Two-tone (music genre)

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Two-tone or 2 tone is a genre of British popular music of the late 1970s and early 1980s that fused traditional Jamaican ska music with elements of punk rock and new wave music. [1] Its name derives from 2 Tone Records, a record label founded in 1979 by Jerry Dammers of The Specials, [2] and references a desire to transcend and defuse racial tensions in Thatcher-era Britain: many two-tone groups, such as The Specials, The Selecter, and The Beat featured a mix of black, white, and multiracial people.


Originating in the Midlands city Coventry in England in the late 1970s, it was part of the second wave of ska music, following on from the first ska music that developed in Jamaica in the 1950s and 1960s, and infused it with punk and new wave textures.

Although two-tone's mainstream commercial appeal was largely limited to the UK, it influenced the third wave ska and ska punk movements that developed in the US in the late 1980s and 1990s. [3] [4]


The two-tone sound originated among young musicians in Coventry in the West Midlands of England, who grew up listening to 1960s Jamaican music. [5] They combined influences from ska, reggae and rocksteady with elements of punk rock and new wave. Bands considered part of the genre include The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, The Beat, Bad Manners, The Bodysnatchers and Akrylykz.

The Specials' keyboard player Jerry Dammers coined the term "two-tone". Dammers, with the assistance of Horace Panter and graphic designer John "Teflon" Sims, developed the iconic Walt Jabsco logo (a man in a black suit, white shirt, black tie, pork pie hat, white socks and black loafers) to represent the two-tone genre. The logo, based on an early album-cover photo of Peter Tosh, included an added black-and-white check pattern. [6] [7] [8]

Most of the bands considered to be part of the two-tone genre were signed to 2 Tone Records (operative 1979–1985) at some point. Other record labels associated with the two-tone sound were Stiff Records and Go Feet Records. The music was especially popular among skinheads, rudies and mod revivalists.[ citation needed ]


On 1 October 2010 the 2-Tone Central museum, cafe and venue opened in the Coventry University Students' Union building, and by August 2011 it had moved to the 2-Tone Village in Stoke, Coventry. [9] It includes exhibition space and the Coventry Music Wall of Fame. [10] [11] [12] [13]

Related Research Articles

Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. It combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. Ska is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off beat. It was developed in Jamaica in the 1960s when Stranger Cole, Prince Buster, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd, and Duke Reid formed sound systems to play American rhythm and blues and then began recording their own songs. In the early 1960s, ska was the dominant music genre of Jamaica and was popular with British mods and with many skinheads.

The Specials

The Specials, also known as The Special AKA, are an English 2 Tone and ska revival band formed in 1977 in Coventry. After some early changes, the first stable lineup of the group consisted of Terry Hall and Neville Staple on vocals, Lynval Golding and Roddy Radiation on guitars, Horace Panter on bass, Jerry Dammers on keyboards, John Bradbury on drums, and Dick Cuthell and Rico Rodriguez on horns. Their music combines a "danceable ska and rocksteady beat with punk's energy and attitude". Lyrically, they present a "more focused and informed political and social stance".

<i>More Specials</i> 1980 studio album by The Specials

More Specials is the second album by English ska band the Specials, released by 2 Tone Records in October 1980. After the success of the band's self-titled debut, band member Jerry Dammers assumed the role as the band's leader and stirred them into expanding their 2 Tone sound into other genres of music, most prominently a lounge music and easy listening style inspired by Muzak. Several band members disagreed with Dammers' vision and brought their own influences to the album, including from northern soul and rockabilly, contributing to an eclectic sound palette. The relations between band members continued to sour into the album's accompanying tour and most of the band departed in 1981.

Jeremy David Hounsell Dammers is a British musician who is a founder, keyboard player and primary songwriter of the Coventry, England, based ska revival band The Specials, The Special A.K.A. and The Spatial AKA Orchestra. He also founded 2 Tone Records.

Neville Staple

Neville Eugenton Staple is a Jamaica-born English singer for the 2-tone ska band The Specials as well as his own band, The Neville Staple Band. He also sang with Ranking Roger in Special Beat.

The Selecter

The Selecter are a 2 Tone ska revival band from Coventry, England, formed in mid-1979.

Rude boy, rudeboy, rudie, rudi, and rudy are slang terms that originated in 1960s Jamaican street culture, and that are still used today. In the late 1970s, there was a revival in England of the terms rude boy and rude girl, among other variations, being used to describe fans of two-tone ska. The use of these terms moved into the more contemporary ska punk movement as well. In the UK, the terms rude boy and rude girl are used in a way similar to gangsta, yardie or badman.

<i>The Specials</i> (album) 1979 studio album by The Specials

The Specials is the debut album by British ska revival band The Specials. Released on 19 October 1979 on Jerry Dammers' 2 Tone label, the album is seen by some as the defining moment in the UK ska scene. Produced by Elvis Costello, the album captures the disaffection and anger felt by the youth of the UK's "concrete jungle"—a phrase borrowed from Bob Marley's 1973 album Catch a Fire but equally appropriately used here to describe the grim, violent inner cities of 1970s Britain. The album features a mixture of original material and several covers of classic Jamaican ska tracks.

Horace Panter

Horace Panter also known as Sir Horace Gentleman, is the bassist for the British 2 Tone ska band The Specials.

2 Tone Records

2 Tone Records was an English record label that mostly released ska and reggae-influenced music with a punk rock and pop music overtone. It was founded by Jerry Dammers of the Specials and backed by Chrysalis Records.

