The 1979 debut album from Coventry 2-Tone outfit The Specials is another LP that is amongst the best records I’ve ever heard.
When I first heard The Specials I was about 10 years of age. There’s something within their sound and lyrics that made me feel for the first time that I was growing out of boyhood. This is possibly due to the timing reflecting when the band where active – but I really think the sound alone would wake-up that feeling if you played the album to a 10 year old today?
2-Tone was exciting. The imagery, the 7 inch sleeves with the Rude Boy artwork was something you just connected with straight away – you just got it immediately. This was mirrored all around school playgrounds. Patches, badges, everyone seemed to dig it.
The Specials two albums proper are both classics. From the very accessible debut to the endearing apocalyptic experimental muzak of More Specials.
A Message To You, Rudy (Livingstone) is one of those tracks that you can never remember the actual first time that you heard it, it’s just so familiar. A very strong album opener.
Do The Dog (Dammers) showcases what a genial songwriter Jerry Dammers is. Quite furious, I can remember kids singing it at school way before I actually heard the record. Peppered with buzz words refelecting the late 70’s / early 80’s gang cultures it just works.
It’s Up To You (Dammers) slows the records right back down. Terry Hall’s vocal style is a perfect fit. Racial tensions are dealt with in a not totally in your face way. It made you think and in the late 70’s / early 80’s racism was not really challenged properly until records like this actually made you think.
Nite Klub (Dammers) gave brief insight to what went on in Night Clubs years before you actually went to one. Like the Dead Kennedy’s – Let’s Lynch The Landlord made me always think landlords were greedy Nite Klub made me cynical of Night Clubs. Musically fantastic. Ambling bass and trumpets somehow grooving. The casually furious vocals build to the stand out line “I won’t dance in a club like this, all the girls are slags, and the beer tastes just like piss”. That line became playground folklore and the track is a favourite for many I’m sure.
Doesn’t Make It Alright (Dammers, Goldberg) again calms the album straight back down. Mournful and sparse again the track somehow works when it maybe shouldn’t.
Concrete Jungle (Byers) is a cover given full a full 2-Tone makeover. The intro chant went beyond the playground this time. Massive wide appeal and again a hugely popular especially considering it wasn’t a single release.
Too Hot (Campbell) is another cover. Burningly slow intially it builds into a minor rant with minimal vocal variation.
Monkey Man (Hibbert) is yet another cover, but that matters not one jot. Pure skank and a joy.
Dawning Of A New Era (Dammers) with its razor sharp voacl delivery captures the imagination. Almost tribal in its fear of other areas, again kids actually felt this and given the gang issues today I’m sure is more relevant today than in 1979.
Blank Expression (Dammers) deals with danger and messed up relationships. There’s a lot of room in the music which racks up the tension casually. A very unique track.
Stupid Marriage (Dammers, Harrison, Staple) was another playground legend. The mock court and suggestive noises made the track electrifying and better than any book you’d read as a 10 year old. The story line builds and the music speeds up with it to a frantic finale. A classic.
Too Much Too Young (Dammers) is possibly the only reason you may get to knock the band’s debut album. Would it have been better with the faster, shorter take? Possibly. This version maybe does get across the actual message better though? Either way, it’s still a fantastic track.
Little Bitch (Dammers) rattles along at pace. Venemous but oddly not over the top and another total skank along.
You’re Wondering Now (Seymour) is another cover given Specials treatment. Slow and with a great vocal it makes you actually feel sad that the album is clearly finshing.
There you have it. Another classic debut. The Specials were easily the most essential 2-Tone / Ska band. Leagues above their contemporaries (The Beat, Madness, The Selecter, the Bodysnatchers, Bad Manners, etc). Music you just naturally connected with and it has stood the test of time perfectly. If only the album kicked off with Gangsters it really could only have improved what is already a damn near perfect album…