2019 marks the 40th anniversary of The Specials, and just in time, founding members Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter are about to release the ska revivalists’ first album together in 37 years. It’s aptly titled “Encore” (Island), due Feb. 1.
Their new single, “Vote for Me,” addresses the same political and social issues that the British band dealt with in the late 1970s. The 10-song album includes a version of “The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum,” originally by the Hall/Golding post-Specials band Fun Boy Three in 1982.
The Specials never charted in the United States, but in their native U.K., they had seven Top 10 singles, including the No. 1 “Ghost Town.” Along with The Beat (aka The English Beat), they spearheaded the 2 Tone and ska movement in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Pause & Play looks back at and looks ahead to The Specials.
The Specials (2 Tone, 1979)
Released on Specials keyboardist Jerry Dammers’ 2 Tone label, their debut was co-produced with Elvis Costello. Drawing heavily from Jamaican ska influences, it was a defining moment in the genre’s revitalization. British fans first got a taste of The Specials with the Top 10 hit “Gangsters” in the summer of 1979, though the song was not included on their debut LP. The album’s first single, “A Message to You Rudy,” cracked the U.K. Top 10; it was a cover of the 1967 rocksteady classic by Dandy Livingstone. (A live version of “Too Much Too Young” went No. 1 as part of “The Special AKA Live!” EP.) Side notes: Chrissie Hynde sang backup on “Nite Klub,” and in April 1980, The Specials made their U.S. TV debut, performing “Gangsters” on “Saturday Night Live.”
Producers: Elvis Costello, The Specials
Other highlights: “Too Much Too Young,” “Concrete Jungle,” “Do the Dog”
More Specials (1980)
The band got more adventurous on its second album, touching on other sounds such as lounge music, Northern Soul and rockabilly. It generated three more Top 10 hits: “Rat Race,” “Stereotype” and “Do Nothing.” Side notes: Belinda Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s sang backup; less than a year later, the non-album single, “Ghost Town,” spent three weeks atop the U.K. chart.
Producer: Jerry Dammers
Other highlights: “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think),” “Man at C&A”
In the Studio (1984)
Hall and Golding departed in 1981, and Dammers carried on with a new lineup, credited as The Special AKA. Their album was less commercially successful, but it did yield another Top 10 hit, “Free Nelson Mandela.”
Producers: Jerry Dammers, Dick Cuthell, Elvis Costello
Today’s Specials (Virgin, 1996)
Original members Neville Staple, Roddy Byers, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter, joined by new members Mark Adams and Adam Birch, returned with an all-covers album.
Producers: Tom Lowry, Neville Staple, Stoker
Guilty ’til Proved Innocent! (1998)
The group’s first album of new material since 1984 was well-received, with the track “It’s You” getting airplay on modern rock stations.
Skinhead Girl (Receiver, 2000)
After backing Desmond Dekker on an album, they reconvened to record another album of covers, putting the spotlight on popular Trojan Records songs.
Producer: Roger Lomas
Conquering Ruler (2001)
Only three founding members – Staple, Byers and Panter – performed on this third all-covers album.
Producer: Roger Lomas
Encore (Island, 2019)
In addition to “Vote for Me” and “The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum,” their new album includes a spoken word track “The Ten Commandments,” featuring British anti-racism activist Saffiyah Khan. The band’s 40th anniversary tour across Europe and the U.K. opens March 29 in Cologne, Germany (see tour dates).
Producers: Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, Horace Panter