The Specials

The Specials were an English ska band that released the 1979–80 albums The Specials and More Specials on 2 Tone, a specialty imprint started by keyboardist Jerry Dammers in cooperation with Chrysalis. They scored hits with “Gangsters,” “A Message to You, Rudy,” “Too Much Too Young,” “Rat Race,” and the 1981 UK No. 1 “Ghost Town.”

After the departure of guitarist Lynval Golding and vocalists Terry Hall and Neville Staple to Fun Boy Three, Dammers assembled a new lineup under the name Special A.K.A. for a further run of singles that culminated in 1984 with In the Studio, a reggae-infused album with the hit “(Free) Nelson Mandela.”

Members: Jerry Dammers (keyboards, vocals, 1977-84), Lynval Golding (guitar, vocals, 1977-81, 1996-2000, 2008-present), Horace Panter (bass, 1977-81, 1996-present), Silverton Hutchinson (drums, 1977-79), Tim Strickland (vocals, 1977), Terry Hall (vocals, 1977-81, 2008-present), Neville Staple (vocals, percussion, 1978-81, 1996-2013), Roddy Radiation [aka Roddy Byers] (guitar, vocals, 1978-81, 1996-2014), John Bradbury (drums, 1979-84, 2008-15), Rico (trombone, 1979-84), Rhoda Dakar (vocals, 1981-84), Dick Cuthell (flugelhorn, 1981-84), Gary McManus (bass, 1981-84), Stan Campbell (vocals, 1981-84), Egidio Newton (vocals, percussion, 1981-84), John Shipley (guitar, 1981-84), Nigel Reeve (saxophone, 1981-84), Caron Wheeler (backing vocals, 1981-84), Claudia Fontaine (backing vocals, 1981-84)


Background

The Specials started in 1977 as The Coventry Automatics, formed by keyboardist Jerry Dammers with guitarist/singer Lynval Golding, drummer Silverton Hutchinson, and bassist Horace Panter (aka Sir Horace Gentleman). Their original frontman, Tim Strickland, soon cleared way for Terry Hall, fresh off a stint with Coventry punks Squad. With the 1978 arrival of singer–toaster Neville Staple and guitarist Roddy Byers (aka Roddy Radiation), they remained themselves The Special A.K.A.

An early Specials show impressed Joe Strummer, who invited them to open for The Clash on their summer 1978 On Parole tour. Their mix of punk and reggae soon morphed into a tighter staccato sound that drew from 1960s Jamaican ska. Meanwhile, they spent some time under the auspices of Clash manager Bernie Rhodes.


1979

The Special A.K.A. cut a demo album that was later released as Dawning of a New Era. To complement the sound, they adopted a checkered b&w variant of the mod look, complete with skinny suits and pork pie hats. This became the trademark two-tone image, adopted by other bands on the emerging ska scene. Hutchinson made way for drummer John Bradbury, a personal friend of Hall.


2 Tone

The Specials attracted a contract offer from Chrysalis Records, a major label with an independent spirit since its launch in 1968 with banner-act Jethro Tull. In recent years, Chrysalis embraced new wave with Blondie, Generation X, and Pere Ubu on its roster. Dammers persuaded Chrysalis to fund fifteen singles annually (ten minimum releases) on 2 Tone, a subsidiary for England’s burgeoning ska scene.

As part of the contract clause, bands could sign with 2 Tone for one single and still accept larger offers by competing labels. Within months, 2 Tone signed Madness (an R&B-ska septet from Camden) and The Beat (a reggae-ska act from Birmingham).

Dammers designed the 2 Tone logo with Horace Panter and Chrysalis graphic artists John “Teflon” Sims and David Storey. The logo presents “2 TONE Records” in bold black letters above a checker strip. To its right stands a character in a two-tone mod suit, shades, and pork pie hat. The character — named Walt Jabsco after an old American bowling shirt in Dammer’s possession — derived from a photo of Wailers guitarist Peter Tosh.

(The Lambrettas — a band associated with the ska-adjacent mod revival — issued their debut single, the ska-tinged “Poison Ivy,” on Two-Stroke Records, a DIY that used an identical checker strip and a two-tone illustrated Jimmy-like mascot. Two-Stroke folded after a legal complaint from 2 Tone.)


“Gangsters”

On May 4, 1979, 2 Tone issued its first single: “Gangsters,” a ska anthem backed with “The Selecter,” an instrumental cut by Specials drummer John Bradbury with two associates.

A. “Gangsters” (2:47) relates to an incident in France where hotel staff forced The Specials to pay for property damage caused by another band (possibly The Damned) while the band toured with The Clash, whose then-manager receives a back-handed reference in the opening line (“Bernie Rhodes knows Don’t Argue”). Dammers based the song on “Al Capone,” a 1964 Blue Beat a-side by Jamaican singer Prince Buster.

B. “The Selecter” (2:57) originated as “The Kingston Affair,” a 1977 instrumental demo that Bradbury cut with Coventry guitarist Neol Davies, who overdubbed ska guitar on the track for this release. Side B is credited to The Selecter, composed (on this recording) of Bradbury, Davies, and trombonist Barry Jones.

