Like jazz music, much of ska and reggae music is based on the idea of standards. That is, songs that are musical compositions which are an important part of the musical repertoire of ska and reggae musicians, in that they are widely known, performed, and recorded, and widely known by listeners. Indeed, much of the basis of what we know as modern reggae is based on riddim tracks written during the 60's and 70's.
Not all ska and reggae standards were written by ska and reggae composers. Some of the most well known come from Jamaica's neighbor and musical cousin Trinidad -- birthplace of calypso. And one in particular has a musical pedigree and history that deserves to be told more fully.
I remember hearing a 2-Tone styled version of 'Shame And Scandal' performed live by New York's Mephiskapheles sometime in very early 1990's. At the time, I thought it was one of their originals and I was mightily impressed. Only later did I learn that the song was a 60's ska cover. Even then, the subject matter and word play remained unique. For the uninitiated:
"The story follows a young Trinidadian man in search of a wife. In each of the verses, the young man asks his father for permission to marry a different woman, only to be told he can't marry the girl as "The girl is your sister but your mamma don't know". However, the tables are turned during the last verse, where the young man's mother tells him that "Your daddy ain't your daddy, but your daddy don't know", clearing the path for him to marry any of the girls."The genesis of "Shame & Scandal" as we know it today is actually based on a nascent version originally written and performed by noted calypso singer Sir Lancelot (Lancelot Victor Edward Pinard). As a young man in the late 1930's, Sir Lancelot was sent by his upper class family in Trinidad to New York to study medicine. He became a singer instead and was well known throughout the city often selling out performances. As a result, he was disowned by his family, which felt that his calypso singing had shamed them. In response he wrote the song that would eventually become "Shame & Scandal"
Due to his growing popularity, Sir Lancelot was cast in the fantastic 1943 film noir movie "I Walked with a Zombie" where his haunting rendition of the song, then titled "Fort Holland Calypso Song," captured the imagination of American movie going audiences. The song was the first calypso song to feature in an American film and Sir Lancelot became one of the very first Black actors to have a prominent role in a film. Watch a clip below:
Due to the impact the song had as a result of its use in the film, another Trinidadian calypso singer, Lord Melody had a hit in the early 1960's with his own version of the song titled "Wau Wau (Shame and Scandal in the Family)". This version used the same chorus as the original Sir Lancelot song, but with many new verses that we recognize today.
Lord Melody's version brought the song to the U.K. In 1965, British comedy actor Lance Percival reached No.37 in the UK charts with the original title.
Percival's version made it to Jamaica where it was picked up and versioned by musicians across the island. That same year, a ska cover version was recorded by The Wailers (with Peter Tosh on vocals), backed by the Skatalites and released on the Studio One label. And so, the song that travelled from Trinidad to New York to London, finally made a homecoming in Jamaica.
It was at this point that the song became a ska standard (most recently covered by Madness). Its story of extramarital affairs gone awry is one that still resonates in modern life.