In the 7-year history of the CDP, I’ve done countless lists and countdowns. Some are driven by popular culture, some by personal preference, some by no tangible criteria whatsoever. One thing I try to never do, however, is create a list that doesn’t reflect my honest opinion about something, regardless of if that betrays whatever knowledgeable hipster-facade I’m attempting to create here. If I think that Excitebike is a better Nintendo game than The Legend Of Zelda, I’ll say it is with no fear of a Internet Tough Guy beatdown. I’m a man; I drive a Mercury Sable.
What I’m getting at is this. 3rd Wave Ska was, for most people, a moment in time that captured a lot of memories, positive nostalgia and a multitude of wide-eyed options for the future. It was the soundtrack to a lot of important times, and that attachment to music is always a more accurate connection and critique as to whether something is merely ‘Good’ or ‘Bad.’ A good song is the file tab in the Card Catalog of life (Dewey Decimal codes notwithstanding), and as long as it resonates personally, that’s all that matters. That’s what Art is. For example, if I touch a breast while ‘History Of A Boring Town’ is playing in the background, you’re never going to convince me that Hello Rockview is a shitty album, because I like breasts. Especially in 1998. That’s literally the best way I can describe what music means to me in a philosophical sense: Context is everything.
Context is everything.
10. Slapstick – Slapstick (1997)
Possibly the most influential 3rd Wave act not named Operation Ivy, this career retrospective of the Chicago Ska-Punk outfit inspired hundreds of bands and is a staple of the genre.
Give Them A Listen!
9. The Hippos – Heads Are Gonna Roll (1999)
The final proper release from The Hippos, this album should have been titled The Shape Of Ska To Come. More organ-driven than their previous effort, this is wall-to-wall solid songwriting and a band that seemed ready to transcend the genre. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
Listen To A Song I Wish I Wrote!
8. Mustard Plug – Evildoers Beware! (1997)
I credit Mustard Plug for the abdominal six-pack I had in high school (really, I did). Skanking for two straight hours in a sweltering concert hall is akin to about a billion crunches, which reminds me that I should probably market ‘The Ska Workout’ to pudgy 30-somethings.
Don’t Let ‘Em Take It All Away!
7. The Impossibles – Anthology (1999)
From a personal standpoint, few albums were more influential to me than Anthology. However, from a 3rd Wave standpoint, it’s not as high up as more deserving bands. The Impossibles were never too comfortable being labeled a Ska band, eventually abandoning the upstrokes altogether by the time Return dropped. That being said, the energy, hooks, nostalgia and lyricism of Gabe & Rory is about as good as any pretentious music I now keep in daily rotation.
Hi, We’re The Impossibles From Austin, Texas!
6. Less Than Jake – Pezcore (1995)
What is ‘Ska-Punk?’ Reel Big Fish are too Ska. Rancid is too Punk. Less Than Jake? Just right. Pezcore inspired a new genre with introspective lyrics, sing-along choruses, a high-energy live show and a following that keeps LTJ selling out huge venues to this day. Easily one of my favorite bands of all-time, and one of those albums that I can see myself listening to forever.
Give Them A Listen!
5. Reel Big Fish – Turn The Radio Off (1996)
This was it for me. This was the album that blew my senses out the back of my head, introducing me to Ska in the funnest possible way. It’s all here: the humor, the phenomenally-catchy songs, the cynicism, the Hawaiian shirts…RBF had it all.
Turn The Radio Off is known for being one of the most popular and influential Ska albums ever, and that’s due mostly on the part of their opening track, ‘Sell Out.’ If you aren’t a fan of ‘Sell Out,’ don’t get the humor or think that the style is a bit out of your comfort zone, do yourself a favor and steer clear of the genre for the rest of your life. You’re never going to appreciate it.
Listen To My Favorite 3rd Wave Song!
4. The Suicide Machines – Destruction By Definition (1996)
No band has ever copied the Operation Ivy model to more precision. The energy. The huge, singalong hooks. The distorted upstrokes. The machine-gun drumming. The attitude and brethren. The album cover that, to Ska fans, is nearly as iconic as London Calling. To this day, Destruction By Definition still kicks ass, still makes me drive 30 miles over the speed limit, and still makes me long for a sweaty circle pit.
Give Them A Listen!
3. Less Than Jake – Hello Rockview (1998)
Shortly after the release of Losing Streak, I became a huge Less Than Jake fan. I purchased as much of their extensive back catalog as possible, saw them in concert about three or four times, and waited patiently for their next release. One night, while attending a Ska show in Green Bay, the yet-to-be-released Hello Rockview was playing over the PA between bands, and I was more riveted with that than I was with the actual show. To me, it was perfect. The exact album that a band like LTJ should have made at that point in their career.
For years, I joked that Hello Rockview was my bible, and that any question about ones’ moral character or hardships would eventually be answered by one of the songs within. I still kind of mean that, as the classic themes of faded youth, broken friendships, maturity and uncertainty run rampant. For a kid that was nearly homeless at age 17, hearing a song like ‘Al’s War’ would simultaneously break my heart and make me stronger. Not to mention, the artwork, production and lyrics have never been better for Less Than Jake before or since.
Give Them A Listen!
2. Operation Ivy – Energy (1991)
Number two? Blasphemy! Well, not really, but this might rub some people the wrong way. Operation Ivy is easily one of the most influential Punk bands (not just the smaller genre of Ska) ever, and Energy is one of those rite of passage discs that has a reason to sit in everyone’s cabinet or hard drive.
What Jesse Michaels, Tim Armstrong and company did so well was capture the raw urgency of punk, while writing songs that embodied the roots of Ska. Shining a spotlight on everything that was wrong with their city, and simultaneously telling everyone that it would be okay if they stuck together. Later efforts like Rancid and Common Rider fared well, but Operation Ivy was a moment in time, and they know that. I’m just glad it happened at all.
STOP THIS WAR!
1. Catch 22 – Keasbey Nights (1998)
This was, for all intents and purposes, not supposed to happen.
These kids came out of essentially nowhere, releasing a debut album that spawned a 10th Anniversary re-release, a completely re-recorded Streetlight Manifesto version, and the almost-universal opinion that Keasbey Nights is the greatest 3rd Wave album ever. I mean, look at them all on the back cover. How old are they, 16? The matching suits; it all just screamed ‘This has been done before.’
What we didn’t know about Catch 22 was that not only was Thomas Kalnoky as original and prolific of a songwriter as we’ve ever seen in any scene, but that he surrounded himself with the best musicians the genre had to offer (especially drummer Chris Greer, who owns Keasbey Nights from start to finish). When Keasbey Nights began its upward momentum, however, the entire world took notice.
Nobody sounded like these guys. Nobody understood more influences. Nobody had more to say than Kalnoky. No band was tighter, cannonballing themselves into breakneck bursts at the most unexpected of times. These guys felt like your friends, too; the chatter at the end of ‘1234,1234’ is charming to say the least. The energy was through the roof, the talent incomparable. Keasbey Nights is a masterpiece of any genre, and as most of us know, this was the only proper Catch 22 album released with Kalnoky at the helm.
Streetlight Manifesto continues to redefine Ska at every turn, while Catch 22 still tours and releases albums (with limited activity since 2007), but Keasbey Nights can never be duplicated by either of them (even though they tried, literally, to do so). The intro to ‘Dear Sergio.’ The chorus of the title track. The bassline from ‘Walking Away.’ Hell, even the instrumental track kicks ass. Let’s also not forget the closing ‘1234,1234,’ which contains one of my favorite verses ever (which I’ll recite from memory):
Look around, little brother, can you tell me what you see?
You’re a big boy now, so take responsibility.
You never had it hard, and now it’s getting tough,
So you whine, whine, whine, and you say you’ve had enough.
You say I’m full of shit, that I’m a hypocrite.
I shouldn’t talk when I can’t take the advice that I give.
Well maybe you’re right, but open your eyes,
The main difference here, is that I try, try try.
Keasbey Nights tried and succeeded beyond the wildest expectations of the band, and perhaps beyond the wildest expectations of the Ska fans at the time. I went to a Ska show a few months ago to see some of the young bands who now view some of these albums as classics, and almost every group I saw played a cover of a Keasbey Nights song. That warmed my heart, because I knew that, while the 3rd Wave might be dead, timeless music is simply that.
Give Them A Listen!
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