Special A.K.A. recorded “Gangsters” in January 1979 at Horizon Studios, Coventry, where the band’s studio inexperience resulted in a first take with speaker-splitting bass reverb. They also recorded “Nite Klub” and “Too Much Too Young” but deemed these early versions unsatisfactory. With no suitable b-side, the single became a split release billed as The Special A.K.A Gangsters vs. The Selecter.

“Gangsters” reached No. 3 in France and No. 6 in Belgium and the UK. It also went Top 20 in the Netherlands (No. 11) and New Zealand (No. 20) and peaked in the Irish Top 30. The “Gangsters” video is a studio clip with the band in grayscale against a black background.

Special A.K.A. mimed “Gangsters” on the August 2 broadcast of the BBC music program Top of the Pops, which aired the song amid studio appearances by Sham 69 (“Hersham Boys”), Olympic Runners (“The Bitch”), The Korgis (“If I Had You”), Sparks (“Beat the Clock”), and videos by ABBA (“Voulez-Vous”), Dave Edmunds (“Girls Talk”), and The Boomtown Rats (“I Don’t Like Mondays”), plus a Legs & Co. routine to the Earth, Wind & Fire ballad “After The Love Has Gone.” Neville Staple does the ‘skank dance’ (bended-knee lifts and extended arms) in a checkered blazer during the Specials’ segment, where Terry Hall takes the microphone in a striped suits while the band perform in blazers in shades of brown (Dammers, Panter) and gray (Bradbury, Roddy).

Special A.K.A. plugged “Gangsters” a second time on the August 30 TotP broadcast, which also featured studio appearances by Secret Affair (“Time for Action”), Nick Lowe (“Cruel to Be Kind”), Gary Numan (“Cars”), Commodores (“Sail On”), The Stranglers (“Duchess”), and Cliff Richard (“We Don’t Talk Anymore”), plus a Legs routine to “Lost in Music” by Sister Sledge. In this appearance, an all-suited Specials perform amid green and grey geometric stage fixtures. Hall sports a black-dotted blue tie.

The success of this single prompted Neol Davies to form an actual band called The Selecter: a septet fronted by ex-radiographer Pauline Black. The 2 Tone label followed “Gangsters” with the August–September debut singles by Madness (“The Prince”) and The Selecter (“Too Much Pressure”). Meanwhile, Special A.K.A. modified their name to The Specials and recorded their debut album with production work by new wave figurehead Elvis Costello.


The Specials 

The Specials released their self-titled debut album on October 19, 1979, on 2 Tone (UK) and Chrysalis (abroad). It contains fourteen songs, opening with the Dandy Livingstone ska classic “A Message to You, Rudy.” Organist Jerry Dammers wrote two songs (“(Dawning of A) New Era,” “Little Bitch”) and collaborated with the band on three (“It’s Up to You,” “Nite Klub,” “Blank Expression”). Guitarist Roddy Byers submitted “Concrete Jungle.”

The Specials also contains covers of sixties ska standards by Toots & the Maytals (“Monkey Man”), Prince Buster (“Too Hot”), and Andy & Joey (“You’re Wondering Now”). Dammers applies new lyrics to rearranged source material on four songs, including “Do the Dog,” an update of the Rufus Thomas R&B chestnut “The Dog.”

Musically, The Specials contains classic ska (“A Message to You, Rudy,” “Monkey Man”), reggae (“It’s Up to You,” “Blank Expression”), and velocity ska–punk numbers (“Night Klub,” “Little Bitch”). The lyrics deal with racism (“Doesn’t Make It Alright”), urban crime (“Concrete Jungle”), and unplanned pregnancies (“Too Much Too Young”).

Elvis Costello earned his first production credit on The Specials, which features the seven-piece band — Dammers, Byers, bassist Horace Panter, drummer John Bradbury, guitarist–singer Lynval Golding, and singers Neville Staple and Terry Hall — with trumpeter Dick Cuthell (ex-Trifle) and veteran Cuban–Jamaican trombonist Rico Rodriguez.

1. “A Message to You, Rudy” (2:53) originated as a 1967 a-side by Jamaican–English singer Dandy Livingstone on the London-based Ska Beat label; first covered as a December ’67 b-side by Brummie ska-rockers Locomotive (who followed with an original titled “Rudi’s In Love”). ‘Rudy’ is a Jamaican colloquial name for “rude boy,” a young ruffian with criminal tenancies. During the 2 Tone ska revival, the term rude boy became synonymous with devotees of the music and style of dress.
2. “Do the Dog” (2:09) originated as “The Dog,” a 1962 Stax a-side by Memphis R&B singer Rufus Thomas; covered in the ensuing years by Otis Redding and Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames. Dammers’ opening couplet addresses factionalism between England’s music-based tribes:

All you punks and all you teds
National Front and natty dreads
Mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads
Keep on fighting ’till you’re dead

3. “It’s Up to You” (3:25)
4. “Nite Klub” (3:22) Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde joins in a studio party with Specials roadies and personnel to create the background club chatter.
5. “Doesn’t Make It Alright” (3:26) Dammers derived the root structure from the 1975 song “We Can Make It All Right” by Snakehips: the Coventry folk duo of Dave Goldberg and Mark Harrison (credited here as co-writers).
6. “Concrete Jungle” (3:18) shares its title with the opening track on the 1973 Island release Catch a Fire by Bob Marley & The Wailers.
7. “Too Hot” (3:09) originated as a 1967 b-side by Prince Buster & All Stars on the London-based Blue Beat label; credited under Buster’s real name Cecil Campbell.

