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Top 10 Two-Tone Songs

Jools has been an online writer for over seven years. His articles tend to focus on pop culture and the rock industry.

Interested in learning more about two-tone music? Read on to discover 10 great examples you should listen to!

Interested in learning more about two-tone music? Read on to discover 10 great examples you should listen to!

So, What Is Two-Tone?

Two-tone is an English music genre from the late 1970s and early 1980s that is one of the best "fusion"-style music genres around. It takes the best of reggae, ska, new wave, punk, and rocksteady and merges them into a coffee-coloured musical style full of energy and interest—the perfect combination of the English and Caribbean cultures coming together to create great music together.

Two-tone didn't only become a successful music genre in the United Kingdom; it has strong cross-over appeal mainly because it was so energetic and fun - everybody wanted a piece of that party vibe. It became popular in the USA and Canada but especially in Australia, where it enjoyed a long, successful reign as one of the most popular music styles of the 1980s.

So without further ado, here are my top 10 two-tone songs.

10. "Let's Do Rock Steady" by The Bodysnatchers

The Bodysnatchers were one of the early Two-Tone bands to emerge, having a hit single with 'Let's Do Rock Steady' in 1980.

The song had a catchy chorus and the usual ska stylings with saxaphone, bass and reggae guitar all prevalent in its arrangement.

The Bodysnatchers also had a really good vocalist, Rhoda Dakar who had lots of energy and chutzpah. She went on to front Specials AKA.

The Bodysnatchers gigged in London in the late 70s when Two-Tone was still in its infancy and supported bands like The Specials, The Go-Go's and an earlier version of The Pogues called The Nips. The Go-Go's were another all-girl band who went on to have enormous success in the USA and Japan and were also a band created from the embers of punk rock, though they were not a Two-Tone band.

The Specials are featured later in this Top 10.

The Bodysnatchers only lasted 2 years before spiltting up and 'Do Rock Steady' only reached #22 in the UK chart but it was one of the first Two-Tone songs to make a radio breakthrough and as such, deserves its place in this Top 10.

9. "Mirror in the Bathroom" by The Beat

The Beat became The English Beat when they crossed the Atlantic where they still have a dedicated following and The British Beat in Australia, where, again, they have kept many, many fans.

Still gigging in 2003 with more or less the original line up, they split into 2 groups afterwards.

Dave Wakeling, the lead vocalist is now the frontman for the U.S. version of the band and still gigs in the US and sold out a gig in the UK in 2011.

The other band members last performed live together in 2003 and recorded an album, which remains unreleased.

This song 'Mirror In The Bathroom' I have chosen because it was an original two tone song. The Beat often recorded cover versions, one of which is mentioned further up this list.

Always full of energy on stage, they were very well respected as a live two tone band.

8. "Rat Race" by The Specials

Terry Hall was the lead vocalist of the Specials. He was famous for being rather po-faced on stage and quite funny offstage, with a very dry sense of humour. He wrote some of the band's lyrics but the band's real heartbeat was provided by Jerry Dammers, a man who understood how to meld the best of late-punk, ska and reggae and wite some the best two tone songs.

Dammers was the band's keyboard player and was a human rights activist, regularly fighting for the release of Nelson Mandela, eventually writing a song all about it, which has become a kind of anthem for Mandela stories since his release.

The Specials were a 'special' band born out of kids from council estates in Coventry, England with working-class sensibilities and political views they were not afraid to share. A multi-ethnic band, they had influences from the Caribbean and English mod sensibilities, a winning two tone combination.

They appear a number of times in this list.

7. "On My Radio" by The Selecter

The Selecter were one of the first Two Tone bands to break through in the UK, largely thanks to some fantastically melodic songs by songwriter, Noel Davies and an amazing, original vocalist, Pauline Black who sang (and dressed) in the style of a reggae 'rude boy'.

Pauline Black never stopped moving on stage and this is what, for a short while (until Madness), set The Selecter apart from other similar bands.

Pauline Black still tours as The Selecter even today and is still able to make a good living at it, in spite of The Selecter having only 2 or 3 chart hits.

The Beat, The ENglish Beat, The British Beat -take your pick, Two-Tone in 3 different countries.

The Beat, The ENglish Beat, The British Beat -take your pick, Two-Tone in 3 different countries.

6. "Tears of a Clown" by The Beat

The Beat return in my list with this, the best of their cover versions. A fabulous Two-Tone version of the Smokey Robinson 'Tears of A Clown' - Motown Meets Two-Tone...and it works!

