Customer Reviews: Specials
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on February 25, 2005
The Specials are still the heavyweight champions of both waves of ska revivals (in the UK and later in the USA). I saw the Specials just before this album was released in 1979 at a Rock Against Racism concert in London's Hyde Park. I was warned by my two British hosts that the Specials would "blow my mind."... but nothing could have prepared me for the inspired anarchy of this young racially mixed Brits playing music that sounded like reggae on steroids. The two manic singers Terry Hall and Neville Staples bounced around the stage and banged their heads together in time to the music. The entire band had buzz cut hairdos and dressed like thrift shop refugees complete with Sinatra type fedoras, skinny ties and ill fitting suits. By the end of the show the entire stage was filled with frantically pogoing audience members and the Specials played on, as if the audience and the band were the same thing. Everything I learned about ska music started with that Specials concert in 1979.

The reason why the Specials were so...errr...special was that they were first rate musicians who not dilletantes when it came to knowledge of the early Jamaican ska and rocksteady music. Jerry Dammers was raised on the music of Prince Buster, the Skatalites, Desmond Dekker, Byron Lee and the stable of ska musicians that were part of Duke Reid's venerable British label, Trojan Records. In the UK, Trojan Records had a steady stream of bestselling ska records in the UK in the mid-Sixties. Even the godfather of punk, John Lydon, who was notorious for ridiculing any kind of popular music once professed that reggae and ska were the only music he cared about. Meanwhile, in the USA, our only knowledge of ska was 1965's infectious hit by Millie Small, "My Boy Lollipop." In the Sixties, there was little room on American radio playlists for obscure Jamaican musicians playing gimmicky West Indian pop. If anyone raised the profile of ska music in America, it was the Specials.

The songs of this album represent a fusion the anarchy of punk with the frenetic riddims of ska. It is a snapshot of a near-perfect moment in music. Elvis Costello's "ragged but right" production style resembled that of his own producer, Nick Lowe who earned the nickname "Basher" for his rough-hewn sound. "Doesn't Make It Alright" is the Special's anti-racism anthem that was a response to the National Front's campaign to bash forgien nationals from the West Indies and Pakistan who were new immigrants to London during that period. Terry Hall as the prosecuter and Neville Staples as "Judge Dread" engage in a hilarious satire of a kangaroo court in the song "Stupid Marriage." The ribald humor of "Stupid Marriage" was actually a Jamican ska reworking of Shorty Long's late Sixties R&B hit "Here Comes the Judge." "Blank Expression" was a cry against apathy and ignorance. The covers of ska classics like "A Message To Rudy" and Prince Buster's classic "Too Hot" showcase the muscular playing of the band. The cover of the Maytal's classic "Monkey Man" fires a hilarious shot from the hip at the Thatcher enthusiasts in the pompous chambers of the House of Lords, comparing the Britian's nobility to inbred baboons. The addition of trombonist Rico Rodriquez, who was a transplanted Jamaican with an involvment in the ska's early Sixties roots lent the Specials an authenticity that few of their peers could claim. Drummer John Bradbury and bassist Horace Gentleman punched up the ska sound with a heavy drum n' bass sound that appealed to the younger generation accustomed to the hard charging punk rock sound.