8. “Monkey Man” (2:45) originated as a 1969 a-side by The Maytals on the Kingston rocksteady label Beverley’s Records; written by frontman Toots Hibbert and covered soon after by Ken Lazarus and Byron Lee & The Dragonaires.
9. “(Dawning of A) New Era” (2:24)
10. “Blank Expression” (2:43)
11. “Stupid Marriage” (3:49) derives from “Judge Dread (Judge Four Hundred Years),” a 1967 Blue Beat a-side by Prince Buster; co-credited between Cambell, Dammers, Staple, and Snakehips’ Mark Harrison.
12. “Too Much Too Young” (6:06) borrows melodic elements from “Birthcontrol,” a 1969 Pama Records a-side by rocksteady keyboardist–producer Lloyd Terrell (aka Lloyd Charmers), whose song is instrumental apart from a spoken-word intro and the phrase “Oh no, no gimme no more pickni,” which Staple and Golding inject between stanzas.
13. “Little Bitch” (2:31) borrows its riff from the 1971 Rolling Stones song “Brown Sugar” (the fluid strum between the opening bar-chords — recently lifted by Foreigner on “Hot Blooded” — and Jagger’s vocals).
14. “You’re Wondering Now” (2:36) originated as a 1964 a-side by the Jamaican rocksteady duo Andy & Joey; written by producer Clement Seymour.

Sessions took place in the summer of 1979 at TW Studios in Fulham, where Costello produced The Specials between his spring US tour and late-August Scandinavian blitz behind Armed Forces, his third album and second with The Attractions. The Specials recorded the songs live in the studio with Elvis and engineer Dave Jordan, a soundman on 1976–77 Island titles by Aswad, Automatic Man, Jess Roden, and Sandy Denny.

Cuthell and Rodriguez became permanent Specials auxiliary players and semi-official members. Cuthell (b. 1949, Liverpool) co-wrote two songs (“Alibi Annie,” “New Religion”) on Trifle’s 1971 Pye–Dawn brass rock release First Meeting. Rodriguez (b. 1934, Havana) earned one of his earliest credits on the 1960 single “My Baby” by the Jamaican vocal duo Higgs & Wilson. Dick and Rico interacted on late-seventies reggae albums by Delroy Washington, Burning Spear, and Steel Pulse. Each guests on 1979 new wave recordings: Cuthell on “That Is the Way” by XTC; Rodriguez on “An Englishman in New York” by Godley & Creme. Both play on “Offshore Banking Business” gy The Members.

The Specials appeared in a black-and-white sleeve with checker trim and photos of the band faced upward, as seen from overhead (front) and a sideways view (back). The song titles appear on the front like a typical back cover. The photographic husband–wife team of Chalkie Davies and Carol Starr took both photos, which Chrysalis reversed on US and Canadian copies.

On October 12, “A Message to You, Rudy” (b/w “Nite Klub”) appeared in advance of the album as the fourth 2 Tone single; billed as The Specials Featuring Rico.

In the video for “A Message to You, Rudy,” The Specials mime in a bright white studio; intercut with night-time street-corner footage of members and concert goers. Cuthell and Rodriguez appear with the band in the studio scenes, where Hall, Staple, and Golding share the front microphone.

“A Message to You, Rudy” reached No. 7 in Austria and No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart. The Specials mimed it on the October 25 TotP broadcast, which also featured a studio appearance by Viola Wills (“Gonna Get Along Without You Now”) and the new Queen video (“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”), plus Legs & Co. in a dance routine to “My Forbidden Lover” by Chic. Cuthell (curly mustache) and Rodriguez appear on a podium in The Specials segment, in which Hall and Golding where gray suits while Staple contrasts with a white blazer over black pants. Everyone is hatted apart from Hall and Bradbury. They reappeared to mime “Rudy” on the November 8 TotP episode, which also featured segments by Madness (“One Step Beyond”) and The Selecter (“On My Radio”).

The Specials reached No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 5 in New Zealand. It peaked at No. 20 in Australia and No. 21 in Canada. Chrysalis added “Gangsters” to Australasian and North American copies.

The Specials plugged the album with an autumn 2 Tone package tour with openers Madness, The Selecter, and Brummie newcomers Dexys Midnight Runners.

