Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Specials - The Specials

Welcome to another edition of Seventies Saturday.

This month marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the self-titled debut of the Specials. This 1979 release went to number 34 in Sweden, number 21 in Canada, number 5 in New Zealand and number 4 in the UK. Here in the US, it spent twenty-one weeks on the Billboard Album chart with a top spot of 84.

The album was produced by Elvis Costello and was released on the 2 Tone label. The band consisted of Terry Hall, Neville Staple, Lynval Golding, Roddy Radiation, Jerry Dammers, Sir Horace Gentleman and John Bradbury. Guest musicians on the record included Chrissie Hynde (from the Pretenders), Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell.

Side one begins with “A Message to You, Rudy”. The original version was performed in 1967 by Dandy Livingstone. Trombone player Rodriguez played on both the original and this new version. As the first single, the Specials charted at number 35 in the Netherlands, number 29 in New Zealand, number 19 in Ireland, number 10 in the UK and number 7 in Austria. The lyrics are an intervention to a troubled young man who needs to get his act together.

“Do the Dog” is an up-tempo “ska meets punk” dance song.

With “It’s Up to You”, the band presents their image and position but ultimately leaves it to the listener to decide if they are his or her cup of tea.

“Nite Klub” was the B-side to the first single. It is like eavesdropping on a night out with the guys who are just looking for a good time.

The tempo slows down with “Doesn’t Make It Alright”, a song that reaches out to those who feel the world does not understand them.

The opening of “Concrete Jungle” is driven by a tribal drumbeat that reminds me a bit of the Ramones. The lyrics tell of the dangerous and often violent times on the streets of London.

Jamaican artist Prince Buster had a hit in 1966 with “Too Hot”; the Specials give us their own take on it.

Side two opens with up-tempo “Monkey Man”, a cover of the 1969 song by the reggae group Toots and the Maytals.

“(Dawning of a) New Era” kicks it even further into gear, with a dizzying carnival gone wild level of energy.

“Blank Expression” tells the story of a guy whose girl now feels totally indifferent to him.

“Stupid Marriage” was inspired by Prince Buster’s hit “Judge 400 Years”. The lyrics tell of a peeping Tom on trial for spying on his ex-girlfriend.

“Too Much Too Young” was based on Lloyd Charmers’ song “Birth Control”. As the second single, the song about teenaged pregnancy went to number 15 in the Netherlands, number 3 in Ireland, and number 1 in the UK. At over six minutes in length, it is the album’s longest track.

Next up is “Little Bitch”. Part of the guitar riff on the chorus brings to mind the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar”.

The closing track “You’re Wondering Now” was first performed by the Skatalites from Jamaica.

My older brother owns a copy of The Specials on vinyl. He picked it up during his freshman year of college, so I likely first heard it during the spring or summer of 1980. This review is the first time I’ve heard many of the songs in a number of decades and likely the first time I have heard the record through from start to finish. For me, the album has a bit of filler. Fourteen tracks back in the 70’s was a lot to put on a single record release.

For more on the Specials, click here.

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