25 Jan 2022

Coventry, England

"...[Their] 1980's detached, queasy follow-up [to their debut]...Jaunty music hall, bossa nova and mariachi trumpets suggest a nominal celebration/holiday theme, but the panicked gallows feel renders everything grotesque..." -Q

'special edition 2cd sets of three exceptional, ground breaking albums by one of the most important british bands ever, the specials. these reissues have been approved by founding member jerry dammers and include previously unreleased concert audio, non-album singles, eps and b-sides, as well as extensive new sleeve notes and previously unseen photos. most of the album is comprised of originals, including a pair of instrumentals -- the northern soul-esque "sock it to 'em jb" and the mexican-flavored "holiday fortnight" -- as well as a duo of minimally vocalized pieces, the intriguing "international jet set," and the overtly apocalyptic "man at c&a."'

'The 2015 Special Editions have been remastered by Tim Debney at Fluid. As well as the original albums, they include all the band's EPs, non-album singles and b-sides, the 'Too Much Too Young EP', 'Rat Race', 'Ghost Town' (full version), 'Friday Night, Saturday Morning' and 'Why?' (extended version); a rare, previously unreleased on CD, frenetic concert recorded for the BBC at the Paris Theatre in December 1979 plus John Peel BBC radio sessions and instrumentals of six tracks from 'In The Studio' mixed at the time, which perfectly demonstrate the album's groundbreaking experimentation.'

'On March 30th, 2 Tone Records/Warners Catalogue will release Special Editions of three exceptional, ground breaking albums by one of the most important British bands ever – The Specials. These reissues have been liaised and approved by the band’s founder and main songwriter Jerry Dammers.

Formed in Coventry in the mid-1970s, The Specials (formerly Coventry Automatics) was the idea of musician Jerry Dammers, who brought together an eclectic array of individuals to fulfill his vision of a multi-racial band, fusing the energy of punk with the legendary but, at the time, often overlooked, sound of Jamaican ska. This was a fusion which proved to be explosive. The seven individuals – Dammers (keyboards), Terry Hall (vocals), Neville Staples (vocals), Lynval Golding (rhythm guitar), Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers (lead guitar), ‘Sir’ Horace ‘Gentleman’ Panter (bass) and John Bradbury (drums), along with legendary Jamaican ska trombonist Rico Rodriguez and trumpeter Dick Cuthell– not only fully realised Dammers’ vision, but their exuberant, uncompromising sound and ‘message’ music reached the top of the charts. Their third single, ‘Too Much Too Young’, was amongst a tiny handful of live recordings that have ever reached no 1 on the singles’ chart*, (an amazing achievement for such a new group, and testament to the phenomenal excitement and energy generated by their live shows). The resulting popularity of the band and its music was considered by many, to have a hugely positive influence on race relations in late ‘70s/early ‘80s Britain, helping to create unity amongst disaffected youth.

Dammers’ vision also included a record label, 2 Tone Records, which took its blueprint from such disparate elements as anarcho punk band Crass, Berry Gordy’s Motown label, Jamaican ska and the Buzzcocks’ independently pressed Spiral Scratch EP. The label would release not only The Special AKA’s debut single ‘Gangsters’ (UK Top 10) and The Specials’ debut album ‘Specials’ (November 1979 , reaching no.4 in the album charts), but also singles by bands who shared 2 Tone’s musical ethos, including: Madness, The Selecter and The Beat. With a striking aesthetic based on a chessboard logo, designed by Dammers, which incorporated a cartoon mascot based on Peter Tosh from the Wailing Wailers album sleeve, christened Walt Jabsco after a vintage bowling shirt, 2 Tone spawned a musical and cultural movement that defined a generation and still resonates around the world to this day.

Following the success of their debut aIbum, the band released the non-album single, Rod Byers’ class war polemic ‘Rat Race’, which reached the Top 5 in May 1980. This was followed in September by the groundbreaking ‘Stereotypes’, which mixed dark lounge core, spaghetti western themes and dub reggae, and reached the Top 10. The song was the first hint of what was to come on the band’s second album.

Less than a year after their debut, Dammers was determined to make their follow up an equally musically innovative album. ‘More Specials’ (October 1980) was to be ambitious and totally unique, expanding the group’s musical palette into areas never previously explored in ‘rock’ music. As well as the aforementioned genres, it also encompassed muzak, nightmare exotica, bossa nova, northern soul, and calypso. It was a commercial success, hitting the UK Top 5, and, as well as ‘Stereotypes’, the single ‘Do Nothing’ was also a Top 10 hit.

In early 1981, the group re-entered the studio to record another non-album single, one that would eerily soundtrack that summer’s widespread rioting and assure the group’s place in music history. ‘Ghost Town’, (B/W ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ and ‘Why?’)influenced the dystopian sounds which were to dominate the Bristol “trip hop” scene, and in turn pass into much British music since, up to and including dubstep. Capturing a mood of inner city anger and alienation in an uneasy amalgam of Eastern melody, skank reggae and heavy dub bass, with an inimitable and mournful trombone solo by Rico Rodriguez, the song reached no.1 in the charts, but sadly, after what should have been an occasion for celebration, Hall, Golding and Staple left to form the Fun Boy Three and Byers left to tour with his band the Tearjerkers.

The remaining members, Dammers, Bradbury and Panter, briefly toured backing Rico in Germany, then Dammers recruited guitarist John Shipley from The Swinging Cats, ex-Bodysnatcher Rhoda Dakar (who’d guested on ‘More Specials’) and lead vocalist StanCampbell. The new line up set to work on the ‘In The Studio’ album, reverting to the band’s original name of The Special AKA. Released in 1984, the album was a brave mix of bold and challenging music, with a strong political, social and moral conscience. The album made it into the Top 40, and while it might not have been a huge commercial success, it was, and still is, an astonishingly unique work: a haunting, claustrophobic mix of lounge, soul, reggae, jazz (foreseeing what would later in the decade become known as ‘acid jazz’) and Arabic rhythms, with uncompromising subject matter. It featured two brilliant singles: the joyous, yet serious rallying anthem for the then imprisoned South African ANC leader, ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, and ‘What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend’, a rare outing for Dammers on vocals (later covered by the band’s debut album producer, Elvis Costello). As time has gone by, the status of ‘In The Studio’ has grown, and today it is rightly viewed as a genuine lost classic.' -louderthanwar

'Less frenzied than its predecessor, but more musically adventurous, More Specials was nearly as popular in its day as its predecessor, falling just one chart place below their debut. It kicked off in similar fashion as well, with a classic cover, this time with an exuberant take on Carl Sigman and Conrad Magidson's 1940s chestnut "Enjoy Yourself." A slower, brooding version with the Go-Go's in tow brings the album to a close, taking the place of the set-sealing "You're Wondering Now," which brought the curtain down on their first set. But there the similarities come to an end. The rest of the album is comprised of originals, including a pair of instrumentals -- the Northern soul-esque "Sock It to 'Em JB" and the Mexican-flavored "Holiday Fortnight" -- as well as a duo of minimally vocalized pieces, the intriguing "International Jet Set," and the overtly apocalyptic "Man at C&A." But fans had already been primed for the band's changing musical directions by the release the month before of "Stereotypes," its spaghetti western aura filled with the group's more mournful mood. It's an emotional despair taken to even greater heights on "Do Nothing," as the group futilely searches for a future, but musically stumbles upon a cheery, easygoing rhythm more appropriate to the pop styles of the English Beat than the angrier sounds the Specials had made their own. But to prove it's no fluke, there's the equally bright and breezy "Hey, Little Rich Girl," boasting fabulous sax solos from Madness' Lee Thompson. However, it's an immortal line from "Pearl's Cafe" that Terry Hall and the guesting Bodysnatchers' Rhoda Dakar deliver up in duet that best sums up their own, and the country's pure frustration: "It's all a load of bollocks, and bollocks to it all." It was an intensely satisfying set in its day, even if it wasn't as centered as their debut. The group seems to be moving simultaneously in too many directions, while the lyrics, too, are not quite as hard-hitting as earlier efforts. [A 2015 Special Edition added a second disc containing 13 bonus tracks comprising different versions and Peel Sessions.]' -Review by Jo-Ann Greene

