10 Must Hear Classic Tracks by The Specials
check out 10 must hear classic tracks by the specials ahead of the band’s headline show at gunnersville on saturday 7th september.
It’s been a huge year for The Specials. The 2-tone legends made a triumphant return with the release of their critically-acclaimed album ‘Encore’. The band also celebrated the 40th anniversary of their self-titled debut album originally released in 1979.
Now, The Specials are set to headline Gunnersville on Saturday 7th September in Gunnersbury Park. The ska revivalists will be joined by special guests Ocean Colour Scene, The Roots and The Blinders.
We’re counting down the 10 Must Hear Classic Tracks by The Specials to get ready for what’s set to be an unmissable end of summer show.
1. ‘Ghost Town’
The Specials’ classic track ‘Ghost Town’ resonates as much today as when it was first released in 1981. In just 3 minutes and 40 seconds, ‘Ghost Town’ sums up the discontent of a fractured country to an eerie cinematic soundtrack bristling with jazz, reggae and ska.
‘Ghost Town’ was an unexpected smash hit in the summer of 1981 as it steadily climbed to number one a month after it was released. It stayed there for three weeks and hung around the UK Top 40 for a whopping 10 weeks.
The video for ‘Ghost Town’ is as iconic as the track itself. As you watch the band, crammed into a 1961 Vauxhall Cresta driving around the empty streets of London, you can feel the claustrophobia and desolation of the song.
‘Gangsters’ was the track that started it all and introduced us to the band’s unique 2-tone sound. It was originally released in 1979 as a limited edition double A-side with label mates, The Selector.
The inspiration for the track has gone down in music legend. After playing a club in France the band were confronted by a local hotel owner. She claimed The Specials should pay for damage caused by The Dammed who had stayed at the hotel previously. The hotel owner took guitarist Lynval Golding’s Telecaster hostage, a fracas ensued and the local police were called. Eventually, The Specials were free to go albeit a few bob short.
It was worth every penny though as ‘Gangsters’ would score the band their first UK Top 10 hit single.
3. ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’
On the much-loved B-Side for ‘Ghost Town’ singer Terry Hall invites you on a boozy night out down at the Locarno in Coventry. It sizzles with Hall’s sardonic wit right from the no nonsense opening lines, “out of bed at eight am, out my head by half past ten”.
It’s one of the band’s more laid-back early tracks. The jaunty organ carries along Hall’s deadpan lines, like: “wish I had lipstick on my shirt, instead of p**s stains on my shoes”. But, the song’s real charm is that you know it’s a night out you’ve been on at some point in time.
4. ‘A Message To You Rudy’
Dandy Livingstone’s ‘Rudy, A Message To You’ has been covered by everyone from Madness to the Maccabees to Amy Winehouse. But, we all know The Specials’ version is the ultimate cover of this rocksteady classic.
Renamed ‘A Message To You Rudy’, it scored the band a UK Top 10 single when it was released in 1979. It’s also the only cover of the song to feature veteran trombone player Rico Rodriguez who played on the original version in 1967.
5. ‘Vote For Me’
‘Vote For Me’ is the lead single from the The Specials’ eighth album ‘Encore’. It’s a special single as it’s first to be written and produced by founding members Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter since 1981’s ‘Ghost Town’.
It has everything you’d want from a song by The Specials. There’s the dazzling organ riffs, that instantly remind you of ‘Ghost Town’, and that familiar warm reggae ska beat offset by an ice cold sociopolitical takedown.
6. ‘Rat Race’
On The Specials’ second album, ‘More Specials’, the band moved away from their 2-tone sound to embrace other styles. However, ‘Rat Race’ remained largely true to their origins albeit with a Caribbean twist.
Written by guitarist Roddy Byers, ‘Rat Race’ set it sights on privileged students who waste their time at college as they know they’re guaranteed a good job. You can hear the disdain in every word as Terry Hall sings, “just talking about your Mother and Daddy’s Jaguar”.
7. ‘Too Much Too Young’
Few songs can match the fizzing vitriol of The Specials’ live version of ‘Too Much Too Young’. The track was originally released on the band’s self-titled debut album produced by Elvis Costello. However, the live version of the song cranks up the pace and the punk to 11.
Based on Lloyd Charmer’s song ‘Birth Control’ released in 1969, it has lines only Terry Hall could get away with singing. Like, the scathing proclamation: “Ain’t you heard of the starving millions, ain’t you heard of contraception”.
Contrary to popular belief, the song wasn’t banned by Top Of The Pops but the video for it was cut short.
8. ‘Embarrassed By You’
‘Embarrassed By You’ from ‘Encore’ shows The Specials are as refreshingly confrontational as when they released their debut album 40 years ago. A duet between Terry Hall and Lynval Golding, it takes square aim at knife crime and gangs to a lilting reggae beat.
9. ‘Monkey Man’
‘Monkey Man by Toots and the Maytals is one of the four straight-up cover versions included on The Specials’ self-titled debut album. Compared to the 1969 original, The Specials switch up the tempo and dial down the reggae to make it a track you can skank and pogo to.
10. ‘Do Nothing’
‘Do Nothing’ rocketed to number four in the charts when it was released in 1980. It’s one of the tracks on the band’s second album, ‘More Specials’ that saw them flirting with easy listening and muzak.
‘Do Nothing’ makes you feel both at ease and on edge. Over laid-back rhythms, Lynval Golding and Terry Hall sing the jarring lines: “I’m just living in a life without meaning, I walk and walk, do nothing”.