No, The Supertones weren’t the first Christian ska band. The Israelites’ first album pre-dated them by a year. But in the UK, Rev Counta and the Speedoze* (another incarnation of Ishmael United) had released a full-length as early as 1980! And perhaps some Jamaican bands that didn’t fit into the CCM/CBA mold had been active earlier than that, it’s hard to say. However, the Supertones were the first Christian ska band to release an album on a nationally-distributed label, releasing The Adventures of the O.C. Supertones just a few months before Five Iron Frenzy dropped Upbeats and Beatdowns. Those two bands, along with The Insyderz (whose debut hit just a year later), formed The Big Three of Christian ska.
While each of the big three played the specific subgenre of ska-core (alternately known as ska-punk, or third wave ska), each brought a different emphasis. Five Iron Frenzy was known for more thoughtful, deeper lyrics. The Insyderz brought a punkier edge (at least in the early days), but also made their biggest strides with 2 worship albums in the Skalelluia series. The Supertones, aside from their debut album to which we’ll return in a moment, were the most polished of the three. Lyrically, they hearkened back to a more primitive, pogo-for-Jesus style, reminiscent of 1980s Christian punk and new wave bands like Undercover and Altar Boys.
Let me be clear–this is not a complaint. Christian teens in the 90s were looking for a band to rally around. Something that sounded great, but also reinforced their beliefs. The O.C. (short for Orange County–incidentally where their musical/lyrical forefathers Undercover were also from) Supertones were happy to fill the role.
While they got more refined (AKA well-produced) as they went, there is a raw charm to the debut that makes it stand out for me personally. All the fun and upbeat songs are there, replete with Christian-youth-group-friendly lyrics that border at times on praise and worship. “Adonai” is no exception (Adonai, if you didn’t know, is an Old Testament name for God).
The band had roots in a punk band called Saved, before going full-ska for the 1996 debut. Over the next two decades, they’d release close to 10 albums, including a couple of live recordings. Band members have also played in a variety of other bands in other genres including Unashamed (hardcore), Bloodshed (hardcore/emocore), Stairwell (emo/indie rock), Any Given Day (praise and worship), The Dingees (ska), and many more.
*Special thanks to Chris White for reminding me of this seminal release.