The Specials: More Specials

Steve Sutherland  |  Mar 26, 2021

As the Coventry group prepare their second LP things are already starting to fall apart... Steve Sutherland listens to the half-speed-remastered 40th anniversary reissue

'Here they are, Britain's most successful and influential breakthrough band, revered by the critics, adored by the fans, unashamedly copied by start-up bands… But Jerry Dammers, the geezer in charge, wants to mess with the magic and do something quite worryingly different.

Now everyone knows that second albums are tricky blighters for several reasons. Y'know, you've had your whole life to create and inspire the first one, then the second one comes along and you're out of ideas. Plus, your audience wants the impossible: the same yet different/ better...

Mental Breakdown
None of these, however, seem to be the driving force behind the wilful change of direction being foisted upon the band by their svengali. The way they see it, there's some sort of mental breakdown behind it all, some lack of faith. It's as if the lunatic has taken over the asylum.

The Specials' eponymous debut album, released in 1979, has appropriated the ska music Prince Buster and the like had imported from Jamaica in the 1960s and updated it with a punk attitude and lyrics that concerned themselves with the inner city wasteland that their native Coventry was becoming in the late '70s. This thrilling multi-racial recipe was instantly and enthusiastically adopted by the UK's disenfranchised and frustrated youth. A year on, though, things are falling apart. A hectic touring schedule has taken its toll on the group and there's heavy pressure from Chrysalis Records, the major label which is financing Dammer's 2 Tone label, for a follow-up album.

So they all troop into Coventry's Horizon Studios with multiple ambitions and agendas. Guitarist Roddy Byers is keen to introduce a more rockabilly edge to their sound, partly in tune with bands like the Stray Cats who are gaining current chart traction. Drummer John Bradbury is leaning in a Northern soul direction, and is suggesting mixing ska, soul and reggae, warning 'they've got a great thing going, why mess it up?'.

Dammers, though, is adamant his group move on. Elvis Costello had produced the debut LP in a deliberately rough and ready manner to capture their energetic live appeal, but now he's in control, working alongside co-producer Dave Jordan and it's his vision that wins out. 'We've got to start all over again', he declares. 'Ska was just a launching point. I don't want us to end up like Bad Manners.'

Cheesy Cha-Cha
Where he takes them is uncharted territory, untested and, to most of the group, incomprehensible. His philosophy, as he explains it to the others, is that basically you should listen to any music with an open mind, no matter whether you initially think the music is good or bad, and you will would grow to like it over repeated plays.

His ambition, he says, is to destroy people's preconceived ideas of good and bad music to the point where listeners would hear a record and won't even know if they like it or not. 'I went out of my way to listen to anything that had been regarded as rubbish in the rock world: Muzak; exotica. Trying to consign rock music to the dustbin of history…'

To this end, Dammers starts to employ the studio as an instrument in itself, writing on the spot, overdubbing furiously and endlessly fine tuning. The first album had been recorded pretty much live. This one is piecemeal, one instrument at a time, a completely different vibe. The group begins to seethe and fight among themselves, sick of Dammers' dominion over their future, unhappy with the way his newly-bought Yamaha home organ, with its Latin-American cha-cha cheesy rhythms, are dictating the overall tone, and scared that this 'Muzak-lounge jazz experiment' would do in their careers.

It's really no surprise that More Specials, finally mixed at Wessex Studios in London, turns out to be something of a patchwork. But it's a brilliant patchwork in places which will lead them to their absolute peak. It begins with 'Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)', an often-covered music hall knees-up written in 1949.

'Man At C&A' is singer Terry Hall's first writing credit, a rather cynical take on life in the shadow of the mushroom cloud. Roddy Byers' 'Hey Little Rich Girl' is a sorry tale of a lass who moves to the big city with dreams of stardom and ends up an adult model. Madness's Lee Thompson provides the jaunty sax.

