We previously established the connection of influence between The Wailing Wailers and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones via “Simmer Down”, but there’s another song that is part of the Bob Marley “Studio One” collection that has potentially had an even greater impact on pop music, and that song is called “Jailhouse.”
In 1996 Sublime released their self-titled album, containing a cover of “Jailhouse” on it, effectively popularizing and familiarizing the song with pop music fans, who normally do not have the will, drive, intention, interest, or otherwise wherewithal to dig deep into the back catalog of reggae icons to find gold. Bradley Nowell of Sublime took liberties with the song, adding and removing lyrics and modifying the arrangement, but the overall vibe of the song is certainly there.
The scope of Sublime’s 1996 release was far-reaching. It contained elements of punk, reggae, hip-hop, and ska, which coalesced at the right time and place in pop culture to hit… and hit hard it did. The album peaked at #13 on the Billboard 200, and was heard and loved by jocks, surfers, frat boys, sorority girls, greasers, punks, skinheads, squares and rebels alike. Differences aside, if you could appreciate this album (and maybe didn’t mind getting a little baked), there was common ground to be found among those who otherwise would not party to the same set.
Much like Sublime’s post-1996 unifying impact on popular and counter-culture, Bob Marley had the same effect on the mod, skinhead, and rocker subcultures of the UK in the 1960’s.
At a glance for those who are unfamiliar with mods and rockers, mods were London scenesters, likely ranging from their late teens through their twenties, that identified themselves with American rhythm & blues and dressed in suits with polished shoes and otherwise took great care with their appearance. They also had the financial ability to moderately indulge in consumerism. Rockers, or “Teddy Boys”, were the equivalent of American greasers and identified themselves with rockabilly and early American rock & roll.
On the outskirts of these groups were the skinheads, who were working class youths that neither had the money to dress in suits or the will to fancy themselves up like the Teds. They also identified fanatically with UK football and are what Americans would refer to as “soccer hooligans”, due to their likelihood to get a little drunk and fight with opposing football firms. Reasons for keeping their hair close-cropped range from it being an advantage in a fight so their adversary could not grab it, buzzing it close because of lice infestations in their poverty-stricken neighborhoods, and simply ,easy care and cheap maintenance. Due to this appearance and their behavior, others began identifying them as “hard mods,” “gang mods”, or “skinheads.”
Despite being very poor, the skinheads were very determined to put their best foot forward whenever possible. To put it simply, they dressed as sharply as they could given the limitations that were imposed upon them. As a result, they wore jeans or slacks, a tucked in collared shirt, suspenders, and work boots.
They wore their work boots because they did not have the luxury of owning “work” shoes and “nice” shoes; they had a good pair of boots to get them by and that was that, but this did not prohibit them from polishing their boots religiously to maintain a clean and sharp appearance. They chose collared shirts because really, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that t-shirts were culturally acceptable as anything other than under-shirts and if you were going to walk the street, be allowed into establishments, and get women to speak with you, you were going to wear your nicest shirt when at all possible. Their jeans were rolled at the bottom in an effort to hide the frayed edges at the hem. Strings can be cut off in all areas except the bottom… once that hem frays, there’s nothing that can be done other than roll them up. Perhaps their slacks appeared shortened as well because of the need to utilize hand-me-down clothes or the results of a sudden growth spurt. Regardless, these hooligans found a way to turn their limited wardrobe into a consistent style that looked sharp and intimidating. They were also seen by others as sharp and intimidating, and therefore the style was self-perpetuating in subsequent generations of skinhead culture.
Because of the skinheads’ working class status and residing on the lower-rung of the socioeconomic ladder, they held factory and plant-oriented jobs, worked at the docks, as well as other manual labor-type jobs. Their peers were others that shared their same socioeconomic status and included West Indian and Jamaican immigrants.
These Jamaican immigrants exposed the skinheads to their music, which at the time was the 1st generation ska of The Skatalites, Toots & the Maytals, Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, and The Wailing Wailers. These 1st wave ska artists became very popular in the working class-youth subculture. As the London youths began starting their own bands in emulation of the 1st wave ska acts, 2-Tone evolved and bands like The Selector, The Specials, Laurel Aitken, Bad Manners, and Madness emerged. These acts were directly spawned from the 1st wave of ska, and directly and indirectly spawned a generous influential progeny to be further explored at a later point.
