Stop your messing around
Better think of your future
Time you straightened right out
Creating problems in town

— A Message to You, Rudy



The Specials were a British punk/ska band originally founded in Coventry under the name Coventry Automatics in 1977. They pioneered ska in Britain by fusing its dance origin with punk energy. Like most of their punk contemporaries, they used their music to discuss political and social issues but the ska rhythm made their music more upbeat and truely danceable.

The founding members were:

Jerry Dammers attempted for over a year to get record companies to sign them up but failed to generate any interest in their demo tape. Finally, The Coventry Automatics' break came when they opened for The Clash during their 'On Parole' tour in June 1978. Their popularity caused the band to change their name to "The Specials" to avoid confusion with another group. Dammers, remembering the lukewarm reception they'd previously received, decided to start his own record label, 2-Tone, in 1979 instead of signing on with the firms offering them a deal. The 2-Tone name was adopted for primarily three reasons:

  1. The Specials were racially mixed and wanted their label name to reflect their political views.
  2. Ska bands tended to wear black and white suits with flat, porkpie hats and loafers.
  3. The label's logo consisted of a black and white checkered pattern.

The first release of the 2-Tone label, The Specials' single, "Gangsters", reached the UK top ten, indicating that ska had entered the mainstream. Soon after, multiple ska bands entered the scene with 2-Tone, remembering their struggles, supporting many of them, including Madness and The Beat.

Can't fight corruption with con tricks
They use the law to commit crime
And I dread, dread to think what the future will bring
When we're living in gangster time

— Gangsters

At the end of 1979, The Specials released its eponymous album with Elvis Costello. The album entered the charts at #7 and spawned a number of top 5 hits including A Message to You, Rudy, Nite Klub, Too Much Too Young, and Rat Race. Even though (or perhaps because) Too Much Too Young was banned by the BBC, it still reached #1.

Around this time, at the height of the ska craze, in early 1980, the BBC produced a documentary on them and 2-Tone released a live album as well as tours with The Specials, Madness, and Dexy's Midnight Runners.

Within a year, though, it was clear ska was losing its popularity and The Specials tried to reinvent themselves, delving into lounge and musak, as they found their popularity (and 2-Tone's money) waning. They released their second album, More Specials, which still received excellent reviews and sales due to the strength of the lyrics and social commentary.

This town, is coming like a ghost town
All the clubs have been closed down
This place, is coming like a ghost town
Bands won't play no more
too much fighting on the dance floor

— Ghost Town

In June 1981, The Specials released "Ghost Town" which struck a chord due to race riots in Brixton and Liverpool at the time of its release. While the single did extremely well and reached #1, it was close to the end of The Specials' run.

Terry Hall, Lynval Staples, and Neville Golding left in September to form Fun Boy Three, causing the band to lose both its vocalists and forcing them to decide to change their name back to the once-temporary "The Specials AKA". The band released a third album, In the Studio, in 1984 but apart from two or three tracks (notably Racist Friend), the album was both a critical and commercial failure, causing them to officially disband.

While The Specials had a psuedo-reformation in the mid-90s due to a ska resurgence, the albums were considered mediocre and didn't involve most of the original Specials members.


Movies Featuring The Specials' Music:

Sources: , All Music Guide, Intenet Movie Database