Words from a Waldman: Top 10 Third-Wave Ska Albums of All-Time

Ska is NOT a dirty three-letter-word. The entire genre gets a bad rap by way too many, and it truly shouldn’t. Ska is so so so much more than checkerboard patterned swag and fedora hats. Period. In fact, Third-wave ska/Ska-punk has an even worse reputation than its predecessors in traditional ska and two-tone (Second-wave ska) do combined. It’s unjustified because of my incorrect subjective opinion, and I hope that my top ten Third-wave ska/Ska-punk album list changes that for at least one (step beyond) reader. Mic drop.

Here are a few disclaimers:

A) I did not include Sublime (who, with No Doubt, catalyzed Third-wave ska/Ska-punk into the mid-90s mainstream wave that lasted for a few years), No Doubt (see prior parenthetical explanation, but change No Doubt to Sublime), Rancid (who truly created some wonderful Ska-punk songs AND released the oft-overlooked “Life Won’t Wait”) or NOFX( see prior parenthetical explanation, but change “Life Won’t Wait” to “So Long & Thanks For All The Shoes”) on this list. Ska-rry not sorry.

B) I am not going to attempt to explain what Third-wave ska and/or Ska-punk is here; you have access to Wikipedia too, and many ska music snobs (an oxymoron in itself) will find fault with words that I didn’t even type. Ska-rry not sorry.

C) Like some of my other lists, I only discuss one album from each band. Them’s the rules. Ska-rry not sorry.

That’s it on the stipulation front. Enjoy (but don’t toot your own horn about it):

10) The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Question the Answers (1994)

You may ska-ff at this “low” placing for the Bosstones, and you may ska-ff at my “wrong” album choice, but, hey (hey hey), that’s the nature of the beast… At least they’re on this list (and rightfully so)! Question the Answers was the first Bosstones album that I purchased, just a few years before “The Impression That I Get” (from the band’s platinum follow-up album “Let’s Face It”) dominated the planet. I will forever stand by my subjective opinion that Question the Answers is the band’s best album front-to-back, and I still play the intro riff to “Kinder Words” on my guitar every now and ska-gain.

9) MU330 – Crab Rangoon (1997)

I’ll say this on record: Asian Man Records is quite underrated and this album may be its biggest unsung hero. Imagine early-Weezerhad horns and upstrokes, and you have Crab Rangoon. It’s even more delicious than it sounds too! Fun ska-ct: Singer/guitarist Dan Potthast sometimes tours with (the also underrated Jeff Rosenstock) on keyboards, saxophone, and acoustic guitar. I’m just so happy that Dan is still rocking today, almost twenty-two full years after Crab Rangoon hit cool record stores (remember those). Mailorder is (forever) fun, indeed! Turn it on and tune me out.

8) The Hippos – Heads Are Gonna Roll (1999)

My favorite song from The Hippos’ catalog is so good it’s on two different albums (with different recordings). The track is called “Far Behind,” and I had the fortune of singing its opening line WITH The Hippos when the band opened for The Aquabats (more on that group later) at The Shelter in Detroit my freshman year of college. But enough about me, let’s highlight the mouth-dropping bass playing, newly prominent keyboard work, crisp crisp crisp horn playing, and catchy-as-hell vocal melodies featured this record, which was the band’s major label debut. What. A. Band. What. An. Album.

7) Pilfers – Pilfers (1998)

If you’re from Long Island (more on that later), and you didn’t go to Mineola’s sadly missed venue Deja One at one point in the 1990s, you goofed. Plain and ska-mple. Pilfers (from the ashes of Third-wave ska powerhouse bands The Toasters and Bim Skala Bim) rocked this small room harder than most, and I saw some pretty loud and heavy shows there. Listen to this self-titled record right now to hear the most piercing (in the best way) trombone this side of the solar system mixed with the incredibly unique “raggacore” vocals of Coolie Ranx. NO ONE else sounds like Pilfers.

6) Suicide Machines – Destruction by Definition (1996)

This. Album. Does. Not. Let. Up. For. A. Fucking. Second. And. Punches. You. In. The. Gut. With. Every. Single. Fucking. Song. And that’s all I have to say about that.