(But wait Justin… don’t go back into this ska-reggae-Bob Marley influenced everything thing just yet. Um… what about the neo- Nazis?)
It’s not exactly on topic for what we’re exploring here with this series of articles, but for those whose only exposure to skinhead culture has been a one-sided media presentation by news outlets (and Geraldo Rivera), an explanation is warranted.
Throughout the 1960’s, skinhead culture was not identified with any racial leanings at all. In fact, due to their shared socioeconomic status, many of the children of Jamaican immigrants became involved in skinhead culture and thus there were black skinheads and white skinheads that all ran in the same circles without issue or second thought.
Completely separate from skinhead, immigrant, mod and rocker subcultures, the National Front emerged in the UK. The National Front is a far-right, nationalist, racially motivated whites-exclusive political party that had concerns over the non-white immigration that was becoming prevalent in the UK. To note, the National Front still exists today. In the 1970’s they developed a strategy to gain a foothold in the youth of the UK to seed their growth as a political organization. Part of this strategy was to encourage their younger recruits to adopt the look of the skinheads due to the sharp and intimidating appearance of the skinheads, as well as their gang-mentality. The National Front was attracted to both of these elements and recruited heavily from the ranks of the existing skinheads as well as shaping their own formally non-skinhead young recruits to fit the look of the skinhead subculture.
Within the ranks of the established “traditional” skinheads, these new National Front racially-nationalist skinheads later became referred to as “boneheads,” a term of intended insult. Unfortunately, by the 1980’s skinheads had a UK media presence that was centrally racial and this media presence exposed US youth to the subculture, making them largely unaware that the movement itself had been bastardized from one that was once totally apolitical and all about unity and good times.
Today, skinheads still exist, racist and non-racist alike. Specific statistics are difficult to obtain regarding their actual numbers regarding the breakdown between racist and non-racist skinheads. Most studies are completed by law enforcement agencies and not by impartial sociologists, so they concentrate solely on the breakdown between nationalist organizations that could pose a potential threat to the public and prison gangs (similar to the Aryan Brotherhood). In other-life though (I say “other-life” and not “real-life” because I’ve run into some racist skinheads and brother, that shiz can get real, real quick), I’ve met skinheads of all kinds: Black, white, Asian, gay, Latin, etc. The long and short of it is that there are two types of skinheads: Traditional skinheads that hold firm to the ideals of the original working class skinheads of the 1960’s and skinheads who have adopted the image in an effort to strengthen the image of whatever it is they identify themselves with, whether it’s racial, proactively anti-racist, political, a lifestyle choice, or really any agenda at all.
Skinheads aside, the 1st wave of ska helped unite the UK working class subculture of the 1960’s the same its direct influence helped unite the youth culture of America in the mid-1990’s, by way of Sublime. Through their tapestry of influences Sublime introduced an entirely new generation of youth to the early music of Bob Marley and UK 2-Tone. Heck, the trombone solo in Sublime’s “Wrong Way” (1996) is a homage to the trombone solo that’s performed in The Specials “Rudy, A Message to You” (1979), which in and of itself is a cover of a 1967 rocksteady song called “A Message to You Rudy”, by Dandy Livingstone. How Sublime fans claimed Sublime as their favorite band? How many picked up a guitar or a microphone for the first time because they aspired to create music similar to Sublime’s? How many of that generation were successful? Arguably (perhaps not so arguably), the first appearance on pop rock-radio melding hip hop and reggae were the bits on Sublime’s self-titled album, and without this occurring (along with some assistance from Shabba Ranks), would reggaeton exist at all?
(Justin, it sounds a lot like you’re making a case for how Sublime had a heavy influence on popular music and not how Bob Marley had a heavy influence on popular music.)
Fair enough, but here’s where my “A Beautiful Mind” tree starts to get convoluted… and it’s only downhill from here: Without Bob, The Specials wouldn’t exist as they did, and without Bob and The Specials, Sublime’s 1996 self-titled record wouldn’t exist. Without Bob, there would be no reggae, and without reggae there would not have been Shabba Ranks, and without Shabba Ranks or Sublime, reggaeton would not exist.
Soon, once we’ve worked through all the roots-of-reggae stuff we’ll be able to move on to analyzing reggae’s sphere of influence and that’s when we’ll start having a lot of fun with finding the wilder connections that exist.