On December 28, 1979, The Specials played London’s Hammersmith Odeon as part of Concerts for the People of Kampuchea, a four-day series of benefit concerts for the war-torn nation, which suffered a four-year genocide of more than 1.5 million citizens under the barbaric regime of their recently overthrown dictator Pol Pot. Paul McCartney arranged the concert series, which featured sets by The Clash, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Matumbi, The Pretenders, Rockpile (with Robert Plant), Queen, The Who, Wings, and McCartney’s all-star jamboree Rockestra. In 1981, Atlantic Records distilled the concerts onto a twenty-song double-album that includes The Specials’ performance of “Monkey Man.


1980

The Specials performed “Gangsters” and “Too Much Too Young” on the April 19, 1980, episode of the NBC sketch-comedy program Saturday Night Live; guest-hosted by veteran character actor Strother Martin, who died of a heart attack three and a half months after the broadcast. On their spring US tour, Neville Staple appeared early for a gig at Duffy’s in Minneapolis and found a male strip show in progress. According to the Random Notes section in the April 17 Rolling Stone (issue 315), he joined in “to the delight of the mostly female crowd.”

Meanwhile, 2 Tone proliferated with The Bodysnatchers (an all-female London septet led by singer Rhoda Dakar) and The Swinging Cats (a Coventry septet with guitarist John Shipley). The Bodysnatchers scored a UK No. 22 hit with their February 1980 2 Tone single “Lets Do Rock Steady” (b/w “Ruder Than You”). Dammers co-produced The Swinging Cats’ single “Mantovani” (b/w “Away”), both Shipley-penned numbers.

The Specials embarked on a spring UK tour with The Bodysnatchers and The Go-Go’s, an all-female new wave pop-rock band from Los Angeles. During the tour, Hall romanced Go-Go’s guitarist–singer Jane Wiedlin. After they returned to the US, she wrote chords to a set of Hall’s lyrics titled “Our Lips Are Sealed.” The finished song became the debut Go-Go’s single and the lead track on their 1981 IRS release Beauty and the Beat, which spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.


Too Much Too Young

On January 11, 1980, The Specials released Too Much Too Young – The Special A.K.A. Live!, an EP with concert renditions of “Too Much Too Young” and four covers.

Side A contains two numbers recorded on December 2, 1979, at London’s Lyceum Theatre. 

1. “Too Much Too Young” (2:04)
2. “Guns of Navarone” (2:25) is the theme to the 1961 action adventure war starring Gregory Peck. The original — performed by the Mitch Miller Sing Along Chorus and the London Sinfonia — appears on the Columbia Records soundtrack by composer Dimitri Tiomkin with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.

Side B contains “Skinhead Symphony,” a medley of three late-sixties reggae covers performed on November 29, 1979, at the Coventry nightspot Tiffany’s.

3. “Long Shot Kick De Bucket” (3:10) originated as a 1969 Trojan Records a-side by Kingston reggae trio The Pioneers
4. “The Liquidator” (1:15) originated as the 1969 Estick Records a-side ” What Am I To Do Now” by reggae singer Tony Scott; repurposed months later as “The Liquidator” by the Harry J. All Stars.
5. “Skinhead Moonstomp” (2:11) originated as a 1969 Treasure Isle a-side by the British reggae–ska act Symarip (aka The Pyramids), written by keyboardist Monty Naysmith and singer–trombonist Roy Ellis.

Trombonist Rico Rodriguez plays on “Guns of Navarone” and (with Dick Cuthell on flugelhorn) “Long Shot Kick De Bucket.” The EP reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, where it overtook “Brass In the Pocket” by The Pretenders on the week of February 2, 1980, and held the top spot for two weeks before Kenny Rogers took the honors with “Coward of the Country.”

The Specials released a video for “Too Much Too Young” taken from a red-lit concert where rude boys rush the stage and Neville Staple strips to his bare chest. TotP aired the clip on its February 7 broadcast amid winter hits by The Boomtown Rats (“Someone’s Looking at You”), The Buggles (“The Plastic Age”), The Chords (“Maybe Tomorrow”), Cliff Richard (“Carrie”), Jefferson Starship (“Jane”), Joe Jackson (“Different for Girls”), The Regents (“7 Teen”), The Selecter (“Three Minute Hero”), and The Tourists (“So Good To Be Back Home Again”).

In France, Chrysalis issued the December 2 show as Live at The Lyceum, which features ten numbers from The Specials plus “Gangsters,” “Skinhead Symphony,” and a tributary rendition of “Madness,” the theme song of Madness on their 1979 Stiff Records debut One Step Beyond….


“Rat Race”

On May 16, 1980, The Specials released a UK standalone single: “Rat Race,” an anti-menial labor anthem by guitarist Roddy Byers; backed with “Rude Buoys Outa Jail” featuring Neville Staple (a.k.a. Judge Roughneck).

A. “Rat Race” (3:07)

B. “Rude Buoys Outa Jail” (2:37) appropriates “Rude Boy Gone a Jail,” a 1966 rocksteady a-side on Island–Studio One by Desmond Baker & The Clarendonians.

The Specials recorded “Rat Race” at Horizon Studios, a Coventry facility used by multiple ska contemporaries, including The Selecter (Too Much Pressure), Bad Manners, and The Reluctant Stereotypes. Soundman Dave Jordan, who engineered The Specials, becomes their ongoing producer on this single.