By the mid-Eighties the ska music revival had ebbed all too early in the UK. I always felt that the 2 Tone Records bands like the dubwise Beat (aka the English Beat), the hyper-manic Madness and the ultra-cool stylists, the Selector were among the best things about the post-punk movement. There was a second wave revival of ska music in the United States in the Nineties, but none of the stateside ska bands posessed the talent, imagination or authenticity of their UK counterparts. The Specials were the flagship of the ska revival and their magnificent but short lived career brought the joy of ska music to a lot of people who otherwise would have never heard it. I don't deejay much these days, but in the early Eighties no party or dance was complete until the floor was filled with estatic dancers slamming to the riddims of "Concrete Jungle." Those were the days, my friend.
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on July 14, 2000
This is clearly the best Ska record ever made. Their debut album (the BBC had just aired The Specials John Peel Sessions, but it was not yet for sale. Also, their true debut was a 45rpm single of Gangsters whose B-side was titled The Selector and credited to The Selector, but in reality, The Selector was Jerry Dammers, John Bradbury, both from The Specials, and two of their roommates. I think it is the best song The Selector ever did).
If you listen to earlier versions of these songs available elsewhere, you can see how much they honed everything. The Specials had toured the U.K. supporting The Clash, and as a result you can hear more Clash-like-Grit on this album, and you can also see The Specials influence on Clash songs like Pressure Drop, very Ska.
I like everything about this album, every song. I still remember my high school English tutor in the 9th grade (I was really bad in school) who was more interested in shaping my musical tastes, and my sister, English was third on his list. He made me a tape of this album with the This Are Two Tone compilation on the second side. I listened to that tape for years, before they had tape-players that would flip the tape for you. I remember one time I accidentally hit "Record", so to this day I am surprised there is no gap at the beginning of "Concrete Jungle".
Not too long ago, I was invited to several Specials shows. My friend had gone to school with Mark Addams (keyboards) in Coventry and whenever they'd come to San Francisco my friend rob would arrange to have us on the list. They have altered the band since 1980 (when this album came out), a few new members, but they still have Neville Staples(who looks even cooler today), Horace Panter, Roddy Radiation, and Lynval Golding. They preformed these songs in a dizzying frenzy. After each show we'd go backstage with them (once to the Green-Room of the legendary Fillmore Auditorium!) and one time on their tour bus somewhere in Santa Cruz. My friends wife was blind, so she had a seeing-eye-Doberman with her. We were on this crowded bus, with the band, this huge dog and scattered other people. They were playing some old sixties Ska on the bus stereo, and Lynval Golding (guitarist) danced with the seeing-eye-dog, and I cracked a corny joke, which I began to regret as I was saying it. I said to Mr. Golding, "Do The Dog!" (referring to their song by the same name) then my ears began to turn red. He thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard and slapped his leg as he laughed. He put his rude-boy hat on my head, which was pathetically loose, and laughed his way to the ice-chest and he fetched two beers and brought one to me as his laughter died down. The joke seemed rather obvious to me. He took his hat back as he gave me the beer. It was all very weird.
Anyway, this is the album to have. I have many Specials albums, and would choose this one over all the rest, or any other Ska band, there is No Doubt about that. If you have never heard this album but are considering it, then trust the instincts that brought you this far and get it, if you remember this album from your youth but haven't gotten around to getting it on CD I suggest you drop everything and get it, and get Led Zeppelin IV another time. This album has aged very well.
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on March 24, 2006
When this album came out most punx I knew were totally into it. I know I was. There'd been that music scene of the B 52's, BLONDIE, ELVIS COSTELLO, JOE JACKSON and TALKING HEADS. Punk had exploded onto the scene as well, of course, The SEX PISTOLS, The CLASH, The DEAD KENNEDYS, BLACK FLAG, CIRCLE JERKS, BAD BRAINS. Punk had always had some sorta connection to reggae, BAD BRAINS being the quintessinal creator of sublime punk as well as non-sleepy reggae songs.

A whole new form of music came smashing into existance, that nutty Two-Tone sound. MADNESS, The SELECTOR, The SPECIALS and The ENGLISH BEAT. There was no equivilent in the U.S. It was a pure UK import. In the UK there'd been musical movements in modern rock including Mods and other stuff that never fully translated to the U.S. But the SPECIALS' first album here sure did. It hit us smack in the face. This is one of those albums that's perfect. There's no weak song. You could listen to a MADNESS album and find maybe 2 great songs. i was never particularly fond of The SELECTOR. The ENGLISH BEAT's first album was also a pure delight. However, this SPECIALS' album was a stunner. It was so good that it immediately took its place as the premier Two-Tone release, as far as everybody I knew in the punk scene was concerned. We could tell this wasn't New Wave, it wasn't some big music business over produced musical Frankenstein meant to appeal to the masses. This was honest, high energy cousin of reggae and we knew it when we saw/heard it.