Ghost Town (Specials song) The Specials song

"Ghost Town" is a song by the British two-tone band the Specials, released on 12 June 1981. The song spent three weeks at number one and 10 weeks in total in the top 40 of the UK Singles Chart. Addressing themes of urban decay, deindustrialisation, unemployment and violence in inner cities, the song is remembered for being a hit at the same time as riots were occurring in British cities. Internal tensions within the band were also coming to a head when the single was being recorded, resulting in the song being the last single recorded by the original seven members of the group before splitting up. However, the song was hailed by the contemporary UK music press as a major piece of popular social commentary, and all three of the major UK music magazines of the time awarded "Ghost Town" the accolade of "Single of the Year" for 1981.

Lynval Golding

Lynval Golding is a Jamaican-born British musician. His family moved from Jamaica to Gloucester, before moving to Coventry when he was eighteen. He is currently living in Gig Harbor, Washington. He is best known as a rhythm guitarist and vocalist with the British 2 Tone Records band, the Specials.

<i>Todays Specials</i> 1996 studio album by The Specials

Today's Specials is a cover album by The Specials, released in 1996. It is the first studio album by the group since 1984, albeit not involving the full original line-up. Original members Neville Staple, Roddy Byers, Lynval Golding, and Horace Panter are joined by new members Mark Adams and Adam Birch, along with a number of sessions musicians. Lead vocals are mostly handled by Staple and Golding, with Neville's daughter Sheena Staples contributing backing vocals to the album.

<i>Skinhead Girl</i> 2000 studio album by The Specials

Skinhead Girl is a cover album by The Specials Released in 2000. After a project backing ska legend Desmond Dekker on his 1993 album King of Kings, producer Roger Lomas brought the band back into the studio to record covers of popular Trojan Records songs. Band member Lynval Golding left two weeks before the sessions, and was replaced by former Selecter guitarist Neol Davies on rhythm guitar.

Dawning of a New Era is an album credited to "The Coventry Automatics AKA The Specials", first released in 1993. The album is a collection of demo recordings from 1978, when the band was still known as "The Automatics". They would shortly rename themselves "The Coventry Automatics" before eventually becoming "The Specials". The release is notable for featuring an early lineup of the band, featuring original drummer Silverton Hutchinson and before the addition of toaster Neville Staple. It was also the first release of recordings of three songs not otherwise recorded by the band, "Wake Up", "Rock & Roll Nightmare", and "Look But Don't Touch".

John Bradbury (drummer)

John "Brad" Bradbury was an English drummer and record producer. He is best known for having been the drummer in the English ska group The Specials.

<i>Original Rude Boy</i>

Original Rude Boy (2009) is the autobiography of Neville Staple, vocalist in ska band The Specials. The book was launched in May, 2009 to coincide with the reunion tour of The Specials. It sets out to chart the black British influence on the second wave of ska which originated in Coventry in the late 1970s. In particular, Staple's involvement in the rude boy scene.

The Boiler

"The Boiler" is a January 1982 single by Rhoda Dakar with The Special AKA. It was released on 2 Tone Records.

Rat Race (The Specials song) 1980 single by The Specials

"Rat Race" is a song by ska/2-Tone band The Specials, released on 17 May 1980 by 2 Tone Records as a double A-side single with "Rude Buoys Outa Jail". The single wasn't included on the UK release of the More Specials album, but was included on the US version, released by Chrysalis Records. The song peaked at no. 5 on the UK Singles Chart and also charted on the US Dance Chart.

<i>Encore</i> (The Specials album) 2019 studio album by The Specials

Encore is the eighth studio album by the English ska revival band The Specials. It is their first studio album of original songs since 1998's Guilty 'til Proved Innocent!, and their first new material with vocalist Terry Hall since 1981's "Ghost Town" single.


  1. "Ska Revival". AllMusic.
  2. Chris Woodstra. "The Specials". AllMusic.
  3. Selvin, Joel (23 March 2008). "A brief history of ska". San Francisco Chronicle .
  4. "Third Wave Ska Revival". AllMusic.
  5. "Jerry Dammers interview by Alexis Petrides", Mojo , Jan. 2002. Accessed on 18 October 2007
  6. Horace Panter (2007). Ska'd For Life. Sidgwick & Jackson.
  7. Staple, Neville. Original Rude Boy. Aurum Press, 2009
  8. "British ska legends The Specials. History, lyrics, MP3, 2 Tone, two tone, ska, Jerry Dammers, Terry Hall, Neville Staple, Roddy Byers, Lynval Golding, Horace Panter, John Brad Bradbury". Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  9. "2-TONE CENTRAL-The 2-Tone Museum, Cafe and Venue, Coventry". Archived from the original on 30 June 2014. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
  10. Chambers, Pete (20 October 2011). "Music Legends Honoured on Coventry's Wall of Fame". Coventry Evening Telegraph . Archived from the original on 4 August 2013. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
  11. Carpenter, Steve (22 November 2011). "Three more names on Coventry Music Wall of Fame". Coventry Observer. Archived from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 24 November 2011.
  12. Manger, Warren (6 December 2011). "Wall of Fame honours more stars who put Coventry on the music map". Coventry Evening Telegraph . Retrieved 8 December 2011.
  13. Bagot, Martin (6 December 2011). "Coventry music heroes honoured in Wall of Fame". Coventry Evening Telegraph . Retrieved 8 December 2011.


Further reading