After the fabulous debut album The Specials, The Specials went to work on album number two. It would be the last album made by the original line-up. The highlight of 1980?
In 1977 composer and keyboard player Jerry Dammers founded the group The Automatics. Guitar player and singer Lynval Golding and bass player Horace Panter (aka Sir Horace Gentleman) were already part of the band. It didn’t take long for singer Terry Hall to join the band, which was quickly renamed to The Coventry Automatics. After enlisting singer Neville Staple and guitar player Roddy Byers (aka Roddy Radiation) into the band, the band was renamed to The Special AKA. The Clash’s Joe Strummer invited the band to be their support act on tour.
From day one, anti-racism was a defining characteristic for the band, making a conscious effort to create a band where black and white musicians would play together.
Midway through 1979, after drummer John Bradbury had completed the classic line-up, Dammers founded the famous 2 Tone Records, releasing The Special AKA’s debut single, the great Gangsters. Soon after, the band was renamed to The Specials and went into the studio with producer Elvis Costello to record the classic album The Specials, which was released on October 19th, 1979. By that time 2 Tone Records had become the trendsetter for the ska-revival that swept across the UK. Bands like The Selecter, The Beat, Madness, The Bodysnacthers, Bad Manners and others, all had hits and released singles and albums. Madness, The Beat and The Specials in particular were artistically viable beyond their singles.
On January 11th, 1980, the EP Too Much Too Young – The Special A.K.A. Live! was released, which raced to the top of the charts in England. By now the European continent was conquered as well, where especially Madness, the friendlier exponent, scored huge hits.
However, The Specials were the big artistic motor behind the ska-revival and 2 Tone Records. Their political stance, with subjects ranging from racism and contraception to being a prisoner in your own life, meant that the band was regarded as controversial. Which is always nice to elevate sales, by the way.
Following the release of the debut album the band had been on tour continuously, leaving the band exhausted by mid 1980. A new single was required, which resulted in Byers’ Rat Race. It was a huge success. Drummer Bradbury wanted to record a solo song, Sock It To ’em J.B., which ended up being recorded with the entire band (and ending up on The Specials’ second album). By now, it was time to come up with a sequel to the fantastic and energetic debut.
Dammers had become enamored with easy listening and muzak, music meant as background music. His infatuation stemmed from touring all the time, spending lots of time in airplanes, elevators, hotel rooms and lobbies. Dammers had taken over control within the band (after all, he was the founder) and tried to move the band towards another musical direction. However, multiple band members didn’t agree and brought in their own material, that deviated from the direction Dammers had in mind. The mood, which already had been soured by relentless touring and exhaustion, deteriorated even more.
In the summer of 1980 the band entered the Horizon Studios in Coventry to record their new album. Contrary to the the way of working with their debut, the band wasn’t recorded live, composing the music in the studio and doing overdubs. During the recording sessions several band members grew tired of Dammers’ dominance. To make matter worse, there were (the usual suspects in) drink and drugs problems, but also the relatively large number of followers of the fascist National Front amongst their fans, weighed heavy on the band. To top it off, Golding fell victim to a violent racist attack. Needless to say, but it didn’t enhance the mood in the studio.
And still, the result was special, unique and fantastic. The fact that all band members contributed to the album, each with their own preferences and backgrounds, ensured a highly versatile and rich album. So much different styles of music came along, ska, reggae, rockabilly, mariachi, muzak, lounge music, northern soul, calypso, jazz and more.
The album was released on October 4th, 1980, and was an instant success. It did cost the band some fans, but they gained some also. The band was lauded for their boldness and vision. The music, which at times seemed to ooze happiness, is oftentimes in contrast with the lyrical content, which is no party, at all. The common subjects have been added on with the overwhelming threat of nuclear war. Even in the songs that don’t explicitly deal with the end of the world as we know it, that sense of doom is palpable. A fitting soundtrack to the start of the 1980s.
The cover photo, the front that is, is in color. Photographer Chalkie Davies:
When I went to shoot the cover for More Specials, the band’s second LP, Jerry told me: “I’ll meet you in this odd little bar in Leamington Spa.” We get there, and it’s just the group sitting around having a beer, nothing clever or anything. He comes in and says: “Can you take a bad picture?” I asked what he meant and he said: “You know, an out of focus picture? Like a King Tubby sleeve, a Jamaican sleeve. Make it look real.” So I did.
