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The Specials

The Specials

January 1, 2000
4.8 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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The Specials
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
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.
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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.
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Format: Audio CD
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.
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