all things ska. Wayne AF Carey steps back in time… 

Before all you 2 Tone experts start kicking off, I was 10 years old when this wave of new music hit me. I’m no expert of all things Mod and Ska yet when I was that age it excited me. It was the Harrington jackets, the loafers, the pleated trousers, the skanking. I was a child who was blown away by that shit because it was real to me at that time, growing up on a rough as fuck council estate in North Manchester. It was a release. My parents used to take me to Withernsea near Scarborough at this time on a caravan holiday and it was full of mods and rockers who were scary as fuck back then. I loved it. So anyone who wants to give me the ins and outs of ska can do one now. To me it was all about the buzz of the whole thing and it set me on my journey of truly loving music. This is from my opinion…

This a great box set and a bargain at 40 quid, especially for the hard as fuck to get hold of Rico Rodriguez albums and the excellent Dance Craze, which was the first cassette I bought and listened to until I ruined it by playing it too much! Each CD in this set is replicated to look like the original vinyl in CD form. Any ska fans out there have probably pre ordered this already. If not I suggest you do.

First album release Specials needs no introduction. It’s a classic album full of numbers that are so ingrained in my brain I’ve got Ska tissue. Nite Klub, Concrete Jungle, Too Much Too Young to name a few that got me hooked back in the day. Listening to it now I never realised how dark some of it actually is. I didn’t do lyrics then until I heard The Specials. They laid a dark image of a broken Britain under the Thatcher regime that stays with me forever yet also made me want to dance like a lunatic. A groundbreaking album to me.

The Selecter – Too Much Pressure was an album that upped the game for me in the excitement stakes. The album cover is still striking to this day with the image of a ska-ster looking forlorn with his head in his arm. Pauline Black was an idol of mine at the time. Her energy had no limits and the music on this album took up the Ska sound a notch. Upbeat, thrilling and some great saxophone which made me take up playing sax as a teenager. Infectious as fuck funky shit that inspires me to this day. Who has not heard the excellent Three Minute Hero, Missing Words and the brilliant Too Much Pressure? The purists may bury me here for only mentioning the hits, yet almost every track on this album could have been a single. Take the track My Collie (Not A Dog), Murder and the cool as fuck Black And Blue. The James Bond track was shit but nobody’s perfect…

More Specials still sounds fuckin’ ace now. Still dark in parts yet some crackers on here that sound like they were having a party. Enjoy Yourself (originally released in 1949 by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians) kicks off the album in proper party style, with The Specials making it their own, matching the Prince Buster version easily. The as ever excellent Stereotype is on here, the sad but funny Pearls Cafe with the line of “What a load of bollocks” was always shouted at people in my youth! Man At C&A still sounds strong, Sock It To ‘Em J.B. shows the first strains of jungle and International Jet Set gives us the first taste of what Ghost Town would sound like, the hit that made them massive. A brilliant follow up album that lit the touchpaper.

Next up is Dance Craze which to me was the album that made Ska explode in the eighties. Probably one of the best compilation albums of all time. I was too cool for school when I got this on cassette. Every fucker was round at my house listening to this. The tracks on here are just mind blowing. The Beat – Mirror In The Bathroom, the excitement of the massive Buster Bloodvessel sticking his more massive tongue out at you on Lip Up Fatty, with that great sax sound in the background, accompanied by clapping and a groovy as fuck backline. This was also my first introduction to Madness who I still adore to this day. I remember my old man saying “They won’t last two minutes these lot” How fucking wrong were you then dad? The Bodysnatchers – Easy Life is another classic on here with that clever drumming funking up the area. Tracks like Night Boat To Cairo – Madness, Inner London Violence – Bad Manners and Ranking Full Stop by The Beat make this a classic album that will be one of the parts of this pack that make music heads part with their cash.

The next two releases by Rico – That Man Is Forward and Jama Rico are hard as fuck to find these days. Most Two Tone collectors will buy it for these albums alone. Apparently they were released as a double CD set in Japan. If you can find one good luck! That Man Is Forward is just pure dub reggae Ska at it’s best. Jesus, that man Rico Rodriguez can play that trombone. Just check out Fiesta, a dub jam that uses the template of Singing In The Rain and twists it out of shape. Tracks like Red Top with the ultimate drum beat kicking in, then slowing down tempo into a proper head nodder. X swings along with ease and Ganja is just pure spliffed up genius with some smooth trombone, backed by a band that totally know what they’re doing. That Man Forward closes with a jazz tinged flourish and a slow skanking shuffle. A laid back yet summer hazed album to sit back and relax with a fat one.


Jama Rico is another stunning album of laid back grooves, kicking off with the bongo laden Destroy Them which actually features a few (yes a few) vocals at the start. Jerry Dammers is on production duties for three tracks here including Destroy Them, Distant Drums and Easter Island. We Want Peace is a pleasure filled skank around the house that fills the air with that signature trombone. Jam Rock goes deep into dub territory with some clever key changes going down with the amazing drum clicks that thrill your ears, while Distant Drums is a tribal sounding wonder that floats in quietly to a cacophony of bongos. Love And Justice is another masterclass in dub and it’s a shame this guy was so underrated. As instrumental albums go these are both classics that everyone into music should own.

This Are Two Tone is probably the best introduction to Ska for the uninitiated. A mix of classic tracks including Madness, The Specials, The Beat, The Selecter and a few curveballs including The Swinging Cats – Mantovani which gives you a bit of a latin feel tinged with surf rock. A couple of nice additions are the Rico & The Special AKA tracks Jungle Beat and The Boiler. Jungle Beat starts of with a slow dub reggae groove and then goes into fiesta mode, then back into that smooth groove. Excellent. The Boiler is a bit of spoken word by Rhoda Dakar and probably the first song about rape. It sounds jolly yet when you hear the lyrics… shit. A harrowing tale which has Dakar screaming at the end. Disturbing… The album ends with The Specials best well known hit Ghost Town which still sounds relevant today. A masterpiece in my eyes. I don’t even need to describe this. You’ve all heard it.

Last up is The Special AKA – In The Studio. Voted number three in the albums of the year in NME it featured a host of names who were involved including Rico, Dammers, Golding, Panter and Roddy Radiation. Even fuckin Elvis Costello gets in on production duties. I could name all the people on here but if you know your Ska I don’t need to. Some excellent stuff on here including the brilliant What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend. It’s a quite dark album at times, check out the lyrics on Housebound… Other highlights are Night On The Tiles and the anti apartheid number Free Nelson Mandela. The haunting War Crimes and Racist Friend are stark listening yet purely what the Special AKA were about, tackling difficult issues in their own unique way. Alcohol and Break Down The Door end it all. Alcohol, a downbeat tune with some excellent trombone by Rico going down, before the lyrics kick in about alcohol addiction and the misery it causes. Break Down The Door ends the album on a more upbeat note with a funk tinged ending to a album that can be harrowing yet uplifting with every listen.

This is a must have box set for anyone who went through the Two Tone Years, especially for the two Rico albums and the excellent Dance Craze. Most Ska enthusiasts probably already possess The Specials albums and The Selecter album, yet as a package this is the full collection in all it’s glory. Just a shame it doesn’t include Celebrate The Bullet by The Selecter which would have made this the cream of box sets.

Words by Wayne Carey, Reviews Editor for Louder Than War. His author profile is here


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"I'm a 50 year old man, and I like it!" A music nut from North Manchester residing in Northwich. If it's good I'm on it. Most genres covered but mainly alternative post punk indie with a love for all things psych.


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