That two tone piece of having black guys and white guys in the band was just another delight. There were very few black or brown guys (I may have been one of 5 brown guys in the San Diego punk scene in the late 70's, early 80's till I stumbled across the Tijuana punk scene, plenty 'o brown punx there. A delightful scene). The good news was, I never picked up a hint of racism amongst the mainly white, mainly male punk scene in San Diego or L.A. Of course, that doesn't count the skin heads. And some of them were into the ska thing and not particularly racist.

What's the true test of a classic, a masterpiece? It's what does it sound like 10, 20, 30 years later. Give this slab 'o vinyl (er, cd) a listen. You can tell each song is a hit. Beautifully crafted fun, high energy, creative musical gems. Did you see them on their Saturday Night Live set? Musta been about 1980. Whew, I don't remember a single other band, before or since, on that show, that was as full on energetic and jumpin' around and firing on all pistons as the SPECIALS were.

As you may know, this was their peak. Everything they did after this, well, one album really and several singles and a great 12" (Ghost Town) were all they could muster before they broke up, transforming into SPECIALS AKA and splintering into other groups, never to recapture or continue to create songs as fully realized as the ones on this record although it's way worth getting that 12".

Aside from the first two ENGLISH BEAT albums, this album is, by far, the premier late 70's, early 80's two tone ska album. It takes no effort to buy this baby. No trust. Just get it if you don't have it. Heck, I might get it just to see those 2 videos on this enhanced cd. I am partial to vinyl records with one proviso, ok, two, pops and cracks inevitably show up and they aren't nearly as portable as cds. But their size is a great advantage for albums with good album covers. When a bunch of other reviewers reach concensus, listen to them. It's a winner. If there's any negative reviews here, then the person must not be into high quality ska. It's as simple as that.
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on May 30, 2002
By my own admission, I was late to the Two Tone party when I started collecting in 1986. I was fortunate enough to gather most of the original UK singles; for the albums, however, by and large I bought the US pressings. This was true for the Specials debut long player. When I received this new remaster as a gift, I was pleasantly taken aback to discover that EMI used the original UK sequence (a move that caught the label flak when they did the same with many of the Beatles reissues a few years ago). What does this mean for those of us who had the US version? One, you'll have to pick up a Specials or a Two Tone label greatest hits to get the tune "Gangsters." Conversely, it provides the sequence that was heard in the band's homeland, which, one would think, is how the band wanted you to hear it, before Chrysalis US meddled in it. Also of interest, which I think is exclusive to this CD (though it may have been on the original UK album), is the (unlisted) dubwise remix of "Too Much Too Young" following the original vocal cut. Otherwise, everything you need is here - the classic cover of the Dandy Livingstone's rudeboy admonition "A Message to You, Rudy," the kinetic version of The Maytals' "Monkey Man" (currently the soundtrack to a credit card TV commercial), the plaintive "You're Wondering Now," the hysterical "Nite Klub" and "Stupid Marriage," and the social warnings of "Too Much Too Young." An essential snapsnot of the union of deep roots reggae and punk that fused in troubled, late-'70s northern England.
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on May 6, 2005
This album was phenomenal. Definitely influenced many people not just musically, but in perspectives on races. Massive Attack, Tricky and many more all owe a debt of gratitude to these lads. I bought this in 1979 at Korvettes in Paramus, the same day I bought Pretenders 1st, and Wreckless Eric/Whole Wide World. A triple play, but out of the three (which I still play to this day 5.6.05) The Specials is closest to my heart. Blank Expression a perfect winter time twilight song, You're Wondering Now fantastic closer. I could go on. I wish Terry and Jerry and the lads would be friends again but then, time has passed and we must move on. But a landmark album nonetheless. Out of all the 2 Tone bands, The Specials rule ok.
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on March 17, 2004
Even the absence of "Gangsters" can't deflate my joy in listening to this cd. (I can't say the same for the missing "Tears of a Clown" and "Ranking Full Stop" on the English Beat cd.)
I'll never forget when The Specials appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1981. They performed a searing, blistering "Gangsters" as they slam danced with the air around them. When they were through, the usually savvy New York audience was stunned. Dead silence. And I don't think it was because they were impressed: they just didn't know what they had just heard. But this Brooklyn boy was on his feet at home, jumping, and scrambling for pen and paper to remember this band's name so I could buy the album, which I did the next day.
I was in for more than I'd expected. Half this album's tunes are pure energy, the other half were more subtle reggae tunes. I thought The Specials were a tight, no-holds-barred, musically frenzied band. But there's something else: their songs carry incredibly intelligent, socially aware lyrics. Some songs are of the utmost seriousness. "It Doesn't Make It Alright" is a powerful indictment of racism. On the other hand, "Too Much Too Young" is a more witty, sarcastic look at teen pregnancy. There are strong messages in several songs, and this is an added plus. It is ska that is unafraid to approach any topic. It's fun, it's serious, it's damned good music.
Have you bought this cd yet?
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Are you a fan of THE SPECIALS and have quite a few of their releases? "You're Wondering Now" if you really need these 2015 2CD Special Editions of THE SPECIALS, MORE SPECIALS and IN THE STUDIO? First off, before I can give you an accurate review, I need to list the tracks, which Amazon in their infinite wisdom have left off......

