About ten years after its decline, third wave ska still seems like an oddity in the history of rock and roll. One principal tenant of the genre was the cover song. It was sometimes a formulaic practice, but it continues to be a way for the ska community (yes, such thing exists and its bonds are stronger now than ever) to take ownership of an outside song. Here are the six best covers by ska bands. Let us know your favorites in the comments (ska-ments?) below. Skank you very much.
6. Save Ferris - "Come On Eileen" Save Ferris was a decent enough female fronted ska band. The group was stuck in a career purgatory, lacking the crossover success of No Doubt and the credibility of Dance Hall Crashers. Its biggest success was its version of "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners, which received moderate airplay back when bands like Save Ferris could actually receive airplay. Of particular note is the end chorus, where the group follows an accelerating bridge with climactic stops and shifts tempos for maximum drama.
5. Mu330 - "Vacation" The local boys in Mu330 know all about vacations. When the band released its cover of The Go Gos' "Vacation" on a split 7" with Chicago's Blue Meanies in 1997, the group was traveling constantly (between 1988 and 2001, Mu330 had racked up over 1,300 shows). "Vacation" is the perfect fit for the band - slightly punky, happy but not too happy, and the band treats it like a stadium rock anthem.
4. Less Than Jake - "I Think I Love You" Less Than Jake is known for turbocharged, sugar-buzzing pop punk with horns, so it initially seems like a poor fit for a slasher film. The band's contribution to the Scream 2 soundtrack was The Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You." Even though LTJ barely changed an ounce of the song's core, its version comes off as sinister. 3. Reel Big Fish - "Take On Me" "Take On Me" by A-Ha was practically written to be covered by a ska band. The synth melody translates perfectly to horns, the verse/chorus dynamics match the genre's contrast of clean guitar upbeats and distorted power chords. The song practically arranges itself, so Reel Big Fish doesn't get too many points for creativity, but it's hard to imagine a band pulling it off any better.
2. English Beat - "Tears Of A Clown" VH1 ran a short-lived program called The List in which panelists would discuss songs or artists based on a specific criteria and eventually whittle down the selections to a single winner. On one episode, the theme was best cover songs, and a guest judge nominated English Beat's take on the Motown classic "Tears Of A Clown." The other panelists hadn't heard it, but they listened to a clip of the track every time it was mentioned. By the end of the episode, it was awarded second place.
1. Mustard Plug - "The Freshmen" How rare is it for the covering band to transcend the covered band without the covered song being obscure? In the late 90s, Detroit's Mustard Plug released a CD single of "You," one of the standouts from its Evildoers Beware album. The B-side was the band's take on fellow motor city band The Verve Pipe's forgettable one hit "The Freshmen." You know it: "For the life of me, I cannot remember / What made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise" and so on. Mustard Plug absolutely killed it, moving into double time for the choruses and turning the lethargic alt-rock track into a rally cry. When Mustard Plug played The Firebird a few years back opening for The Aquabats, the audience freaked out during "The Freshmen" even though many in the crowd couldn't even walk/talk/be born yet when the Verve Pipe's original version was on the radio. There's a good reason for the enthusiasm - the audience was simply rewarding Mustard Plug for crafting the best ska cover of a non-ska song. I have a feeling the band would take a sea of posi-moshing nerds over a congratulatory plaque any day.