“Rat Race” reached No. 5 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 17 in Ireland. In the video, The Specials perform in a gymnasium full of students with a test in progress. A bespectacled Hall portrays a professor, flanked by Golding (track suit) and Staple (graduation robe). Dammers plays a stripped piano in frumpy woman teacher drag. Two test mice (one back; one white) reappear throughout on a checker-floored maze.

TotP aired the clip on its May 22 broadcast amid segments of the Average White Band (“Let’s Go Round Again”), Cockney Rejects (“I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”), Gary Numan (“We Are Glass”), Jona Lewie (“You’ll Always Find Me In the Kitchen at Parties”), Karel Fialka (“The Eyes Have It”), The Lambrettas (“D-a-a-ance”), and Michael Jackson (“She’s Out of My Life”). On August 1, 1981, the videos for “Rat Race” and “A Message to You, Rudy” aired on MTV as part of the US cable channel’s first day of broadcast.


More Specials

The Specials released their second album, More Specials, on September 19, 1980, on 2 Tone and Chrysalis. It features originals by guitarists Lynval Golding (“Do Nothing”), Roddy Byers (“Hey, Little Rich Girl,” “Holiday Fortnight”), and keyboardist Jerry Dammers (“Pearl’s Cafe,” “I Can’t Stand It,” “International Jet Set”), who co-wrote songs with singers Terry Hall (“Man at C&A”) and Neville Staple (“Stereotypes”).

More Specials expands on the ska style of its predecessor with shreds of sixties R&B (“Hey, Little Rich Girl”) and toytown music hall (“Pearl’s Cafe”). They take a laidback reggae approach on “Do Nothing” and “Man at C&A,” the latter infused with dub and psychedelia: both common traits of Side Two.

On “Stereotypes/Stereotypes Pt. 2,” Hall’s lucid vocals give way to Staple’s faint toasts across dense musical layers (Spanish guitar, buzzing keytones) set to a programmed bossa nova rhythmic pattern. Dammer’s newfound interest in airport muzak fuels “International Jet Set,” a motion-sick blend of sitar, ska chords, and dialed-in vocals. Bodysnatchers frontwoman Rhoda Dakar delivers off-key vocals on “I Can’t Stand It,” a reggafied number with psychedelic guitar–keyboard filigree.

Side One bookends with covers of the forties singalong “Enjoy Yourself” and the sixties R&B instrumental “Sock It to ’em J.B.” Original UK copies contain a bonus 7″ with Byers’ “Braggin’ & Tryin’ Not to Lie” (a galloping mix of rockabilly and jump blues) and a longer version of the May b-side “Rude Boys Outa Jail.” North American copies insert “Rat Race” as track 2.

1. “Enjoy Yourself” (3:39) is a song by Tin Pan Alley composer Herb Magidson and lyricist Carl Sigman; first released as a February 1949 RCA 78rpm by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra and soon covered by Guy Lombardo and Doris Day. A 1963 cover by Prince Buster placed “Enjoy Yourself” in the rocksteady canon; upheld by a 1975 Max Bygraves cover.
2. “Man at C&A” (3:36)
3. “Hey, Little Rich Girl” (3:35) features Madness saxophonist Lee Jay Thompson.
4. “Do Nothing” ( 3:43)
5. “Pearl’s Cafe” (3:07)
6. “Sock It to ’em J.B.” (2:56) originated as a two-sided R&B instrumental on Like–Atlantic by Rex Garvin & The Mighty Cravers, who performed it as a tribute to James Bond in the style of James Brown. This version honors a third “J.B” — Specials drummer John Bradbury.

7. “Stereotypes/Stereotypes Pt. 2” (7:24)
8. “Holiday Fortnight” (2:45) is a calypso instrumental.
9. “I Can’t Stand It” (4:01)
10. “International Jet Set” (5:37)
11. “Enjoy Yourself (Reprise)” (1:46)

Bonus 7”:
A. “Braggin’ & Tryin’ Not to Lie” (3:21) by Roddy Radiation and The Specials featuring saxophonist Paul Haskett.
B. “Rude Boys Outa Jail” (4:04) featuring Neville Staple a.k.a. Judge Roughneck.

Sessions took place in the summer of 1980 at Horizon Studios, where Dammers co-produced the album with Dave Jordan, who co-engineered More Specials with Jeremy “The Blade” Allom, a soundman on recent albums by Magazine (Secondhand Daylight), Steve Hillage, and the Michael Schenker Group. Bradbury produced “Sock It to ’em J.B.” as a possible solo single.

The album’s psychedelic tone stemmed from Dammer’s newfound fascination with the subtle layers of instrumental muzak, which The Specials encountered in airports between tour stops. In a reverse of standard recording protocol, he recorded the keyboards and vocals prior to the bass and drums tracks on songs like “Stereotypes” and “International Jet Set,” hence the rhythmic disconnect. Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, and Charlotte Caffey appear as backing vocalists.

On the cover of More Specials, they sit at a round table with Rhoda Dakar, who later joined the band. The back cover pictures the seven-piece from afar around an abandoned yacht.

On September 12, The Specials paired “Stereotype” and “International Jet Set” on a double a-sided 7″ that reached No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 12 in Ireland. They mimed “Stereotype” on the Dutch music program TopPop, on which they leaped about the studio stage against beaming blue back-lights. Golding sports a plaid suit in the segment, which shows Hall with his now-trademark racoon eye paint.

“Stereotype” appears on Power Play!, a Swedish K-Tel comp with hits by Blondie (“Call Me”), Genesis (“Misunderstanding”) Hall & Oates (“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”), Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark (“Enola Gay”), Madness (“Baggy Trousers”), Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (“Lies (Through The 80’s”), Pat Benetar (“Hit Me WIth Your Best Shot”), Stephanie Mills (“Never Knew Love Like This Before”), and XTC (“Towers of London”).

On December 5, “Do Nothing” became the second More Specials single, backed with the non-album “Maggie’s Farm,” a cover of the Bob Dylan classic with lyrics repurposed for the current topic of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“Do Nothing” reached No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 13 in Ireland. The Specials mimed it on the December 18 broadcast of TotP, which also featured holiday hits by ABBA (“Super Trouper”), Adam & The Ants (“Antmusic”), The Beat (“Too Nice to Talk To”), The Boomtown Rats (“Banana Republic”), Gary Numan (“This Wreckage”), Madness (“Embarrassment”), The Police (“De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”), Robert Palmer (“Looking for Clues”), Spandau Ballet (“To Cut a Long Story Short”), and The Stray Cats (“Runaway Boys”). The Specials don Christmas sweaters in their segment, which occurs on a cramped stage under pyramid fixtures.

More Specials reached No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart and peaked in the Swedish and New Zealand Top 30.


1981

Performance clips from 1980 Specials shows appear in the 1981 film Dance Craze, a documentary on the Two Tone ska movement with live numbers by The Selecter, Madness, The Beat, The Bodysnatchers, and Bad Manners. The 85-minute film contains 27 numbers, including four Specials songs: “Too Much Too Young,” “Concrete Jungle,” “Man at C&A,” and two appearances of “Nite Klub.” The last three appear on the corresponding soundtrack. The director, Joe Massot, also directed the 1976 Led Zeppelin concert documentary The Song Remains the Same.


“Ghost Town”

On June 12, 1981, The Specials released “Ghost Town,” a reggae-ska lament on England’s derelict city blocks. Keyboardist Jerry Dammers wrote the song after the band’s 1980 UK tour, which exploded them to boarded up nightclubs and desperate street vendors. The single has two b-sides: “Why?” (a roots reggae number by guitarist–singer Lynval Golding) and “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” (a laidback reggae-ska cut by singer Terry Hall).

A. “Ghost Town” (3:40)

B1. “Why?” (2:59)

B2. “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” (3:32)

The Specials recorded “Ghost Town” in April 1981 at Woodbine Street Recording Studios, a basement facility in Leamington Spa. Dammer’s enlisted producer John Collins on the strength of “At The Club,” a recent pop-reggae single by actor–singer Victor Romero Evans. Due to the complex nature of “Ghost Town,” Woodbine’s eight-track console proved challenging for the band and Collins.

The Woodbine sessions were the last of the classic seven-piece Specials lineup of Dammers, Hall, Golding, toaster Neville Staple, guitarist Ronny Bryers, bassist Horace Panter, and drummer John Bradbury. Collins encouraged Bradbury to model his drum pattern after the recent Sly & Robbie-produced single “What a Feeling” by Jamaican singer Gregory Isaacs. Late in the sessions, Dammer’s summoned “Braggin'” sessionist Paul Haskett for a flute part, which Collins captured onto the pre-recorded track of trumpeter Dick Cuthell and trombonist Rico Rodriguez. Collins added the ghostly fade-in sound with a Transcendent 2000 synthesizer.>

In the “Ghost Town” video, The Specials huddle inside a 1961 Vauxhall Cresta, which Panter drives through deserted streets in London’s East End. Scenes of the band through the windshield intercut with upviews of the city’s bleak tenements and modernist skyscrapers. The video ends with The Specials rock-tossing beside the River Thames.

“Ghost Town” reached No. 3 in Ireland, No. 7 in Norway, and went Top 20 in the Netherlands (No. 12), Belgium (No. 15), and New Zealand (No. 20). On the week of July 7, 1981, “Ghost Town” reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, where it overtook “One Day In Your Life” by Michael Jackson and held the summit for three weeks and bowed to “Green Door” by Shakin’ Stevens.

The Specials twice mimed “Ghost Town” on TotP, which aired the song five times between June 18 and July 23 amid summer ’81 hits by Depeche Mode (“New Life”), Imagination (“Body Talk”), Kate Bush (“Sat In Your Lap”), Kool & The Gang (“Take It To the Top”), Linx (“Throw Away The Key”), Odyssey (“Going Back To My Roots”), Saxon (“Never Surrender”), Sheena Easton (“For Your Eyes Only”), Siouxsie & The Banshees (“Spellbound”), Third World (“Dancing On The Floor (Hooked On Love)”), The Vapors (“Jimmie Jones”), and Visage (“Visage”). The Specials segments feature an expanded lineup of the seven members plus Cuthell, Rodriguez, Haskett, and Rhoda Dakar.


Band Split

While “Ghost Town” rode its chart peak, The Specials front trio — Terry Hall, Neville Staple, and Lynval Golding — announced their resignation from the band. They formed Fun Boy Three, which debuted with the late 1981 single “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)” and teamed with girl trio Bananarama on two hits: “It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” and “Really Saying Something.”

FB3 released the 1982–83 Chrysalis albums The Fun Boy Three and Waiting and scored further hits with “The Telephone Always Rings,”  “Summertime,” “The Tunnel of Love,” and Hall’s take on the US hit “Our Lips Are Sealed,” which Terry co-wrote with Go-Go’s guitarist Jane Wiedlin. Hall departed for the Manchester-based sophisti-pop band The Colourfield while Staple and Golding joined Selecter frontwoman Pauline Black in Sunday Best.

Specials guitarist Roddy Bryers formed Roddy Radiation & The Tearjerkers, which cut the 1982 Chiswick single “Desire” (b/w “Western Song”).

Dammers replaced Bryers with Swinging Cats guitarist John Shipley. He also enlisted Rhoda, who broke from The Bodysnatchers with bassist Nicky Summers while the remaining five members reconstituted as The Belle Stars.


1982


“The Boiler”

On January 11, 1982, 2 Tone issued “The Boiler” (b/w “Theme From the Boiler”), a standalone single credited to Rhoda and the Special AKA. The song concerns a rape endured by a friend of Rhoda Dakar.

Rhoda co-wrote “The Boiler” with The Bodysnatchers, who made it part of their 1980 live set. They earmarked “The Boiler” as a possible first single but opted for the safer “Let’s Do Rock Steady,” a UK No. 22 hit.

A. “The Boiler” (5:42) is a detailed narrative, sung-spoken in the first person by Rhoda, who portrays a lonely girl who accepts a date with a mysterious stranger who later gets aggressive and overpowers her.

B. “Theme From the Boiler” (4:12) is the “Boiler” backing track without Rhoda.

Dammers produced “The Boiler,” which features longtime Specials drummer John Bradbury and cornetist Dick Cuthell wit new recruit John Shipley and Rhoda’s bandmate Nicky Summers.


“Jungle Music”

In November 1982, 2 Tones released “Jungle Music” (b/w “Rasta Call You”), a standalone single credited to Rico and the Special AKA. Rodriguez wrote both songs, which feature Dammers, Bradbury, Cuthell, Shipley, and a returning Horace Panter.

A. “Jungle Music” (3:58) features Rico on vocals.

B. “Rasta Call You” (3:36) is an instrumental.

The single also appeared on 12″ with a third track, “Easter Island,” written by Japanese jazz saxophonist Sadao Watanabe.

In the “Jungle Music” video, Rico and the band mime inside a small, packed video game diner, where Dammers (sombrero) makes a smile that reveals his missing upper incisors. Their song sparks dancing among the crowd, which includes an accessorized new wave woman in a white-dotted blue petticoat.


“War Crimes”

On December 17, 1982, the Special AKA released “War Crimes,” an art-pop song in 3/4 with violin by sessionist Nick Parker and harmonized vocals by Rhoda Dakar and newcomer Stan Campbell.

A. “War Crimes” (4:02)

B. “Version” (3:44) is a wordless version of “War Crimes” with occasional “a-oh” vocables.

Jerry Dammers wrote and produced “War Crimes,” which also features the Bradbury–Panter rhythm section with Shipley and percussionist singer Egidio Newton.

In the “War Crimes,” the eight performers cluster in a single-light dark space, where Dakar and Newton sway upright next to a seated Campbell, who gazes intensely into the lens.


1983–1984


“Racist Friend”

On August 26, 1983, the Special AKA released “Racist Friend,” a roots reggae directive written by keyboardist Jerry Dammers, trumpeter Dick Cuthell, and drummer John Bradbury. Singer Stan Campbell served as a fourth co-writer on the b-side “Bright Lights.”

A. “Racist Friend” (3:35)
B. “Bright Lights” (3:50)

The picture sleeve profiles the three vocalists — Rhoda Draka, Campbell, and Egidio Newton (all seated) — and four core instrumentalists: Dammers, Bradbury, bassist Gary McManus, and guitarist John Shipley. Cuthell appears on the back sleeve.

Newcomer McManus hailed from The Defendants (aka School Meal), a Leamington Spa punk band briefly managed by Terry Hall. He plays on the “Bright Lights” while Cuthell doubles as bassist on “Racist Friend,” which features original Specials guitarist Roddy Radiation. Despite these swapped credits, McManus and Shipley appear in the “Racist Friend” video, in which Special AKA perform inside a tight, cluttered reheasal space.