- Disc 1 -
1. Gangsters
2. A Message To You Rudy
3. Do The Dog
4. It's Up To You
5. Nite Klub
6. Doesn't Make It Alright
7. Concrete Jungle
8. Too Hot
9. Monkey Man
10. (Dawning of a) New Era
11. Blank Expression
12. Stupid Marriage
13. Too Much Too Young
14. Little Bitch
15. You're Wondering Now
- Disc 2 -
1. Too Much Too Young (Live) (2.04, credited to The Special A.K.A.)*/***
2. Guns of Navarone (Live) (2.19, credited to The Special A.K.A.)***
3. Skinhead Symphony (Live) (6.38, credited to The Special A.K.A.)***
BBC In Concert At The Paris Theatre 12/15/79" (Tracks 4-14**)
4. (Dawning of a) New Era (2.40)
5. Do The Dog (1.52)
6. Rat Race (3.07)
7. Blank Expression (1.56)
8. Rude Buoys Outa Jail (2.55)
9. Concrete Jungle (3.03)
10. Too Much Too Young (2.29)
11. Guns Of Navarone (2.33)
12. Nite Klub (3.15)
13. Gangsters (4.33)
14. Medley: (5.22)
A) Long Shot Kick The Bucket (3.08)
B) Skinhead Moonstomp (2.14)

*Best Of The Specials (CD + DVD Version)
**BBC Radio 1 in Concert
***Stereo-Typical: A's & B's & Rarities

There isn't much more I can say about the musical content that hasn't been said by other reviewers. It's one of my favorite albums. Upon release it became an instant classic, sympathetically produced by Elvis Costello, THE SPECIALS' punky reggae party helped the whole 2 Tone phenomenon break wide. For a brief time the band, along with fellow compadres/devotees The SELECTER and THE "ENGLISH" BEAT ruled the British music scene and press. As you can see, all of this material has been reissued before. The album itself was remastered in 2002 and contained the "Gangsters" and "Too Much Too Young" videos as Enhanced content. The included BBC Radio 1 Concert was originally released in tandem with THE SELECTOR and still had one track more ("Guns Of Navarone"). If you're a fan and have a version of THE SPECIALS, one of the "best of" discs and the split BBC Concert, you have everything here. Fans and collectors will have to decide, but if you don't own this classic, get it now! Shop around or be patient, the price is already coming down. Unlike some "expanded" albums, the extra material here is fantastic, although previously issued. "It's Up To You" but my advice is buy it now and enjoy listening to what was once "A Dawning Of A New Era"......
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on January 30, 2016
I used to have the original vinyl album when this was first released. I don't exactly remember 15 tracks being on that album, they may have been on the original cd when that was releasd. I do not know about the cd versions of the albums because I never had them. Anyway, the original album is disc one and disc two is all live tracks. Disc two starts off with the three track ep entitled "Too Much Too Young" wirh the other 2 tracks being Guns of Navarone and Skinhead Symphony(Featuring Long Shot Kick the Bucket/Liquidator/Skinhead Moonstomp. The rest of disc two is a concert from December 15,1979 from The Paris Theater. The concert was not only a great concert, it was also recorded very well and the remastering is really great. Disc One was really remastered quite well also. See listing from Amazon for tracks on this 2 disc set.
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on August 21, 2012
This is a review of the 2009 180 gram vinyl Capitol vaults version of the specials eponomous debut. Phew! Now that's out of the way let's get to the music. I'm not going to try and discect every song, rate them, or even compare them to each other, I will however attempt to describe this version of the band. On this album you find a band with two voices, one black, one decidedly white but both undoubtedly British and unhappy. Not that the music is unhappy it isn't, it's a pounding concoction of bluebeat, ska, roots reggae, rockabilly (Roddy's guitar) and punk rock. It's a euphoric combination of influences and instruments locked into place by the swirling keys of Jerry Dammers. So, with such a great pumping band why would the singers be so unhappy? Well, the answer is they lived in Thatcher's Britain and the themes of this existence are the core of what makes this the record it is. It's all small time crime, racism, teen pregnancy, drinking, night clubs, marriage, no prospects and political hopelessness. All sounds a bit drab but not when delivered with a healthy dose of humour and a thumping backbeat. This album catches the best version of the band in their prime and the re-issue has much better sound than the original 1980 LP (I have both). If you have a record player buy this version of the album, we all know records sound better, and this one has "Gangsters" on it too. I'm wondering now what to do .......... I'll play it again.
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*** A Review For The 2015 Special Edition 2CD Version ***