Guitarist/singer Lynval Golding contributes 'Do Nothing', another dour social prognosis set to an upbeat, easy listening backing. 'Pearl's Cafe' is by Dammers and follows the same pattern, being a tawdry tale with a spicy backing. 'Stereotypes/Stereotypes Pt 2' is Dammers' again, lyrically spiteful, segueing Spaghetti Western soundtrack into dub, while 'International Jet Set' is an equally bleak exotic cocktail, detailing a passenger's nervous breakdown on a plane that crashes. Another, way more downbeat, version of 'Enjoy Yourself' featuring The Go-Go's completes the piece.

Tour Troubles
More Specials comes out wrapped in a deliberately slightly out-of-focus colour photograph of the band. Dammers idea here is to make it reminiscent of old Jamaican album sleeves. It gets to No 5 in the charts. The critics are generally kind.

Despite their problems, the group take The More Specials Tour around the UK in autumn 1980. Audience violence disrupts gigs in Newcastle, Leeds and Cambridge where Hall and Dammers try to stop fans battling with security guards. The pair are arrested, charged with incitement to riot and then fined £400.

Reluctantly, the group announce that they will stop touring. 'You're in this amazing, fantastic group making this wonderful music and you can't play it any more because people are hitting each other', says bass player Horace Panter who joins a therapy cult, Exegesis, which creates even more friction in the band. 'Adding to the fun, Horace joins some nutty cult and starts giving them all his money', says Dammers. 'It was just a nightmare.'

Again, in spite of everything, they convene in the studio to record a follow-up single to the album. The song is called 'Ghost Town', and is one of the greatest No 1s in UK chart history. It's as if all the experimentation during the recording of More Specials was leading up to this magnificent triumph.'

"Do I Need It? What's So SPECIAL About the 2015 Special Edition Remasters.....?"

By John H. McCarthy

Are you a fan of THE SPECIALS and have quite a few of their releases? If so, do you really need these 2015 2CD Special Editions of MORE SPECIALS, IN THE STUDIO and their debut album ? First off, before I can give you an accurate review, I need to list the tracks, which Amazon in their infinite wisdom have left off......

Disc 1
1. Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think) 3:39
2. Man At C&A 3:38
3. Hey, Little Rich Girl 3:37
4. Do Nothing 3:45
5. Pearl's Café 3:10
6. Sock It To 'Em J.B. 3:01
7. Stereotypes/Stereotypes - Pt. 2 7:25
8. Holiday Fortnight 2:46
9. I Can't Stand It 4:03
10. International Jet Set 5:38
11. Enjoy Yourself (Reprise) 1:48

Disc 2
1. Rat Race*/# 3:10
2. Rude Buoys Outa Jail*/# 2:40
3. Stereotypes PTS.1 & 2 (John Peel BBC Radio 1 Session)** 6:16
4. International Jet Set (Single Version)*/# 4:14
5. Rude Boys Outa Jail (Single Version credited to Neville Staples Aka Judge Roughneck)***/# 4:06
6. Do Nothing (Single Version credited to The Specials Featuring Rico with the Ice Rink String Sounds)*/# 3:41
7. Maggie's Farm***/# 3:33
8. Raquel***/# 1:58
9. Why? (Extended Version)*/# 3:55
10. Friday Night, Saturday Morning*/# 3:34
11. Ghost Town (Full Version)*/# 6:01
12. Sea Cruise (John Peel BBC Radio 1 Session credited to The Specials Featuring Rico)** 3:11
13. You're Wondering Now (Kid Jensen BBC Radio 1 Session)** 2:22

* Best Of The Specials (CD + DVD Version )
** BBC Sessions
*** The 2 Tone Collection: A Checkered Past
# Stereo-Typical: A's & B's & Rarities

There's not much more I can say about the musical content that hasn't been said by other reviewers. It's one of my favorite albums. Upon release it shocked fans and the music press because of the left-field and sophisticated compositions, but over the years fan and critical opinion is generally favourable. As you can see, all of this material has been reissued before. The album itself was remastered in 2002 and contained the "Ghost Town" and "Rat Race" videos as Enhanced content. If you're a fan and have a version of MORE SPECIALS, the BBC Sessions and the Stereo-typical" collection, you have everything here. Fans and collectors will have to decide, but if you don't own this classic, get it now! Shop around or be patient, the price is already coming down. Unlike some "expanded" albums, the extra material here is fantastic, not filler. Don't be a "Do Nothing" buy it now and "Enjoy Yourself"......

