The Special AKA and the 1984 swan song, In The Studio

The Special AKA, 1984 (

The Special AKA, 1984 (fltr: Jerry Dammers, Rhoda Dakar, John Bradbury, Stan Campbell, Gary McManus, Edigio Newton, John Shipley)


After The Specials had released their impressive swan song Ghost Town in 1981, the old name The Special AKA was revived. In The Studio would be released in 1984. A look back at a unique album.

The end of The Specials

Recordings for the More Specials album by The Specials had been difficult. 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 12, 1981. On July 9, 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.

Singer Terry Hall, percussionist/singer Neville Staple and guitarist/singer Lynval 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 in 1983 when Hall suddenly quit.

The Special AKA

Jerry Dammers, the main man and composer behind The Specials and the man behind the famous 2 Tone Records label, reverted to the name The Special AKA, a name The Specials had used before, like on the live EP Too Much Too Young – The Special A.K.A. Live! in January 1980.

The departure of the aforementioned members was augmented with other musicians, which included The Bodysnatchers singer Rhoda Dakar, who had also sang on the More Specials album and was a frequent guest on the final tour by The Specials.

Rhoda with the Special AKA - The Boiler (

Rhoda with the Special AKA – The Boiler (single)

The Boiler

The first release by The Special AKA (under the moniker Rhoda with the Special AKA) was The Boiler. The song had a long history. Originally, it was written by Dakar’s former band The Bodysnatchers. The song appeared on the setlist of The Specials’ final tour.

Recordings for the song were done and completed in 1981. They would be released on January 11, 1982 on the The Boiler single. It’s a song you should have heard at least once in your lifetime. It’s a highly intense, realistic, emotional and at times terrifying story about a woman (Dakar) with self-esteem issues, who gets raped and abused. The end, as Dakar screams and howls uncontrollably, is particularly severe.

The single was rarely heard on the radio and (therefore) wasn’t a big hit, although it did end up in the top 40 in the UK. A video for the song was made, which was shown once or twice on television. Jerry Dammers produced the song and regarded it as an ideals assignment, a statement. As with many of his endeavors, money and career planning weren’t even considered. The message was all important. And he was right. The Boiler is a unique piece of music and lyrics. It hadn’t been done before and has never been repeated since.


Later in 1982 the single Jungle Music was released under the moniker Rico and the Special AKA. It didn’t chart. In the meantime Dammers had started recording sessions for the successor to More Specials. Two years would pass before The Special AKA’s debut album would see the light of day. Dammers was a perfectionist and wasn’t easily pleased. It is said that the total costs for the album had risen up to £500,000, the amount reserved for four albums in total. Oftentimes the studio wasn’t a comfortable place to be. Rhoda Dakar: “My memories are of going home in tears after singing one line of a lyric over and over for about five hours. I went home sobbing in a cab most nights”. In the meantime singles were being released:

  • War Crimes
    (released in December 1982)
  • Racist Friend / Bright Lights
    (released on August 26, 1983)
  • Nelson Mandela / Break Down The Door
    (released March 5, 1984)

All songs were drenched with deep social awareness. Dammers’ political and social convictions were passionately incorporated into the music. The single Nelson Mandela (also known as Free Nelson Mandela) turned into a huge hit and an international anthem for the liberation of Nelson Mandela and the call for the end of the inhumane apartheid regime in South Africa.

The Special AKA - In The Studio (

The Special AKA – In The Studio

In The Studio

On June 15, 1984, the day had finally come. In The Studio, The Special AKA’s debut album, was released on the 2 Tone Records label. Some call it The Specials’ third album.

The messages the singles had already introduced, can be found all over the album. Dammers was concerned about (the state of) the world. Musically, the album reflects the world view. The major hit Nelson Mandela isn’t representative for the album, musically at least. Lyrically it fits really well.

Song by song

Bright Lights and The Lonely Crowd handle life in the big city and the alienation that comes along with it. The Lonely Crowd ends with the mantra:

Got nowhere to go tonight
I’m in the lonely crowd
So turn the lights down
Play the music loud

The Special AKA - What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend (

The Special AKA – What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend (single)

The album also contains genuinely amusing moments. Dammers himself sings What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend and uses his falsetto voice. The result is one of the funniest songs I know, even though you can easily see this song through the eyes of a very lonely person.

Can I buy you a drink
You seem a decent chap
I’m friendly to your face but
Behind your back

What I like most about you
Is your girlfriend, it’s true

The claustrophobic Housebound sounds alienating and creepy. Night On The Tiles goes into the same theme:

Free me from this prison, just for a while
Let me out if only for one night on the tiles

The Special AKA - Nelson Mandela (

The Special AKA – Nelson Mandela

The second side of the original vinyl releases opened with Nelson Mandela, a cheerful, catchy, funky song, of which Dammers never had dreamed it was ever going to be successful, let alone see it turn into an anthem for the ages. Nelson Mandela, produced by Elvis Costello, was a global hit and would intensify the struggle against apartheid.

Twenty-one years in captivity
Shoes too small to fit his feet
His body abused but his mind is still free
Are you so blind that you cannot see?
I said free Nelson Mandela
I’m begging you, free Nelson Mandela

The Special AKA - War Crimes (

The Special AKA – War Crimes

The next War Crimes (The Crime Remains The Same) is about the war Israel started in Lebanon on June 6, 1982, and the bloodbaths that took place in the refugee camps Sabra and Shatila from September 16 to 18, where Israel played an integral part. Dammers wondered:

I can still see people dying, now who takes the blame?
The numbers are different, the crime is still the same

From the graves of Belsen where the innocent were burned
To the genocide in Beirut, Israel was nothing learned?

Unfortunately still a current theme. Once again the world is watching and many watch in horror and outrage as Israel commits war crimes and, once again, disregards (UN) resolutions and calls for sanity.

The Special AKA - Racist Friend (

The Special AKA – Racist Friend

Racist Friend calls on everyone to sever ties with racist friends, acquaintances and family immediately.

So if you have a racist friend
Now is the time, now is the time for our friendship to end


Alcohol handled addiction to and withdrawal from alcohol. The closing Break Down The Door calls for making a change before you find yourself trapped by circumstance.


The subject matter on In The Studio is generally heavy, but at the same time, it’s a beautiful fusion of reggae, jazz, experiment, pop, funk and world music. An album that was ahead of its time and, even after all those years, still sounds completely unique.

In The Studio wasn’t successful. Maybe the time elapsed between that album and More Specials was simply too long. At the time, people were ready for influences like jazz and funk in pop music, given the rise of bands like The Style Council, Everything But The Girl, Sade and Matt Bianco, but The Special AKA went way further, maybe too far? Or was it just simple math: before the album’s release 5 songs had already been released on singles. Maybe the price for ‘just’ 5 new songs was simply too high? Whatever the reason, never was the lack of success so undeserved as with this album.

For this article, I have listened to this album intensively. It didn’t take me long to realize I too have totally underestimated this album at the time. So, I hereby declare In The Studio to be part of the mini-series ‘Classic releases in the month of June 1984‘, which doesn’t comprise 5, but 6 titles. In The Studio is a worthy addition.

The Special AKA - In The Studio - Back cover (

The Special AKA – In The Studio – Back cover


All songs written by Jerry Dammers, unless stated otherwise.

  • Bright Lights (John Bradbury, Stan Campbell, Dick Cuthell, Jerry Dammers)
  • The Lonely Crowd (Stan Campbell, Jerry Dammers, John Shipley)
  • What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend
  • Housebound
  • Night On The Tiles (Jerry Dammers, John Shipley)
  • Nelson Mandela
  • War Crimes (The Crime Remains The Same)
  • Racist Friend (John Bradbury, Dick Cuthell, Jerry Dammers)
  • Alcohol
  • Break Down The Door (John Bradbury, Dick Cuthell, Jerry Dammers)


The Special AKA

  • John Bradbury – drums; bass and synthesizer on Break Down The Door
  • Stan Campbell – vocals
  • Rhoda Dakar – vocals, background vocals
  • Jerry Dammers – organ, piano; vocals on What I like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend
  • Gary McManus – bass
  • John Shipley – guitar


  • Andy Aderinto, Nigel Reeve – saxophone
  • Dick Cuthell – flugelhorn
  • Edgio Newton – vocals, percussion
  • Rico Rodriguez – trombone
  • Horace Panter – bass on What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend, War Crimes, Alcohol
  • Tony “Groko” Utah – percussion on The Lonely Crowd
  • Dave Heath – flute on Nelson Mandela
  • Paul Speare – penny whistle on Nelson Mandela
  • Nick Parker – violin on War Crimes
  • Roddy Radiation – guitar on Racist Friend
  • Claudia Fontaine, Naomi Thompson, Caron Wheeler – background vocals on What I Like Most Like About You Is Your Girlfriend
  • Lynval Golding – background vocals on Night On The Tiles
  • Elvis Costello, Lynval Golding, Molly Jackson, Polly Jackson, Ranking Roger, Dave Wakeling – background vocals on Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute (

Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute

After In The Studio

In August 1984 the single What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend was released. Quickly thereafter Jerry Dammers dissolved The Special AKA and became a fulltime activist. He was particularly involved in the fight for the end of apartheid and organized big events like the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute on June 11, 1988, a globally televised concert as a tribute to Nelson Mandela, who was still imprisoned at the time. An international line-up of comedians, actors, artists and musicians took part in that day, including Harry Belafonte, Sting, George Michael, Sir Richard Attenborough, The Eurythmics, Whoopi Goldberg, Al Green, Joe Cocker, Tracy Chapman, Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, UB40, Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Simple Minds, Peter Gabriel, Steven van Zandt, Whitney Houston, Salt-N-Pepa and Stevie Wonder. The broadcast was witnessed by over 600 million people in 67 countries. In many parts of Africa the show was available free of charge, so the numbers are probably even higher.

The day was a resounding success and is generally regarded, including by Nelson Mandela himself, as having played a pivotal role in the eventual release of Nelson Mandela on February 11, 1990, an event that’s burned into my vision.

At Mandela’s request Nelson Mandela: An International Tribute for a Free South Africa was organized on April 16, 1990. Another gathering of artists, speakers and comedians, another success. And Jerry Dammers got to meet the man he so passionately wanted to see free.

The Spacial AKA Orchestra logo (

The Spacial AKA Orchestra logo

In 2006 Jerry Dammers started The Spatial AKA Orchestra, a band he played his own songs with, but also gave ample room to play experimental jazz, like Sun Ra songs.

Legend has it that Dammers has tried reuniting the original line-up of The Specials many times, but in 2008 he stated that it wasn’t going to work and that his attempts weren’t appreciated very much. So, Dammers didn’t play any part in The Specials’ reunion from 2008 to Terry Hall’s untimely death in 2022.

In April 2014 Jerry Dammers received the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo, one of South Africa’s highest rewards, for his outstanding work benefiting the country. Once again an affirmation that his single Nelson Mandela did put the fight against apartheid on the international map and played an important part in the release of Nelson Mandela.

I never expected anything like this when I wrote the song. It’s a fantastic honour and it’s amazing that it’s remembered in South Africa. But it’s important to remember that I did what any decent person would do in my position. And it’s nothing compared to the sacrifices the people in South Africa made to fight apartheid.

Jerry Dammers, 24-04-2014

His reaction speaks volumes to the man. Typical Dammers.

In closing

What do you think of The Special AKA and In The Studio in particular? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The Special AKA and the 1984 swan song, In The Studio. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!