There are some albums that just put a smile on your face - and a lot of them are debuts from British bands released in the late Seventies. There's Derry's finest "The Undertones" from May 1979 - Madness and their fab Nutty Boys opening salvo "One Step Beyond" from October 1979 - and of course those other 'very rude' boys - The Sex Pistols and "Never Mind The Bollocks..." from way back in October 1977 (my mum thought they were lovely chaps deep down and just needed a good meal). But for sheer joy-inducing affection - the November 1979 self-titled Ska Revival debut from Coventry's "Specials" on the wonderful 2 Tone Records of the UK takes some beating.

I recall on many occasions when I worked in Reckless Records in Soho's Berwick Street when the album would come in (a sure sign of a decent collection) - within minutes of purchase it would take pride-of-place on our display wall dressed up in a shiny new heavy gauge PVC sleeve and a natty display triangle. But we quickly learned that this was sort of futile - because milliseconds later some visibly animated punter would slap it down on the counter sporting the aforementioned smile on his 30-something kisser and say out loud, "I WANT THIS!" in an excitable fidgety way. You could even see he was already thinking of acquiring yet another 2 Tone button and skinny tie in Sister Ray just up the street. Ah...them was the days...still are...

Some 35 years after its first appearance on vinyl LP with that gorgeous laminate sleeve - Chrysalis have decided to do a solid by The Specials much-loved Ska Revival debut album and give it a 2015 Special Edition 2CD overhaul. And a lovely thing it is too. Here are contraceptive-married with a kid should be having fun details...

UK released 30 March 2015 (April 2015 in the USA) - "Specials: 2CD Special Edition" is on Chrysalis/2 Tone CDLTTR 5001 (Barcode 0825646336081) and it gangsters out as follows....

Disc 1 - The Album (47:43 minutes):
1. Gangsters
2. A Message To You Rudy
3. Do The Dog
4. It's Up To You
5. Nite Klub
6. Doesn't Make It Alright
7. Concrete Jungle
8. Too Hot
9. Monkey Man
10. (Dawning Of A) New Era
11. Blank Expression
12. Stupid Marriage
13. Too Much Too Young
14. Little Bitch
15. You're Wondering Now
[Notes: Produced by Elvis Costello - the British LP is tracks 2 to 15 and was released 3 November 1979 on vinyl LP in the UK on Chrysalis/2 Tone CDL TT 5001. It was preceded by their debut 45 in the UK "Gangsters" (credited to The Special A.K.A.) released 28 July 1979 on Two Tone TT 1. The American variant of the album on Chrysalis FV 41265 came out in December 1979 as a 15-track LP placing the song "Gangsters" at the end of Side 1. Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders sings backing vocals on "Nite Klub"]

