The label was started in 1979, by Jerry Dammers of the Specials in the wake of the UK ska evival. It catered mainly for the musical tastes of skinheads, rudies and mod revivalists and released ska- and reggae-influenced music. Dammers also tried to broaden the label's musical output, to include funk and pop. In the seven years of operation (1979 – 1986), the label had 20 hit singles in the UK. A unique feature of 2 Tone Records was the acts they signed were allowed to leave the label after releasing just one single. The first release was a double A side Gangsters (The Specials) and The Selecter (by label stablemates, The Selecter) and reached No 6 in the UK singles chart.
Dammers, with the assistance of Horace Panter and graphic designers John "Teflon" Sims and David Storey, created artwork for 2-Tone Records.
The Walt Jabsco logo portrays a man in a black suit, white shirt, black tie, pork pie hat, white socks and black loafers. The fictional character was based on an old picture of Peter Tosh (The Wailers). The logo from tracing an old picture of Peter Tosh (The Wailers). 2 Tone Records signed The Selecter, Madness and The Beat. On my radio by the Selecter, was released in 1979 and reached reached 8, on the UK charts; The Prince by Madness was released in the same year and peaked in the UK music charts at number 16; Tears of a clown by The Beat hit Number 6.
The Beat were the most successful of the 2-Tone bands in the USA. They left after releasing "Tears Of A Clown" and set up their own Go Feet label following The Specials example. Madness went on to become the most successful band in the UK to have ever signed with 2-Tone. They left 2-Tone after their first hit because they needed more resources to put out albums. Madness signed to Stiff Records. In 1980, The Bodysnatchers were signed to 2 Tone and released double A side "Let's Do Rock Steady" and "Ruder Than You". (UK No. 22). The band were invited to appear on Top of the Pops, to tour with The Selecter and to record a session for BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel. Their second single "Easy Life" reached number 50, before the band broke up. Some members formed The Belle Sisters, but the Bodysnathcers lead singer, Rhoda Dakar collaborated with The Specials, duetting with Terry Hall, "I Can't Stand It", and appearing on the album, More Specials. She also joined The Special AKA, and sang on both "The Boiler," which reached # 35 in the UK Singles Chart in 1982; and "Free Nelson Mandela" (UK No 10).
Elvis Costello & The Attractions almost issued a single on 2-Tone, when in between contracts they recorded "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down." The single was pressed and scheduled for release, but at the last minute a new contract with F-Beat label meant they released the single which went to No. 2 in the UK in 1980. The original 2-Tone pressing of "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down." is now a highly prized collector's item.
In 1981, documentary maker, Joe Massot, decided to make a documentary film on the 2 Tone music genre. He had previously met Madness on a US tour and wanted to know more about Ska revival in the UK. The film, featured performance footage of Madness, The Specials, The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, the Beat and Bad Manners on their UK tour.
The Higsons signed to the 2 Tone Records label and their first single, "I Don't Want to Live with Monkeys", was released in 1981. It was a blend of high-energy funk and groove which was a slight departure from Ska. In 1982, they released "Conspiracy", which is considered to be their finest work. The band broke up in 1986.
The Apollinaires joined 2 Tone Records in 1982, and were a ten-piece band. Their debut single, was "The Feeling's Gone" featured Rhoda Dakar. The band continued for several years but inevitably split up due to the difficulties of coordinating their large numbers.
After 2-Tone failed to sing UB40, then Dexy's Midnight Runners turned them down, the label started to faulter. The last record Dammer made for his label was "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend" and "Alphabet Army" by The JB All Star's was the last 2-Tone release in 1986.