Photos, extra tracks, sleevenotes included...

Sticker: "The Original Specials 2CD Special Edition Includes Single versions, rarities & BBC session tracks"

More Specials was released on LP on 4th October, 1980 Two Tone catalogue number CHR TT 5003.
All tracks: Digital remasters ℗ 2015 The coyright in this sound recording is owned by Chrysalis Records Ltd.
Except 2-3, 2-12, 2-13 ℗ 1980 The coyright in this sound recording is owned by BBC. Licensed courtesy of BBC Worldwide.

2-1, 2-2 Single released on 24th May, 1980 Two Tone catalogue number CHS TT 11.
2-3, 2-12 Recorded on Maida Vale Studio 4 on 29th October, 1980, transmitted 1st December, 1980.
2-4 Single released on 20th September, 1980. Two Tone catalogue number CHS TT 13.
2-5 Released on a free single given away with the first 100,000 copies of More Specials 4th October, 1980. Two Tone catalogue number TT 999.
2-7 Released on single on 13th December, 1980. Two Tone catalogue number CHS TT 16.
2-8 Released as the B-side of the Dutch single of the live 'Concrete Jungle' in 1981, Two Tone/Chrysalis catalogue number 103.106.
2-9 to 2-11 Engineered at Woodbine Studios.
7" Single released on 20th June, 1981. Two Tone catalogue number CHS TT 17.
12" Single released on 20th June, 1981. Two Tone catalogue number CHS TT12 17.
2-13 Kid Jensen BBC Radio 1 Session. Unknown date.

The Specials: Neville Staples (vocals, percussion); Terry Hall (vocals); Lynval Golding (guitar, background vocals); Roddy Radiation (guitar); Jerry Dammers (piano, organ); Sir Horace Gentleman (bass); John Bradbury (drums).

Additional personnel: Rhoda Dakar (vocals); Kik Thompson, Paul Heskatt (saxophones); Dick Cuthell (flugelhorn, cornet); Rico Rodriguez (trombone); The Go-Go's (background vocals).

Producers: Jerry Dammers, Dave Jordan.

Reissue Producers: Nigel Reeve, Rob Owen.

Recorded at Horizon Studios, Coventry, England. Includes liner notes by Adrian Thrills.

All tracks have been digitally remastered.

Recording information: Maida Vale Studio 4 (10/29/1980).

Photographers: Chalkie Davies; Carol Starr.

The Specials' sophomore effort boasts an even greater stylistic diversity than the band's remarkable debut. Though revivalist ska mixed with an early 1980s New Wave energy is still the keynote, as evidenced by the leadoff song, a cover of Prince Buster's "Enjoy Yourself," MORE SPECIALS also delves into cha-cha, cocktail jazz, and more. "Stereotypes," for example, brings together a lounge-ready mix of dub, mariachi, and Ennio Morricone-esque Western themes in a way that presages the post-rock revival of those genres in the '90s.

Other tracks, particularly the upbeat "Hey, Little Rich Girl" (which features sax work by Madness's Lee Thompson) and the old-school R&B-tinged "Sock It to 'Em J.B." (a tongue-in-cheek James Bond tribute), recall the Specials' first album. But it is the curveball, experimental work that is the most striking, especially the trippy dub groove (and nuclear-protest message) of "Man at C&A" and the quirky, space-age bounce of "International Jet Set." Though it's possible that the Specials' stylistic innovation confused some fans, the ambition on MORE SPECIALS is extremely impressive.