Categories
Tunes

Top five tunes: The Specials

(We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming today with a special guest post from our good friend Andrew Rodriguez, who was perhaps inspired to write some words by the recent news of Terry Hall’s death. We will return to our end of the year Best Albums countdown on the morrow. Enjoy.)

I met Todd Burnham in 1986. He was an “Old Boy” from the Boarding School I attended for a few years. In fact he was partially responsible for me being sent there in the first place, our fathers were friends, and Mr B had told my father about how ‘impressed’ he was with the school. What impressed me about Burnham most however, was his style. He was a Rude Boy. And he dressed like nothing I had ever seen. 2 Tone Dr Marten brogues, rolled up jeans, Fred Perry, Stingy Brim and a jacket covered in patches. “What is Ska?” I asked. “It’s early reggae – it’s faster tempo”. I cooly memorised all the names of the bands displayed on his jacket and made a note to seek out what albums I could, when I got to go home. The largest of the patches had a checkerboard theme and said simply ‘THE SPECIALS’.

About a year later I bought my first Specials album, with my allowance. It was called More Specials – their second album, though I didn’t know that at the time. From the first needle drop, I was very much hooked. A danceable mixture of styles and themes, characterised by a sort of (my term) pragmatic moodiness.

They formed around 1977 in Coventry England, from a band called the Coventry Automatics. They were key figures in the “2 Tone movement”, also called “second wave ska”, which was based around the 2 Tone record label (created by Jerry Dammers – their Organist). There were several other notable bands on that label but I won’t discuss them here. If you choose to look further into the Specials (you should), do not be confused by the names. Early on they went by the name “Special AKA”, and variations thereof. That name was also used by the second incarnation of the band, so it can get a bit confusing! With various lineup changes they’ve been an active touring and recording band since reforming after their first real breakup in 1984.

For the purposes of this short entry (no-one is allowed to go over word limits here – we are professionals goddammit!) I’ll skip the details of the band, that is what Wikipedia is for (be sure to donate too they are begging for money). I’m also going to stick to their (best) earliest era, lineup, and albums.

OK! They were just such a striking band. Their dress style was heavily influenced by the early 60s mod scene. Their first album was produced by Elvis Costello, and had a punk feel to it, something you really get in their live recordings. By the second album they slowed the tempo down a bit and the sound was fuller and more produced. More Specials also included outside personnel, including the Sax player from Madness and the singer from the Bodysnatchers – both labelmates on 2 Tone. Their lyrics were substantial, addressing daily life, with some political and social commentary elements thrown in for good measure. They looked cool and sounded even cooler. In keeping with the restrictions placed on me spirit of this blog, I’m now going to introduce you to 5 of my favourite Specials tunes. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

“Concrete jungle” (from The Specials, 1979)

Remember I mentioned the punkiness of some of their early stuff? First up is a live version of Concrete Jungle, from their self-titled debut LP. It’s not a cover of the Bob Marley song. The grainy footage is taken from a film called Dance Craze which was a sort of promo for 2 Tone, it and the associated live album are quite good, and feature most of the bands on the label. Both are on Youtube.

“It’s up to you” (from The Specials, 1979)

Now, this is direct from the first album – The Specials. I picked this because it showcases a bit more of their ska/reggae influences. The entire album is worth a spin, it’s hard to select just a few.

“Rat race” (from More Specials, 1980)

Next up we have Coventry’s finest looking very Scholarly, in the video for a tune from their second album (and the one I bought first) More Specials. Rat Race (again not a Bob Marley cover!). Note the slightly moodier tone. Note also, singer Terry Hall and the band don’t look nearly as dated as the 1980 kids in the ‘classroom’ – some looks just don’t go out of style.

“I can’t stand it” (from More Specials, 1980)

Hey – I coined the term “pragmatic moodiness” – so I certainly as EFF can determine this song to be the epitome of it! From More Specials, and a personal favourite, I Can’t Stand It. verbally jousting with Terry Hall is Rhoda Dakar – the singer from the Bodysnatchers.

“Ghost town” (from Ghost town, 1981)

NOW. The final selection, this is from the Ghost Town Ep. It was a single and it went to number 1 in 1981. Shortly thereafter Terry, Neville, and Lynval left the group to form Fun Boy Three. Ghost Town was a 3 song Ep and it is phenomenal. It is more reggae than ska. Since I really can’t make my mind up – you really should check out all three songs, each is very different. Friday Night and Saturday Morning is probably my favourite Specials song of all. But I won’t play it here because I’ve already done a moody song. Why? is also fantastic. But I will take the lazy route and just select the single itself. I drove around town a lot listening to this during the lockdown(s). You might see why it was stuck in my head.

Well that’s a wrap. Thank you for reading. Sadly, the day that I wrote this, I learned (from John) that Terry Hall died. The details are sparse, which generally leads some to speculation. There is no speculation to be found in these pages; merely respect, and appreciation for a fantastic singer and entertainer. Thank you Mr. Hall. You will be missed. On a more positive note I would like to wish the readership a Merry Christmas, and Happy music listening New Year!


