Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Specials Release Crowning Achievement, Promptly Disappear Like Ghosts

I wouldn't have pegged early '80s Britain as a bouquet of roses, exactly, but I was surprised to learn about the true depth of urban turmoil and violence during that era. From Wikipedia:
In 1981, the United Kingdom suffered serious riots across many major cities in England. They were perceived as race riots between communities, in all cases the main motives for the riots were related to racial tension and inner-city deprivation. The riots were caused by a distrust of the police and authority. The four main riots that occurred were the Brixton riot in London, the Handsworth riots in Birmingham, the Chapeltown riot in Leeds, and the Toxteth riots in Liverpool.
Really? I associate riots with late '60s Detroit or Watts, or modern day Egypt and Libya, not '80s Britain. Things must have been pretty shitty. At any rate, trouble had probably been brewing for quite some time. In 1980, Specials keyboardist Jerry Dammers wrote a song called "Ghost Town," which he says was inspired by the industrial decline of the band's hometown, Coventry (think every other Bruce Springsteen song), not any particular riot per se. But just as the song started climbing the charts, riots broke out in Brixton. Suddenly "Ghost Town" was "prophetic" and "captured an era." I suppose it did, but none of that would have mattered if the song stank.

It didn't.

I remember reading years ago about how great "Ghost Town" was - how it was so "relevant" and "incisive." But after I found the Specials' debut album so disappointing, I figured, "Yeah, it's probably not that good."

I was wrong.

The sound of wind. A hypnotic, funky reggae beat. A minor key, vaguely Middle-Eastern keyboard melody.
This town, is coming like a ghost town
All the clubs have been closed down
This place, is coming like a ghost town
Bands won't play no more
Too much fighting on the dance floor
This song is ... spooky! They even start making this high-pitched, Native American war cry sound. It's like a barren, Spaghetti Western landscape - but with ska.

In the '80s, meaningful social commentary and commercial success did not, shall we say, go hand in hand. But every once in a while, I guess one snuck through the cracks.

So, the start of a terrific new era for the Specials? No, just the opposite. As with the English Beat and "Save It For Later," right when the Specials were arguably discovering their true artistic powers, they broke up. Well, officially, Jerry Dammers kept releasing music under the name "the Specials," but the band's three lead singers (Lynvald, Neville, and Terry) left to form a group that, although not as highly regarded as the Specials, is a group I actually like more.

Prepare yourself ... for the Fun Boy Three.


Herr Zrbo said...

Wow, I didn't realize until I hit play that I totally knew Ghost Town without even realizing it. Very memorable, still hear it on Live 105 quite often. -man on the street

Little Earl said...

Damn you, Man on the Street!!!