Welcome to day four of Skalopnik where we’ll be exploring the genre’s roots with a deeply underappreciated track by the late, great Pat Kelly. It’s called “I’m Coming Home,” and it’s basically everything, which is to say, friends, that the vibes are undeniable.
In case you’re not a colossal nerd, ska got its start as a genre in Jamaica in the late 1950s and early 1960s with artists like Toots & the Maytals, Desmond Dekker and the Skatalites as an offshoot of reggae and rocksteady with the added influence of American jazz and R&B.
Pat Kelly – who, by the way, got a degree in audio electronics from MIT before returning to Jamaica to do music – got his start with the band The Techniques in 1967 before going solo in 1968. His recording career lasted through the 1990s, though he continued to perform live until 2018. He died in 2019 due to complications from kidney disease.
“I Am Coming Home” was released as the B-side of the If It Don’t Work Out 7-inch record in 1969 on Pama Records. I don’t really remember how I heard it initially, with it being one of Kelly’s lesser-known works, but the first time I heard his voice – which incidentally reminds me a lot of Sam Cooke – I was totally in love. It’s one of those songs that I always end up listening to two or three times when it comes on.
Artists like Kelly and Toots Hibbert went on to inspire the English two-tone movement, which gave us artists like The Specials, Madness and The (English) Beat, which then, in turn, begat to the so-called third-wave of ska which you’re likely familiar with because you played too much Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater as a part of a misspent youth.
It’s this first wave of ska that really kills me, and it’s the ska I pick up, pick up, pick up the most. It’s the best parts of American R&B and soul music but filtered through a completely different and vibrant culture. If more people were blasting Pat Kelly and Desmond Dekker out of the windows of their cars, the world would likely be a slightly better place.