A few more stats on The Specials

Years active: 1977–1981, 1982-1984, 1993, 1996–2001, 2008–present

Original band members:
Terry Hall – lead vocals (1977–81, 2008–22)
Lynval Golding – rhythm and lead guitar, vocals (1977–81, 1993, 1994–1998, 2008–present)
Horace Panter – bass guitar (1977–81, 1982, 1993, 1994–1998, 2000-2001, 2008–present)
Jerry Dammers – keyboards, principal songwriter, vocals (1977–81)
Roddy Radiation – lead guitar, vocals (1978–81, 1993, 1996–2001, 2008–14)
Neville Staple – toasting, vocals, percussion (1978–81, 1993, 1996–2001, 2008–12)
John Bradbury – drums (1979–84, 2008–15)
Dick Cuthell – flugelhorn, trumpet (1979–84)
Rico Rodriguez – trombone (1979–81, 1982)

Discography (studio LPs only):
The Specials (1979)
More Specials (1980)
Today’s Specials (1996)
Guilty ’til Proved Innocent! (1998)
Skinhead Girl (2000)
Conquering Ruler (2001)
Encore (2019)
Protest Songs 1924-2012 (2021)


For other top five lists in this series, click here.

Categories
Playlists

Playlist: EDGE 102.1’s top 1002 of all time (1999 version)

Happy Friday!

If you’re looking for something to soundtrack your post-work activities this evening, I’ve got just thing. It’s something a little a different for these pages: a playlist that I didn’t make, but was instead put together by one of my friends.

It’s a playlist that I’ve been slowly making my way through since mid-December. I got into it because I was making a few solo trips in the car and I needed some good long playlists to keep me company. I somehow remembered that my friend Tim had put this one together a few years ago on Spotify so I slipped it on and it perfectly fit the bill.

The playlist is based on a feature that Toronto-based alternative rock radio station, EDGE 102.1, did back in December 1999, counting down what they called the “Top 1002 songs of all-time”. They had done a similar one eight years prior, in 1991, back when the station was still going by its original call letters, CFNY, and they were still truly alternative radio. However, at that time, I didn’t know a lot of the music, was just getting into alternative and indie, and so I didn’t appreciate it as much. By 1999, though, I was completely immersed in pretty much all of alternative rock but unfortunately, EDGE 102 had gotten a lot more commercial. Truthfully, I only listened to it because there were no other options.

Even though I may not have necessarily agreed with all the rankings, I still remember this Top 1002 feature fondly and vividly. We always had the radio at my work tuned to this station and those three or four days at the end of December 1999 were the best few days of commercial radio in memory. They were playing songs that would not normally get airtime on the station but definitely should have done. And listening to this mix of alternative rock from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, heavily weighted, of course, to the latter two decades, brings back so many memories from that time and the years prior.

When I mentioned to Tim that I was listening to the playlist and thanked him for taking the time (and it must’ve taken a very long time) to create it, he mentioned that he also did the 1991 list, which he preferred because it didn’t have all the grunge and post-grunge 90s alt-rock. And while I agree, there are some tunes in this playlist that I find myself skipping, there are also a lot of great 90s tunes that are missing in the 1991 version.

Yes, I’m still making my way through the playlist over a month and a half later but plan to forge ahead through to the end. Even though not all 1002 tunes were available on Spotify when he made the playlist, it’s still over 68 hours of classic alternative rock, some of which I’m very familiar with and some of which I’m still just discovering.

If you’re curious as to what was on the 1991 and 1999 lists, both are available on the “Spirit of radio”* fansite for your perusal, here and here. But if you just want to join me on this long road of a playlist, I’ve embedded it below for your listening pleasure.

I’ll thank my friend Tim for you. Enjoy.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the playlists I myself have created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.

*”Spirt of radio” was the slogan of CFNY in its early days and this inspired the 1980 Rush song of the same name.

Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love: Joy Division “Substance”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Joy Division
Album Title: Substance
Year released: 1988
Year reissued: 2015
Details: 2 x 180 gram

The skinny: It’s all hallow’s eve but with everything going on, the celebrations will be tempered and the amount of trick-or-treating children will likely be very, very low. We can still spin some dark and haunting tunes, though, in honour of all the ghosts and goblins that will be on the prowl tonight. For me, it’s going to be Joy Division, not necessarily a goth rock band but definitely a big influence on all of those that followed on the darker side of the alternative spectrum. “Substance” is a 1988 compilation that was released by their label, Factory Records, several years after Joy Division’s dissolution. (Interestingly,  it was a year after a compilation with the same name was released by Factory for New Order, the band that Joy Division’s remaining members would go on to form after the suicide of their frontman, Ian Curtis.) The original release of Joy Division’s “ Substance” collected the band’s four non-album singles and b-sides, as well as an early EP and this remastered reissue that was released and purchased in 2015, was not only pressed to two 180 gram slabs but included three additional tracks.

Most would’ve thought I would pick their classic “Love will tear us apart” for the standout but instead, I kept with today’s theme and shared the track Nine Inch Nails chose to cover for the soundtrack to the film “The crow”. Happy Halloween all!

Standout track: “Dead souls”