The 10 best 2 Tone songs as chosen by The Selecter's Pauline Black

The 2 Tone label – as it was back in 1979 when it first started - was very much something that brought together a whole load of subcultures all under one umbrella and said, ‘Let’s celebrate the things that unite us rather than the things that divide us. It brought in mods, it brought in rude boys, it brought in skinheads, it brought in punks, and whoever else wanted to come along – I’m sure there were a few hippies there as well. I think that the reason why it resonates so much now is the fact that it’s fed into the whole idea of multiculturalism and how it’s beneficial for society. Therefore, 2 Tone does not grow old. It’s conscious music, and it moved every black kid in this country forward a million steps.

10. RHODA DAKAR – The Boiler 

I just think this is an absolutely excellent track, in the respect that in 1979 people didn’t really talk about date rape and those kinds of things. It took a lot of bottle for Rhoda to stand on a stage in front of an all-female band, which is where I first heard her do it live, and perform this song to what was a predominantly male audience. I still think it’s one of the best songs ever. It begins with a sort of film noir backing track, and people don’t really know where it’s going. It starts off as a fairly innocuous story, and then it ends with a woman screaming about rape really, really loudly. I’m not going to say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, but believe me, nobody laughed. She’ll always have my undying respect for this song.

9. BAD MANNERS – Can Can 

I mean Dougie (frontman Douglas Trendle, aka Buster Bloodvessel), what can you say? Bad Manners began doing shows with us at the Electric Ballroom. There’d be them, us, The Mo-dettes, and sometimes Madness would be on too, and the one thing you could always rely on with Bad Manners is they’d always get the place dancing. Can Can was a stroke of genius – a big fat man in a tutu, giving it large on Top of the Pops. It couldn’t be beaten. It’s a fantastic track, it’s really funny, and it’s typical Bad Manners.

8. THE SELECTER – The Selecter 

Without this song, which was written by Neol Davies (The Selecter) and John Bradbury (The Specials), there wouldn’t be The Selecter as we know it today. It’s a wonderful, haunting instrumental that ended up as the B-side of _Gangsters _(The Specials). I remember the first time I heard it, when Neol played it to us when we were first coming together as a band, and I just thought it was fantastic.

7. MADNESS – Embarrassment 

Embarrassment was the only Madness track that I could really relate to, because it’s about a mixed-raced kid in a family who’s a bit of an embarrassment. It completely related to my upbringing as a mixed-race kid within a white family, who was adopted. Every time we went anywhere my existence always had to be explained, and was always prefaced with, ‘She’s adopted you know’, to avoid any embarrassment.

6. THE BEAT – Can’t Get Used To Losing You 

David (Wakeling, vocals) is such a sweetie. Blond, blue-eyed soul music with a ska beat. How can you not like it? He tells a very funny story, which he always does in his dad’s Brummie accent, about how his dad suggested that they try covering the Andy Williams song. And they did try it, and it really, really worked. I think it’s a wonderful song. There’s a reason why 2-Tone started in the Midlands too. I don’t think it could’ve started in London. It had to have that kind of provincial thing going on where people actually came together. Coventry is a very small place – about 350,000 people – and there wasn’t the kind of segregation that you get in larger cities. I’ve never really felt threatened or experienced any deep racism there. It’s a city of peace and reconciliation for all kinds of reasons, and it very much fits the whole brief of what 2-Tone was all about.

5. THE SELECTER – Black and Blue 

This was a song I wrote for the Too Much Pressure album. It was a fairly autobiographical track, and Rico Rodriguez came up to the studio and did an absolutely divine trombone solo. He was the trombonist in The Specials, and he’s just a really beautiful man. He’s still making records too, largely thanks to Jools Holland.

4. THE SPECIALS – Stupid Marriage 

It’s such a good lyric, and that was (The Specials and 2-Tone Records founding member) Jerry Dammer’s forte. He was always taking something and making a really great lyric around it; fitting it to music that was already there, but taking it and making something much more of it.


This is a fantastic song, written from a woman’s point of view about getting on and doing what you want to do. It’s a feminist anthem that was very much overlooked. I was quite sorry to see them turn into The Belle Stars without Rhoda (Dakar). Rhoda was the one that kept the whole thing together I thought, and the one who had the intent and the energy to do what she needed to do. They weren’t the same without her.

2. THE SELECTER – Celebrate The Bullet 

This is a brilliant song that completely got overlooked because unfortunately it came out around the same time that they shot John Lennon and Ronald Reagan. I wasn’t so sad about Ronald Reagan, but I was absolutely mortified about John Lennon. And Radio 1 refused to play it. So without airplay it really wasn’t going anywhere. Also, it was probably a big departure from what we’d been doing and it probably wasn’t the most auspicious track to promote the second album (Celebrate The Bullet). It’s an absolute gem of a song and we still play it live today.

1. SPECIAL AKA – War Crimes 

I was a great admirer of the Special AKA, and this was an album that was produced with a lot of care and a lot of love. It actually wanted to talk about the world that we were living in, whilst everyone else was off being a New Romantic. To my mind this song stands on a par with Nelson Mandela, even more so than Nelson Mandela perhaps, because you could drop this song now and it’s still totally and utterly relevant. When you think about how many wars there have been since this song was written…it was an absolute tragedy that it was overlooked.

Pauline Black was talking to Matt Stocks. 

The Selecter: ‘When you reach our age you don't give a f*ck…’