Cover image for Hell of a Hat: The Rise of ’90s Ska and Swing By Kenneth Partridge

Hell of a Hat

The Rise of ’90s Ska and Swing

Kenneth Partridge


$24.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-09038-2

Available as an e-book

280 pages
6" × 8"
16 b&w illustrations

American Music History

Hell of a Hat

The Rise of ’90s Ska and Swing

Kenneth Partridge

“Partridge’s gritty yet affectionate take on ska and swing brings the bands, their music, and their lasting cultural influence to vivid life.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
In the late 90s, third-wave ska broke across the American alternative music scene like a tsunami. In sweaty clubs across the nation, kids danced themselves dehydrated to the peppy rhythms and punchy horns of bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish. As ska caught fire, a swing revival brought even more sharp-dressed, brass-packing bands to national attention. Hell of a Hat dives deep into this unique musical moment.

Prior to invading the Billboard charts and MTV, ska thrived from Orange County, California, to NYC, where Moon Ska Records had eager rude girls and boys snapping up every release. On the swing tip, retro pioneers like Royal Crown Revue had fans doing the jump, jive, and wail long before The Brian Setzer Orchestra resurrected the Louis Prima joint. Drawing on interviews with heavyweights like the Bosstones, Sublime, Less Than Jake, and Cherry Poppin' Daddies—as well as underground heroes like Mustard Plug, The Slackers, Hepcat, and The New Morty ShowKenneth Partridge argues that the relative economic prosperity and general optimism of the late 90s created the perfect environment for fast, danceable music that—with some notable exceptions—tended to avoid political commentary.

An homage to a time when plaids and skankin’ were king and doing the jitterbug in your best suit was so money, Hell of a Hat is an inside look at 90s ska, swing, and the loud noises of an era when America was dreaming and didn’t even know it.

“Partridge’s gritty yet affectionate take on ska and swing brings the bands, their music, and their lasting cultural influence to vivid life.”
“If you want to be an expert on ska, here’s a must-read. Partridge draws on interviews from some key figures, including the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Sublime, and Less Than Jake, to tell the story of a genre that found huge success at a time when its upbeat, lighthearted nature seemed to reflect the optimism of its environment.”
“A time capsule and family reunion all in one. Partridge had unprecedented access to some of the time period’s heavy hitters, so the narrative he weaves is authentic and insightful. . . . An easily digestible piece of music history that anyone who cares about understanding American music should read.”
“Now it can be told: the ska and swing music of the glorious post-Nirvana ’90s deserves your love and respect. Kenneth Partridge takes you back to the songs that will have your Vans tapping, with stories that will make your pompadour stand on end. Mr. Partridge, skanks for the memories.”
Hell of a Hat is the long-overdue chronicle of how the ska and swing movements of the late twentieth century were more than mere fads. In his frantic and fascinating book, Partridge authoritatively defends the love that an entire generation had for these two cultural revivals, which flew against the angst-ridden stereotype of the ’90s. This book positively dances.”
“American ska hasn’t received its proper due nor garnered the kind of respect that it deserves. Hell of a Hat goes a long way toward remedying that oversight.”
“Partridge did a fantastic job writing this book, as it is well-researched and thorough while still accessible to a wide range of readers. I highly recommend this book for any music collection, academic or public.”

Kenneth Partridge is a music and pop-culture journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. He has written for publications such as Billboard, The AV Club, Pitchfork, The Atlantic, Refinery 29, and Genius, where he is a managing editor.


Introduction: Bring on the Horns

1. Noise Brigade

2. Trapped in a Box

3. The Contender and the Kings of Swing

4. Skanking Behind the Orange Curtain

5. California Skaquake

6. One Nation Under Ska-Punk

7. Old’s Cool

8. East Side Beat

9. Misfits of Swing

10. Stray Cat Swings

11. Swinging at the Margins

Conclusion: The Beats Go On

Source Essays and Further Reading


Download a PDF sample chapter here: Introduction