Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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SPECIALS, The

UK rock group formed in Coventry '77: Jerry Dammers, keyboards and songwriter (b 22 April 1954); Terry Hall, vocals (b 19 March 1959); Lynval Golding, rhythm guitar (b 24 July 1951), all from Coventry; vocalist Neville Staples, Roddy Radiation on guitar, Sir Horace Gentleman on bass, drummer John Bradbury (b 16 February 1953; d 28 December 2015). They inaugurated an integrated 2-Tone label and movement, the brainchild of Dammers; the movement re-popularized ska and acted as a blanket organization for groups who resented colour prejudice in UK; it was the most potent contribution to post-punk UK scene. By '78 the movement included Madness, the Beat, the Selector and the Bodysnatchers (later Belle Stars), and was celebrated in a belated film Dance Craze '81, album This Are 2-Tone '83.

The Specials were championed by the Clash '78; theeir debut single 'Gangsters' was a tirade against the staid UK music scene, originally a limited edition on an indie label, no. 6 hit '79; LP Specials '79 was a striking debut, produced by Elvis Costello (another fan), with hits 'A Message To You Rudy' and 'Too Much Too Young' (no. 1 '80). More Specials '80 was less effective, still a chart hit. They tried to crack USA market supporting the Police, but appeal was home-based. Perhaps their finest hour was single 'Ghost Town' (no. 1 '81), chilling after riots in Brixton and Liverpool, remaining one of UK rock's most apposite statements. They fell apart soon after due to internal friction and riots at gigs, which attracted oafish right-wing elements.

Hall, Golding and Staples quit '81 objecting to what they saw as Dammers's high-handed aproach; they formed Fun Boy Three, had hit albums Fun Boy Three and Waiting '82-3; Hall later went to Colour Field; Golding returned to Coventry and supervised new ska band After Tonight. Dammers/Bradbury forged on as the Special AKA: Dammers' songs became more overtly political, were mostly commercial flops: 'The Boiler' '82 (with singer Rhoda Dakar) was about rape, 'War Crimes' about Israeli provocation in Lebanon, 'Racist Friend' castigated UK's cosy attitude to colour problem; but 'Nelson Mandela', again produced by Costello, with vocal by Stan Campbell, was a top 20 hit '83, became anthem of anti-apartheid movement. Dammers's perfectionism led to delays in ironically titled In The Studio '84, collecting singles as well as light-hearted 'The Girlfriend'. He teamed with Robert Wyatt for 'Wind Of Change' single '85, organized anti-apartheid concert in London mid-'86. He demonstrated that a political message could combine with infectious dance music, and it would be hard to overestimate his influence in the superficial world of UK pop. Campbell released Stan Campbell '87 on WEA, one of the best new soul LPs for years, with Caribbean flavour, beautiful sound and not overproduced (unusual for a debut by then), but there was no sequel.