The back cover contains a black and white photo of the band, donned in their typical ‘ska’ suits. The cover symbolizes the split character of the album, and the band.
Two singles were culled from the album:
- Do Nothing
At the time I bought the Stereotype single. I was completely and utterly blown away by the song and thought the new sounds were exciting and interesting.
It didn’t take long for me to buy the album and become hooked. So much so, that I loved it even more than the stunning debut. I still think so to this day. A lot of great records have come out in 1980, but More Specials was the definite highlight of the year. One of the most varied, diverse, eclectic, original and free albums of all time. Very highly recommended!!
Songs written by Jerry Dammers, unless stated otherwise.
- Enjoy Yourself (Herb Magidson, Carl Sigman)
- Man at C & A (Jerry Dammers, Terry Hall)
- Hey, Little Rich Girl (Roddy Byers)
- Do Nothing (Lynval Golding)
- Pearl’s Cafe
- Sock It To ‘Em J.B. (Clayton Dunn, Rex Garvin, Pete Holman)
- Stereotypes (Jerry Dammers, Neville Staple)
- Stereotype Pt. 2 (Jerry Dammers, Neville Staple)
- Holiday Fortnight (Roddy Byers)
- I Can’t Stand It
- International Jet Set
- Enjoy Yourself (Reprise) (Magidson, Sigman)
On pressings outside of the UK and The Netherlands the song Rat Race (Roddy Byers) was placed as the second song of Side A. The first pressings contained a free single:
- Braggin’ & Tryin’ Not to Lie
- Rude Boys Outa Jail (Version)
- Terry Hall – vocals
- Lynval Golding – vocals, guitar
- Neville Staple – vocals, percussion
- Jerry Dammers – organ, piano, keyboards
- Roddy Byers – guitar
- Horace Panter – bass
- John Bradbury – drums
Met hulp van:
- Rico Rodriguez – trombone
- Dick Cuthell – cornet, horn
- Lee Thompson and Paul Heskett – saxophone
- Rhoda Dakar – vocals on I Can’t Stand It
- Belinda (Carlisle), Charlotte (Caffey) and Jane (Wiedlin) – background vocals on Enjoy Yourself (Reprise)
After More Specials
Following the release of the album the band went on tour again. The discord, that had shown its face during the recording process, worsened. In April 1981 the band recorded their next single, the impressive Ghost Town, which was released on June 12th, 1981. On July 9yth, 1981, the band performed on the English pop show Top Of The Pops. Afterwards, with the band still in their dressing room, they disbanded. The original line-up would never work together again.
Hall, Staple and Golding founded Fun Boy Three, that had some hits between 1981 and 1983, like Tunnel of Love, Our Lips Are Sealed and It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It). They disbanded when Hall suddenly quit.
With some of the band members of the old Specials, Dammers went on as The Special AKA. The band had some hits, without losing its political character, which resulted in songs like The Boiler (about date rape), Racist Friend and the huge international hit (Free) Nelson Mandela in 1984. In June of 1984 the album In The Studio was released, which also contained the truly comical What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend.
Afterwards, things quieted down around The Specials, The Special AKA and Jerry Dammers. In the 1990s some of the band members returned and made some (inferior) albums. In 2009 the original line-up (sans Dammers) reconvened and went on tour. The shows were energetic and a lot of fun, showing a hungry band that were truly happy to be performing again. Due to solo-ambitions of Staple and Byers and the sad passing of Bradbury in 2015, only Golding, Hall and Panter are still standing. In 2019 the band released a new album, Encore.
What do you think of The Specials, and More Specials in particular? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: More Specials, the best album of 1980?. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
The Specials – More Specials – Back cover photo & The Specials 1980 images: thepecials.com
The Specials – The Specials & The Specials – More Specials images: spotify.com
The Specials – More Specials – Singles & The Specials – Ghost Town images: discogs.com
The Specials – Saturday Night Live 04/19/1980 image: buycelebrityclothes.com