Friday, June 18, 2010

Ska Week: The Specials

In the short history of ska's second wave, the Specials were the most vital band. Not only was the music top notch, but the personnel proved they had political and social consciences as well. As I have written several times this week, keyboard player Jerry Dammers founded 2 Tone Records, and he recruited the era's best British ska bands. The Specials had seven top 10 UK singles between 1979 and 1981 in their own right and, in my opinion, the best ska album of all time with their 1970 self-titled debut. It didn't hurt that is was produced by Elvis Costello either.

Like Madness and the English Beat, the Specials seemed to quickly lose much of their ska roots, but I still enjoyed their 1980 followup, 'More Specials.' A few key members left the band after the second album to start Fun Boy Three, but Dammers recruited a couple of new members (including Rhoda Dakar of the Bodysnatchers) and had one last hurrah in '84 with 'In the Studio.' By then, ska's second wave had crested, but the Specials did have one more big UK hit with 'Free Nelson Mandela.'

For my top 5, I picked their first-ever single, "Gangsters," because it pays homage to Prince Buster, perhaps the most important musician from ska's first wave. I also chose it because it was where 2 Tone began, and the song was a big UK hit (No. 6). "Nite Club" is my favorite song from their self-titled debut. "Rat Race" is here to illustrate my point about how their sound changed by 1980. "Too Much Too Young" and "Ghost Town" were the band's two UK No. 1 hits, and both are great examples of songs with important messages (teen pregnancy and unemployment).

The Specials Top 5
The Specials - Gangsters (mp3)
The Specials - Nite Club (mp3)
The Specials - Rat Race (mp3)
The Specials - Too Much Too Young (mp3)
The Specials - Ghost Town (12" Version) (mp3)

No comments: