The Specials - Specials - Review
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critics' view

Very rarely does a group arrive so fully formed; so perfect with their sound, their message and their image. Taking no shit from Tories or Racists, the 2-Tone revolution straight outta Coventry was a complete blast on every level, and the Specials full-length was the standard bearer for the highly-focused movement. The National Front, teen pregnancy, knife crime – a great deal of Britain’s late 70s urban street life is represented here, warts n all. Crucially, they don’t forget to dance and have fun, either. The skanking seven were: Terry Hall (20, vocals); Neville Staple (24, vocals); Lynval Golding (28, rhythm guitar); Roddy Byers (24, lead guitar); Jerry Dammers (24, keyboards); Horace Panter (26, bass guitar) and John Bradbury (26, drums). As well as that lot, adding vital-itals were Rico Rodriguez (45, trombone) and Dick Cuthell (30, horns).

The album almost splits 50-50 with originals and covers – they’re equally excellent either way. The album’s lead single, released just a week earlier in October, was a version of Dandy’s “A Message To You Rudy”, and it’s this tune which opens the full-length. As if underlining their authenticity, two eras are effortlessly spanned due in no small part to the magnificent trombone of Rico who had also played on the ’67 original! Said Jerry: “It was beyond our wildest dreams that he would actually come and play with us”. Before too long, the group flex their considerable muscle with their own works; the classic “It’s Up To You” demonstrates their awesome skill with rhythm, effortlessly veering between ska n dub, just as easy as breathing. They come with a message too: “Black. White. Unite.” Even primary school kids knew what the Specials were about (and I should know, I was one).

Nite Klub” (credited to all seven members) goes even further to showcase the phenomenal skills of the players; blues, jazz, dub, rock, ska, punk – it’s all in there, completely mental and completely brilliant. Sealing the deal is Terry Hall, whose lyrics and delivery are a class apart, lambasting the vacuous emptiness of such environments and the sad fact that “the beer tastes just like piss.” “Doesn’t Make It Alright” is the album’s crowning glory: “Just because you're a black boy, just because you're a white, it doesn't mean you've got to hate him, it doesn't mean you've got to fight. It doesn't make it alright, it doesn't make it alright, it's the WORST EX-CUSE in the world”. Horace Panter would later comment: “My heart swelled when we played it, it was the essence of what we were doing.” Side one closes with a mighty cover of Prince Buster’s “Too Hot” – the vocal interplay between Neville and Terry is a sheer joy. Almost every song on this album is a classic, and it therefore seems unfair to single them out, but I must give special mentions for “Stupid Marriage” – a superb new episode in the Judge Dread saga (here reinvented by Neville as Judge Roughneck) – and album closer “You’re Wondering Now”, a reminder of their root inspirations, digging back to simpler, happier times in Jamaica. That said, I was gutted many years later to discover it was “Curtains have fallen” and not “Britain has fallen” that Terry was singing. Or was it? Jerry Dammers once described Two Tone as a little club and if you liked the music then you were part of the club. Count me in Jerry.

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