The Specials and The Special AKA – Remastered. Remixed. Remastered.

Posted by Gig Junkies on Wednesday Apr 29, 2015 Under 2 Tone, Album Review, Ska

Review by Ken Harrison and Zyllah Moranne-Brown

So The Specials have re-released a trio of albums, just to remind us all exactly how great they were. Their take on life, their political overview is indeed a musical historical sign of that specific moment in time. This trio of double CDs’ featuring  ‘Specials’, ‘More Specials’, ‘Rarities By The Special AKA’ plus ‘In The Studio (Special Edition)’, is a set of remastered and expanded releases from the Specials and the Special AKA. In total, a massive 75 tracks by the 2-Tone heroes.

The Specials formed way back in 1977, in a city just left of Brum, Coventry. Combining ska and rocksteady beat with punk attitude they took on mod-style clothing and rude boy outfits and gave us a series of legendary tracks that summed up the time and the place. Between 79 and 81 they had seven consecutive Top #10 singles, before morphing into The Special AKA as several left to form The Fun Boy Three.  There’s a long list of members that have been attributed to The Specials – but the current line up featuring original members Terry Hall, Horace Panter, Lyndal Golding, John Bradbury plus others continues to tour to this day. Check out Gig Junkies review from  November 2014.

So back to these CD releases. The Specials archives have been well and truly raided, ransacked and turned upside down and what has appeared is some truly golden material – including remasters of singles, ‘B’ sides (from the days of that black, circular vinyl thing played on a record player – second side up the ‘B’ side), EPs, live material and classic Radio 1 John Peel session tracks.

Their self-titled 1979 ‘Specials’ album includes the original album gems such as ’Gangsters’, ‘A Message To You Rudy’, ‘Nite Klub’, ‘Concrete Jungle’ and the ‘Too Much Too Young ‘ and BBC’s ‘Live in Concert’ from The Paris Theatre – originally broadcast in 1979 and a true gem for any Specials fan.

1980’s ‘More Specials’ takes us on 12 months in time, to their classic tracks ‘Do Nothing’, ‘Pearl’s Cafe’, ‘Stereotype’ (plus those B-sides) and the non-album singles ‘Rat Race’ and their parting shot, the haunting and creepily scary, menacing ‘Ghost Town’  – the soundtrack to the Toxteth riots of ’81. Again, Peel session versions of ’Stereotypes’, where Hall refers to himself as the ‘Stereotype’ and ‘You’re Wondering Now’ are also included for good measure and a sublime version of ‘Do Nothing’ with Rico and the Ice Rink String Sounds.

With dark and often hard hitting lyrics this collection of Specials tracks is a must for any Specials fan! The track listing for the ‘Specials’ and ‘More Specials’ reads like the setlist from the recent tour at the tail end of 2014… crowd pleasers – every single track.

Following the split in 1981, with Hall, Staple and Golding departing to form Fun Boy Three, remaining members Jerry Dammers, Horace Panter and drummer John Bradbury continued as The Special AKA.  Continuing with their penchant for difficult and painful subjects, released ‘The Boiler’ in ’82 (a song about date rape) with Rhoda Dakar on vocals.  Given the subject matter,  unsurprisingly the single was not a massive seller, but the single still scraped into the lower reaches of the Top #40.

Conversely, political song ‘Nelson Mandela’ was a massive hit, and even some thirty-odd years later, (Mandela was released in 1990, Apartheid was broken down, he became president of South Africa, and even after his death in 2013) this track remains a true classic and is still widely played.

The Special AKA released their debut album ‘In The Studio’ in 1984. The original album is also remastered, and a second disc ‘Rarities By The Special AKA’. containing more B-Sides, Peel session material and instrumental tracks.

As Mark Lamarr quotes on their website: “If you were 12 in 1979, the Specials were easy peasy lemon squeezy the greatest band on the planet. If you’re 42 in 2009, nothings changed.” And 6 years on – nowt has changed. So if you are a fan of 2-Tone this re-release, remastering and re-issuing of these albums is a must. Special is the word indeed. Take a journey back to the late 70’s, early 80’s and start singing along… you just know you want too…. 

“You’ve done too much, much too young, Now you’re married with a kid when you could be having fun with meeeeeeeeee……….”

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