Following the huge acclaim and success of last year’s half-speed master of ‘Specials’, on 20th November Chrysalis Records will release a half-speed master of The Specials’ second album, 1980’s ‘More Specials’…
Formed in Coventry in the mid-1970s, The Specials (originally named The Coventry Automatics) was the idea of songwriter and keyboard player Jerry Dammers, who brought together an eclectic array of individuals to fulfill his vision of a multi-racial band, fusing the energy of punk – first with reggae – then with the legendary, but at the time overlooked, sound of uptempo Jamaican ska. This was a fusion which proved to be absolutely explosive on their debut single ‘Gangsters’ and debut album, ‘Specials’.
The seven individuals – Jerry 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, with ‘Specials’ reaching number 4. 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).
For their second album, ever the visionary, Dammers was keen for the band to musically evolve, encouraging them to expand their sound. Released in October 1980, ‘More Specials’ is an adventurous and incredible mix of experimentation and genres, some of which had never previously been used in a “rock/pop” context. Foreseeing 80’s “lounge music” by encompassing elements from easy listening, exotica, “muzak”, bossa nova, and film music, with northern soul and even rockabilly thrown in….all in a setting never too far from dub, reggae and ska… the album soundtracked themes of existential dread and mordant humour, on songs about the threat of nuclear war, racism and apathy. It also featured collaborations with The Go-Go’s (‘Enjoy Yourself (Reprise)’), The Bodysnatchers’ Rhoda Dakar (duetting with Terry Hall on ‘I Can’t Stand It’) and Lee Thompson from Madness (‘Hey Little Rich Girl’ – later covered by Amy Winehouse).
Produced by Dammers with Dave Jordan (bar ‘Sock It To ‘Em JB’ – produced by John Bradbury), ‘More Specials’ was very much a studio-crafted album. As well as the full live band recording approach of their debut album, on the second side of ‘More Specials’, each instrument was laid down individually, with Dammers utilising the automatic pre-recorded rhythms of his new Yamaha home organ, particularly the Latin-American rhythms.
The shift from the monochrome feel and look of the band’s debut, to the queasy technicolour sounds of ‘More Specials’, was reflected in the album sleeve, actually a test polaroid photo, shot by Chalkie Davies. Out of focus, it captured the overall aesthetic of a disorientating, woozy Wurlitzer ride through the turmoil of 1980, and the sense of creeping dread at the beginning of Thatcherism.
Receiving universal acclaim on its release – and also included in many 1980 end of year “best of” polls – ‘More Specials’ proved once again that The Specials mix of imaginative music with serious, often satirical issues, chimed with the youth of the nation: the album charted at number 5 and all its singles reached the Top 10 (‘Stereotypes’, ‘Do Nothing’, and ‘Rat Race’).
‘More Specials’ was a truly groundbreaking and influential album. Along with its follow up the legendary number one ‘Ghost Town’ EP, its legacy can be heard in the work of such artists as Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky – arguably the creative template for the ‘trip hop’ sound that emerged from Bristol – as well as being a clear influence on later “Britpop” bands such as Blur and Pulp.
Mastered at Abbey Road Studios by Miles Showell, this special edition of ‘More Specials’, is a straight half-speed vinyl cut from the original master tapes, split over two 12” vinyl at 45rpm, housed in wide spine LP. It will be released 23rd October, almost 40 years to the month of the original release.
‘Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)’
‘Man At C&A’
‘Hey, Little Rich Girl’
‘Sock It To ‘Em J.B.’
‘Stereotypes / Stereotypes Pt.2’
‘I Can’t Stand It’
‘International Jet Set’
‘Enjoy Yourself [Reprise]’
Each copy comes with the rare single, originally given out as a freebie with the first 100,000 copies of ‘More Specials’ , featuring:
Side one: ‘Braggin’ and Tryin’ Not To Lie’ – Roddy Radiation and The Specials
Side two: ‘Rude Boys Outa Jail (Version)’ – Neville Staples, AKA Judge Roughneck (with The Specials)
Although there wasn’t enough room for these two tracks on the original vinyl L.P. they were both included on the cassette version of the album.
The recently resurrected Chrysalis Records continues to be the home of the 2 Tone record label (following an original independent pressing of a few thousand of the first 2 Tone single Gangsters, distributed by Rough Trade in plain white sleeves rubber stamped by the band themselves). Also conceived and designed by Jerry Dammers, the 2 Tone label took its blueprint from such disparate elements as Jamaican ska labels, Berry Gordy’s Motown label, and the Buzzcocks’ independently pressed Spiral Scratch EP…. 2 Tone achieved the rare feat of being highly principled, incorporating some pertinent socio-political comments, whilst also having great popularity and commercial success. It brought together a collection of disparate, yet like-minded artists, many of whom were from the West Midlands. The label launched the careers of The Specials and The Selecter from Coventry, The Beat from Birmingham, all girl ska band The Bodysnatchers and of one of the most successful British bands ever, London-based Madness. In the post-punk era, many of these artists fused a love of ska and reggae, with the attitude and energy of punk, and an acute pop sensibility which saw 2 Tone have many chart hits, whilst maintaining its much admired integrity.
All of these releases are produced in consultation with The Specials’ and 2 Tone founder Jerry Dammers, as part of the 40th anniversary year releases, which include rare and unreleased material, much of which has not been available for several decades, or in some cases never before.