The 10 best ska-punk bands of the '90s

After over two decades as a band, Less Than Jake didn’t just live through, and survive, the global ska-punk explosion of the mid- to late-1990s, the Florida quintet has continued to thrive, thanks to one of the best live shows in the business and a sound that has fearlessly adapted and updated itself over the years. Here, LTJ drummer and lyricist Vinnie Fiorello breaks down the best of 1990s ska-punk, with a very discerning eye…

“Let me start this off by saying that I’m leaving off Sublime and No Doubt because, while they played ska-influenced music in the 90’s and beyond, they never hit the nerve exactly of the punk scene we had started in. I’m also leaving out bands like The Toasters, Scofflaws, Hepcat and everyone else that would get mad if I hang the tag ‘ska-punk’ around them. In addition, I’m excluding Operation Ivy (because their full-length came out in 1989) and leaving off Fishbone because Fishbone rules the world. Oh yeah, and I’m leaving my own band Less Than Jake off this list because if I included us, I would be a huge boner. Right? Right.”

THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES – The Impression That I Get (1997) “The Bosstones were monsters live, devastatingly tight and with the right amount of anger and aggression. They were the band that broke out from the punk-ska scene and this song makes the argument for why. We got to open for them a few times and they always have been professional, gracious and crushingly great live. They’re the crowned kings of ska-punk and always will be to me.”

THE SUICIDE MACHINES – Break The Glass (1996) “Friends and brothers. The Machines were happening at the same time as LTJ and when we found them on our second tour, we bonded. Still to this day, I see most of the 90’s line-up around, in their other bands. These guys took the old punk and third-wave ska influence and mashed it together with Chicago style pop-punk. Led by singer Jay Navarro and anchored by Derek Grant (now Alkaline Trio) on drums, they pushed the genre’s live shows to the limit.”

SKANKIN’ PICKLE – Song #3 (1997) “The blueprint for LTJ’s touring ethic, and also releasing some early music from us, Skankin’ Pickle’s studio records rarely did anything for me, but watching and listening to those songs live made a lightbulb go off. Every member of the band had this electric personality and they added this zany headspace that was rarely seen in the serious-faced punk scene.”

REEL BIG FISH – Sell Out (1996) “Speaking of fun… Reel Big Fish’s lyrics took satire and dry wit to new levels: quirky, but with a dark side. After touring with RBF, I can say the lyrics and music perfectly match singer/guitar player Aaron Barrett. The ‘90’s ska scene wouldn’t have been what it was without RBF. I always considered them the polar opposite of Less Than Jake, but I realise now how much we share the same space.”

KEMURI – Positive Mental Attitude (P.M.A.) (1998) “Our Japanese brothers. The east’s take on a west coast sound, influenced by English and Jamaican music styles. That’s a lot to take in, but Kemuri always handled the writing and music like no other band I’ve encountered. An absolute insane work ethic and endless amount of energy from frontman Fumio Ito.”

THE PIETASTERS – Out All Night (1997) “More soul than ska, but The Pietasters, off the stage, fought, fucked, and drugged harder than anyone in the 90’s I knew. For me, their stories are legend, having heard and witnessed a lot of them. The Pietasters gave no fucks, but could craft the catchiest of songs with the most soulful crooning of any other band in the ‘90’s.”

SPRING HEELED JACK – Jolene (1998) “I watched the best horn section in ska-punk play in a weird youth centre on our first tour. All three horn players were in the crowd, yelling lyrics, getting in the faces of people in the crowd. Those guys became the horn players of Bosstones [trombonist Chris Rhodes], Reel Big Fish [trumpet player, Tyler Jones] and Less Than Jake [saxophonist J.R.] after Spring Heeled Jack broke up. “

LIFE BALL – Love Me (1995) “The Japanese equivalent of Operation Ivy. Since I couldn’t technically include Op. Ivy in this list, I’m including this. Life Ball is one of the bands that we would constantly listen to in the van on tour, or at home hanging around our apartment. Insanely catchy and fun.”

SLAPSTICK – Eighteen (1997) “We played with Slapstick on our second tour and just like with The Suicide Machines, when we first met it was like finding long lost brothers. Slapstick members went on to be in Alkaline Trio [bassist Dan Andriano] and Lawrence Arms [vocalist Brendan Kelly], but we played some great shows together while they were around.”

RANCID – Time Bomb (1995) “Let’s face the facts, no list of 90’s ska-punk would be complete without Rancid. They defined a style of ska-punk that is still used as a blueprint today.”