According to Dusty McLoughlin VUWSA activities coordinator
Ska is everywhere. From its origins in Jamaica during the 1950s – with acts like The Skatalites and Byron Lee & the Dragonaires and all the reggae/dub offshoots that abound – to the sometimes enjoyable releases of Gwen Stefani (originally in semi ska outfit No Doubt), to the Mount St Bar last Tuesday night: Australians Rubix Cuba & our very own Lead Pipe Larry & The Dangermen.
Without ska, 1970s England would have been a pretty depressing place – like midwinter in the quad. Punk had died (for the first time) and reggae was slow to establish itself -popular but not infectious yet – so it’s no surprise that ska was eventually combined with punk rock. More surprising was that a band could merge them as skilfully as The Specials did.
Under the black and white chequered logo “2-Tone” (created to reflect the racial make up of the band not to show their interest in racing cars), The Specials was produced with a straightforward intensity by Elvis Costello. The Specials’ fourteen tracks veered between such themes as racism (“Doesn’t Make It Alright”), urban anxiety (“Concrete Jungle”), babies making babies (the BBC-banned but chart-topping “Too Much Too Young”), trendies (“Nite Klub”), free will (“It’s Up to You”) and more. Covers include versions of lesser known ska tracks that have become crowd favourites the world over (including The Maytals “Monkey Man”, a great song for anyone who has had less than fun interactions with bouncers, and “A Message to You Rudy” by Dandy Livingston).
Although The Specials soon split as a functioning band and went their many different ways (to Fun Boy 3, The Special AKA and Fine Young Cannibals) the songs on this album still get played globally (anyone at Neville Staple’s show in San Fransico last year will certainly remember “Gangsters”).
Widely regarded as one of the greatest ska albums in existence – even now, after nearly 30 years – this early achievement remains one of music’s greatest and most diverse debuts. