Song Of The Week: “Ghost Town” by The Specials

specials-ghost_town-uk_singleInternal strife while recording will take you one of two ways as a band:  you cobble together a disjointed mess and then break up amid a flurry of tears and recriminations; or, the intense pressure produces a diamond-like masterpiece … and then you break up amid a flurry of tears and recriminations.

If you’re lucky, it’s the latter.

The Specials formed in the UK in 1977, one of hundreds of bands whose atoms rattled around and joined together in the wake of the punk Big Bang the previous year. The group took that raw energy and fused it with the Jamaican ska and rocksteady sounds popular in England during their childhoods in the 1960s. Leader and keyboardist Jerry Dammers formed his own label, 2 Tone, to release their music, and The Specials spearheaded a ska revival in the UK which later became known as “the 2 Tone sound,” primarily because all the groups involved signed with that label.

specialsAfter a string of successful singles, The Specials ran smack dab into the unavoidable “all that glitters” aphorism. Musical and personal differences had already cracked the core when Dammers brought the band a song about the destitution, decay, and violence sweeping across Thatcher’s UK. “Ghost Town” contained a strong socio-political message as well as more complicated chords (the demonic tritone!) than the group had previously employed. Tensions increased as some members didn’t like turning away from the simple and fun songs of yore.

Making matters worse, The Specials found themselves working with a new producer in a new recording studio. The studio actually resided in the basement of a house and was too small to accommodate the whole band. So rather than recording as an ensemble (as they did with prior songs), the producer had each member record his contribution separately, a necessary move but one that couldn’t have helped with team unity. After the sessions concluded, half the group split to become Fun Boy Three (their very name leaves little doubt they really wanted to get away from songs about social injustice), and the other half carried on with varying success for a few years until Dammers left to become a political activist.

When “Ghost Town” was released as a single in the summer of 1981, it shot to the top of the UK charts.

So commence to skanking with the top ranking 2 Tone beat.  The Specials have a message for you.

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