The Specials

The 2 Tone label was founded by the pioneering second wave ska band, Specials. They combined socially conscious lyrics with funky, danceable music. The Specials were true innovators in the punk era. They created the British ska revival movement by combining the danceable ska beat and rocksteady beat with punk energy and attitude. In 1977, the band formed as the Coventry Automatics, and then later the Special A.K.A. by songwriter/keyboardist Jerry Dammers, with Terry Hall (vocals), Lynval Golding (guitar, vocals), Neville Staples (vocals, percussion), Roddy Radiation (guitar), Sir Horace Gentleman (bass), and John Bradbury (drums). Dammers decided to create his 2-Tone label after being offered an opening slot by the Clash. Dammers’ logo design, which was based on ’60s pop art and black and white checks, made the label instantly identifiable. Dammers’ attention to detail and authenticity led to the band wearing ’60s-period rough-boy outfits (porkpie caps, tonics and mohair suits), and loafers. Specials’ debut single “Gangsters” was released in 1979. It reached the U.K. Top Ten. The movement quickly took off with a slew of other bands and fans following the same path. Two Tone enjoyed hits from similar-sounding bands like Madness, The (English) Beat and the Selecter over the following months. The Specials was the band’s landmark debut album. It was produced by Elvis Costello. The band followed this with a series of 2-Tone package tours, and Too Much Too Young, a live EP (confusingly credited as Special A.K.A.). The BBC banned the title track, which was a pro-contraception song. However, it reached number one in the U.K. They then released album number 2, More Specials with a new neo-lounge persona. There were signs that the movement was losing momentum and 2-Tone started to have financial difficulties. However, Dance Craze, a documentary about the 2-Tone package tours, was a huge success, as was its companion album. One of the most important singles by the band, “Ghost Town”, was released in 1981 during race-related unemployment riots that took place in Liverpool and Brixton. Although the song reached number one, the band was in serious trouble. Hall, Staples and Golding left the band to form Fun Boy Three. The band lost its signature voice. Dammers stayed on and used the name Special A.K.A. to rename the band. Stan Campbell was hired as a vocalist. They returned to In the Studio in 1984 after several years. Although they managed a few hits like “Racist Friend”, and “Free Nelson Mandela,” the album was not a success. “What I like most about you is your girlfriend” was the band’s last single. It did not break the British Top 40. Dammers disbanded the band and began to pursue political causes like Artists Against Apartheid. Soon after the official dissolution, several members of the band joined forces with English Beat and other ska revivalists (e.g., English Beat). Special Beat was formed to tour the country. The third wave ska revival had prompted a Dammers-less Specials version to resurface in the mid-’90s with a series shameful cash-in records: Today’s Specials (1996) Guilty Till Proved Innocent! (1998) and Conquering Ruler (2012). In 2008, The Specials reunited (still without Dammers), and toured until 2015. John Bradbury, who was the backbone to the 2-Tone sound, died in December at the age 62. Three months prior, Rico Rodriguez, Trombonist, had died on September 4. He was 80 years of age. From allmusic

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