In the Studio

The Special AKA released In the Studio on June 15, 1984, on 2 Tone and Chrysalis. It features their late 1982 a-side “War Crimes” and both sides of the summer 1983 single “Racist Friend” / “Bright Lights,” plus “(Free) Nelson Mandela” and “Break Down the Door” (released three months earlier as a third advance single) and five new originals by keyboardist Jerry Dammers, including the album’s fourth a-side “What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend,” which features his only lead vocal.

In the Studio is the third Specials album and the first under the oft-used Special AKA moniker. It’s the only album by the Mark II lineup composed of Dammers, drummer John Bradbury, guitarist John Shipley, bassist Gary McManus, and singers Rhoda Dakar and Steve Campbell. Trumpeter Dick Cuthell and trombonist Rico Rodriguez — the only ties to the first album apart from Dammers and Bradbury — reprise their auxiliary roles with saxophonist Andy Aderinto and recurrent singer–percussionist Edgio Newton.

Dammers co-wrote “Break Down the Door” with “Racist Friend” co-writers Cuthell and Bradbury, who plays bass and synthesizer on the track. Shipley co-wrote “Night on the Tiles” and “The Lonely Crowd,” which third-credits Campbell. Original bassist Horace Panter plays on “War Crimes,” “Alcohol,” and “What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend,” which features vocal backing by Afrodiziak, the combo found on recent recordings by The Specials producer Elvis Costello, who returns as producer on “(Free) Nelson Mandela,” a Top 10 hit in multiple countries.

1. “Bright Lights” (4:11)
2. “The Lonely Crowd” (3:52) features seventies session percussionist Tony “Groko” Utah (Rock Workshop, Keith Tippett, Seventh Wave).
3. “What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend” (4:50)
4. “Housebound” (4:13)
5. “Night on the Tiles” (3:04)
6. “(Free) Nelson Mandela” (4:07) concerns South African political prisoner Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress. “(Free) Nelson Mandela” features classical flutist David Heath and penny whistle by (ex-Dexys) Paul Speare, recently of Costello’s brass auxiliary the TKO Horns. Elvis sings backing vocals with Afrodiziak and ex-Special Lynval Golding, General Public’s Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger, and Camden pub patrons Molly and Polly Jackson, who Bradbury invited to the session.
7. “War Crimes” (6:13)
8. “Racist Friend” (3:49)
9. “Alcohol” (5:01)
10. “Break Down the Door” (3:36)

In the Studio lists six engineers, including Cuthell and Fun Boy Three soundman Jeremy Green. The album features a blue-tinted studio shot in the style of classic Blue Note imagery and a monochrome back-cover group photo. The designer, David Storey, also has visual credits on Waiting and 1984 titles by Hugh Masekela and JB’s Allstars, a soul project with participation by Bradbury and Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve.

Dammers issued “(Free) Nelson Mandela” on March 5, 1984, as a third advance single: titled “Nelson Mandela” and backed with “Break Down the Door.”

“Nelson Mandela” reached No. 1 in New Zealand and No. 6 in Ireland and the Netherlands. It peaked at No. 8 in Belgium and No. 9 on the UK Singles Chart. In the song’s video, Special AKA perform at perform at a South African sock hop where youth gumboot and breakdance.

Special AKA mimed “Nelson Mandela” amid flashing zigzag columns on the March 29 broadcast of TotP, which also featured spring ’84 hits by Simple Minds (“Up On the Catwalk”), Thompson Twins (“You Take Me Up”), Siouxsie & The Banshees (“Swimming Horses”), Madonna (“Lucky Star”), and ex-Damned bassist–guitarist Captain Sensible (“Glad It’s All Over”). In the SPecial AKA segment, Rhoda sings under pink–blue lights beside Afrodiziak (Claudia Fontaine, Caron Wheeler, Naomi Thompson), who sport neon shirts with matching headbands.

They returned for a second appearance on the April 19 TotP, which also featured Blancmange (“Don’t Tell Me”), The Bluebells (“I’m Falling”), Nik Kershaw (“Dancing Girls”), Phil Collins (“Against All Odds”), and The Pointer Sisters (“Automatic”). In this segment, Special AKA perform on a low-level stage surrounded by flashing geometric neon fixtures and dancing members of the studio audience.

In August 1984, “What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend” became the fourth In the Studio a-side; backed with the non-album “Can’t Get a Break.”

B. “Can’t Get a Break” (4:57)

In the video to “What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend,” Damers lands on Earth in a silver space suit and assumes human style at a jazz bar, where he rubs shoulders with a sailor and flirts with the guy’s pixie-haired girlfriend while Special AKA perform in the background. The back cover of In the Studio lists this song as “Girlfriend” but the full title appears on the LP label.


Discography:

  • The Specials (1979)
  • More Specials (1980)
  • “Ghost Town / “Why?” / “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” (1981)
  • “The Boiler” / “Theme From the Boiler” (1982 • Rhoda With The Special A.K.A.)
  • In the Studio (1984 • The Special A.K.A.)

Sources:

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