5. "Three Minute Hero" by The Selecter

Pauline Black shares vocals here with the band's other vocalist, Rankin' Roger.

Roger went on to form his own band and regularly appeared in support of The Specials.

Pauline Black is once again in rude boy garb but even by the time this song came out, Two Tone was moving off into other directions.

4. "Ghost Town" by The Specials

By the time Ghost Town was released in 1981, the Specials had already had 6 top 10 hits and a number 1 single with Too Much Too Young.

Ghost Town was, surprisingly, not an album track. It was released only as a single, although it appears on later Greatest Hits albums.

Ghost Town would mark the end of the Specials success with that line up. Shortly afterwards, Terry Hall, Neville Staple and Lynval Golding left the band to form Fun Boy Three.

Jerry Dammers took the band in a different direction after 1981 and their only other top 10 hot would be 'Free Nelson Mandela' in 1984. They were no longer the energetic Two Tone band of the past. Terry Hall was a real miss at the front of the stage.

Ghost Town has stood the test of time and is still played on UK radio today. It is very different in style from their other songs and perhaps shows that Dammers was changing the vibe of the band.

They became much more political in style and this did not resonate with Hall, Staple or Golding who in creating Fun Boy Three stuck to the happier and more reggae inspired parts of Two Tone.

Madness - The Nutty Boys

Madness - The Nutty Boys

3. "One Step Beyond" by Madness

Lovingly labelled The Nutty Boys, Madness are still touring in 2011 and are still a huge sell out.

What is Madness' secret? They've stayed pretty true to their roots, which was about making great pop songs but also about having a bit of fun and getting audiences really involved in their music.

Truly, I could have picked any of their early songs to be included in this list but 2 of the top 3 are Madness at their Two Tone best.

Watch this video and see real energy....go on...wake up your senses!

2. "Much Too Young" by The Specials

This was The Specials first number one single and is still considered one of their best songs.

It is a typical Jerry Dammers song, rich is musicality but also lyrically political. Too Much, Too Young is about teenage pregnancy and the results of it on a young person's life.

The Specials' other number one single, Ghost Town was, in essence, about unemployment as the UK was struggling through the early Thatcher years, when unemployment was at its highest for decades.

What better way to get your political agenda heard than through a song?

The Specials were maybe the most political Two Tone band, ultimately that is what split them up.

1. "The Price" by Madness

One of Madness' earliest forays into Two Tone is still held up as possibly the pinnacle of all that was good and great about Two-Tone.

A homage to Prince Buster, a Jamaican reggae star written by the band's saxaphone player, Lee Thompson. The song was played on Top of The Pops to great acclaim and the rest is history, Madness went from strength to strength.

I think The Prince was recognised for its musicality but also showed that Madness were dug into their reggae sensibilities whilst also keen to let their early ska and punk roots find a place in their sound.

Madness are all about energy and fun and The Prince was a huge part of this.

The video I have included is really nice because it shows the boys in the band talking to a guy in one of the shops in their area of Camden Town, London. It shows that they had strong roots in their community and that they were just a bunch of ordinary guys who had fun with their music and made good.

Two-Tone's Second and Third Wave

Two Tone was popular in many parts of the world but had a particularly good following in the USA where it spawned bands like The Toasters and No Doubt, whose vocalist, Gwen Stefani has gone on to bigger and better success as a solo artist. The Toasters, from Manhattan, continue to tour to this day. They had a hit in the UK with Two Tone Army in 1981.

Two-Tone returned for the most part to its ska and reggae roots as punk and new wave both fell away in the US, UK and elsewhere.

The Caribbean, of course, remains the heartland for reggae and ska and I do not have space here to play tribute to the amazing music to come out of this part of the world.

It is important though to remember that in the UK, it was immigration from the Caribbean to the UK which had previously all-white neighbourhoods' residents having their ears flooded with reggae, ska and calypso - thank you Jamaica!


Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on July 22, 2012:

mythicanstorm273, many thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment! I appreciate it and hope you look out for more Two Tone on You Tube - this was just a taster :o)

mythicalstorm273 on July 22, 2012:

I didn't know a lot about 2-tone so I found this very interesting! Very informational and of course I always love learning new things about music. Voted up and awesome!