5) The Aquabats! – The Fury of The Aquabats! (1997)

There could be a college course at an upper-tier university on The Aquabats!. As an entity, the band is an epic monolith amalgamation of every single musical genre on the planet (performed by uber-hardcore Devo fans). There is no show like an Aquabats show (TRUST ME), and The Fury of The Aquabats! captures the band’s frenetic energy and ultra-wackadoodle lyrics in the best of ways over the course of an incessantly fun 51 minutes and 16 seconds. Hide your hot dogs. This cat’s upset.

4) Edna’s Goldfish – The Elements of Transition (1999)

Long Island gets a lot of love because of its legendary hardcore and emo, but ska-dly, its amazing ska legacy often gets overlooked. That’s a low down dirty ska-me. Bands like Step Lively, The Arrogant Sons of Bitches (featuring singer/guitarist Jeff Rosenstock, who got highlighted in my MU330 mention above), Channel 59 (featuring the now majorly successful electronic artist Dan Deacon on vocals), and many many more truly shined. In fact, there were two OFFICIAL Long Island Ska CD compilations. TWO. Pretty crazy. Edna’s Goldfish definitely shined the brightest of the bunch, and its debut album Before You Knew Better made me an extremely happy high schooler. I didn’t see any other band live more in the 90s more than I saw Edna’s Goldfish. FACT. In an epic musical move, “he Elements of Transition blew Before You Knew Better out of the fucking water. OPINION. I still wish that it wasn’t Edna’s Goldfish’s last record, but you can’t always get what you want. The album’s title sincerely does the record justice. The Elements of Transition sounded like maturity in the least forced way possible, and the word “mature” doesn’t get lumped in with the word ska very often. Give it a spin.

3) RX Bandits – Progress (2001)

Speaking of mature, RX Bandits’ Progress flipped the switch on the ska-punk genre and brought pristine musicianship into the forefront. Perhaps that’s an understatement. Let me amend: If one wanted to be existential, one could even attempt to call Progress a new genre/subgenre/wave of ska. It’s. That. Ambitious. AND, it’s so catchy. RX Bandits super-fans may disagree that this is the band’s shining moment, but I stand by my truth that Progress is the band’s best LP. The RX Bandits shook the ska world by storm with this release, and paved the new prologue for the band to become the experimental, trippy, beautiful hybrid that it is today.

2) Less Than JakeHello Rockview (1998)

Are you ready for the big two? Part one of two starts now: Less Than Jake has many incredible albums, but Hello Rockview can most certainly be lumped in the CLASSIC ska-punk category. Classic is a word that often gets overused, but I deem it appropriate in this case. This album is almost a legal drinking adult; time flies. Speaking of time, Hello Rockview is timeless Less Than Jake from start to finish every single listen. Thankfully, the band still incorporates a solid portion of this record into its set nearly twenty-one years after the album’s release. Fun fact: This album contains a song with the name “Scott” in its title. Don’t go ska-tt free. Scott Farcas takes it on the chin.

1) Reel Big FishWhy Do They Rock So Hard? (1998)

Are you ready for the last of the big two? Part two of two starts now: Reel Big Fish has many incredible albums, but Why Do They Rock So Hard? SHOULD most certainly be lumped in the CLASSIC ska-punk category. As an aside, I LOVE LOVE LOVE Turn The Radio Off. It changed my life. Like the word “classic,” the phrase “it changed my life” often gets overused, but I also deem it appropriate in this case. Why Do They Rock So Hard? made my changed life even more enriching. I. Mean. It. The shreddy guitars and powerful brass moved together in ways that I had never heard before, and I’ve yet to hear since. Like Hello Rockview, this album is also almost a legal drinking adult. Moral of the story: fall-1998 was the golden season for Third wave ska. Fun fact: This album ALSO contains a song with the name “Scott” in its title. Scott’s a dork.

So there you ska-ve it. Enjoy this playlist for Ska-tify featuring one song from each aforementioned album:

Ska-bat Ska-lom.