Disc 2 - Extra Specials (44:42 minutes):
Too Much Too Young EP by THE SPECIAL A.K.A. LIVE! Featuring Nico
1. Too Much Too Young (Live)
2. Guns Of Navarone (Live)
3. Skinheads Symphony (Live)
(a) Long Shot Kick The Bucket (b) Liquidator (c) Skinhead Moon Stomp
Tracks 1 to 3 released in the UK January 1980 on Chrysalis/Two Tone CHSTT 7

BBC In Concert - The Specials At The Paris Theatre (15.12.79)
4. (Dawning Of A) New Era
5. Do The Dog
6. Rat Race
7. Blank Expression
8. Rude Buoys Outa Jail
9. Concrete Jungle
10. Too Much Too Young
11. Guns Of Navarone
12. Nite Klub
13. Gangsters
14. Medley: (a) Long Shot Kick The Bucket (b) Skinhead Moon Stomp

CDLTTR 5001 comes in a four-way foldout card digipak like those Universal Deluxe Editions but without the bandana. On the inner flaps are the black and white photos of the band looking up at the camera - those most closely associated with the original vinyl LP's rear sleeve. On the inner flaps are photos I've not seen before - on an estate with their feet on a pile of steel girders and on an Odeon sign. The CDs sport the distinctive Rude Boy 2 Tone logo and design. The 20-page booklet features affectionate new liner notes from Mojo's LOIS WILSON along with more black and white photos of the boys in varying poses. There's a singles page which shows those early 45s - The Special A.K.A. vs. The Selecter stamped sleeve of "Gangsters" and the Too Much Too Young Live EP and so on.

The remaster has been done by TIM DEBNEY at Fluid Mastering in the UK and to my ears it's far better than the version I've had for years (as well as tracks on the "Stereo-Typical: A's, B's & Rarities" set). There's ever so slightly more hiss on tracks like their cover of Dandy Livingstone's "A Message To You Rudy" but the clarity of the organ and the brass is far better - and you can hear those drum cracks with a force now. When you play the Jerry Dammers cut "It's Up To You" you can amplifiers buzzing and when that Bass and Terry Hall deadpan vocal kicks in - it packs an amazing punch. This time around you can almost discern Chrissie Hynde's backing vocals on the "what am I doing here" dancer "Nite Klub" (well almost). It sounds fabulous to me. The reggae backdrop to their version of Cecil Campbell's "Too Hot" features amazing clarity on those drums rolls and highhats as the boys moans about the temperature. The "court in session" vocal hijinks by Judge Roughneck on "Stupid Marriage" jumps out of the speakers at you - and what a great tune - utterly infectious stuff. Again there's momentary hiss on Dodd Coxsone's "You're Wondering Now" and quite a bit during the Acapella finish - but I'd argue that it stills sounds fresher and more alive than before. And those lyrics about council estates lack of condoms and youth just wanting to dance still get me every time.

Everyone knows and loves the "Too Much Too Young" Live EP - it's always been a total winner. But I was expecting the Paris Concert to be a bit of an Anniversary excuse roll out - but I'm thrilled to report that it's brilliant and captures the band at the very top of their Ska Bopping crowd-pleasing best. To chants of "Rude Boy" - The Specials launch into an ubertight version of "(Dawning Of A) New Era" and immediately you're hit with the great audio. Well produced by the BBC - it feels fantastically alive and fresh. They dedicate "Rat Race" to "all you students revising..." while the organ and Joe Jackson "Look Sharp!" guitar of "Blank Expression" are right in your face and bustling with newness. The Ska classic of "Guns Of Navarone" sends the crowd into a frenzy and why wouldn't it (stunning brass and flicky guitar work) - but I have to say that my heart has always been with the magical "Gangsters" which to this day sends me pogoing around my living room like a Two Tone loon (not a good look at my age). The Medley of The Pioneers' "Long Shot Kick De Bucket" with Symarip's "Skinhead Moon Stomp" (both originally on the mighty Trojan label) finishes the crowd off proper - breathless, screaming and stamping the floor for more, more, more..

Britain has produced some extraordinary bands fronting a bewildering diversity of musical styles - but The Specials have always been (for the want of better words) that little bit...well special. Get this double-CD Rude Boy joy into your life pronto.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah...
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