Elena from London, UK on July 08, 2012:

Great selection and thanks for including videos. Brill.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on March 11, 2012:

Arren123, thanks for your comments! Yes, the 80s was a great decade for music. I will watch out for the Madness musical, thanks for letting me know about it and thanks for the tweet!

Arren123 from UK on March 11, 2012:

Super Hub, miss so much the 80's, Madness as and will be my Favorite group of all time. I could listen to all these groups over and over, I grow up listen to them and often give them a spin. I recommend watching the Madness musical, it's on youtube, so many remembers. Thank you sharing, Voted up and tweeted :)

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on March 11, 2012:

mralagibb, thanks for your kind comment.

Mrs L A Gibb on March 10, 2012:

You certainly gone ONE STEP BEYOND, with this. Fantastic hub, 60's 70's 80's a good era. Perhaps you would like to read.

Voted up.

The Writers Dog on March 05, 2012:

Hi Jools. Thanks for the birthday wishes. Listening to the cricket on the radio. They just palyed A Town Called Malice at the ground between overs. The '80s will never die!

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on March 05, 2012:

TWD - happy birthday for last week!!!!! :) I am 48 now so a bit ahead of you in enjoying this bunch from the 80s -still the best decade for music in my humble opinion. Thanks for your comment.

The Writers Dog on March 05, 2012:

Oh, Jools! I have just convinced myself that turning 40 last week does not make me old, and then I find a Hub that mentions The Nips. And The Specials! Ah! Ghost Town was most definitely their best for mine.

More, more, more!

Voted up :)

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on March 04, 2012:

Judith, thanks for your comment - yes, 2-Tone reminds me of discos at my youth club. Happy Days!

Judi Brown from UK on March 04, 2012:

Love it! School discos all over again!

Voted up and shared.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on March 03, 2012:

Madness got to #33 in the USA in 1983 with "Must Be Love", so a minor hit but they were never as successful as The Beat. The US were not keen on 2 Tone, Rolling Stone even called Madness 'the Blues Brothers with British accents.' (according to Wikipedia) I think it is much more a British phenomenon which was copied by the likes of No Doubt but in a way that was more accessible to U.S audiences.

FloraBreenRobison on March 03, 2012:

They did well enough here that I knew who they were. Who was the other band that crossed the Atlantic?

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on March 03, 2012:

Flora, thanks for your comment. The Beat were one of the only 2-Tone bands to really cross the Atlantic successfully and have widespread success. Not sure how well they did in Canada though?

FloraBreenRobison on March 03, 2012:

I was not familiar with the term 2-tone, but I am familiar with some music by The Beat. The era is right for me to know more groups you haven't mentioned without me realizing the music was 2-tone.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on March 03, 2012:

Alecia, thanks very much for your comments. There were loads of 2 tone bands in the UK, some were just a bit of fun like Bad Manners who sang 'Lip Up Fatty' and 'Special Brew' and other like Madness really made a career out of their sound. In the US, The Toasters are a very good 2-Tone band and still going strong today.

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on March 03, 2012:

How great to have a band you love play at your wedding! I will check out your hub now. Thanks for your comments.

Alecia Murphy from Wilmington, North Carolina on March 03, 2012:

This is a very interesting hub. I have heard of 2 Step music but 2 Tone sounds cool as well. I didn't know anything about most of these groups except Madness, specifically "Our House." But this is unique in how it fuses genres. It was a fun read and I'll definitely have to give a listen to some of these tunes.

favouriteperfume from Malvern, UK on March 03, 2012:

Hey Jools99, a fellow ska-fan (I just did a hub on this too!) We're about to celebrate 20 years of marriage and I was remembering Maroontown who played at our wedding (they're a ska band from Brixton). Also heard on the radio that The Specials are playing the closing concert in Hyde Park for The Olympics, much as I loved them, it seems a strange choice? Maybe it will spark another revival - 4th wave!

Jools Hogg (author) from North-East UK on March 03, 2012:

Steve, yes, all of these songs are from my yoof. I was 18 in 1981 so I may well have been dancing in nightclubs and dancing to these songs. Oh Gawd!

Steve Lensman from Manchester, England on March 03, 2012:

An interesting hub Jools, I know most of those songs but didn't know about 2-Tone until now. Thanks!

Ghost Town brings back memories from me yoof. :)

And One Step Beyond of course. Gotta love youtube they have all the videos you want. They remove hundreds of videos every day and there are still millions remaining.

Voted Up and Awesome!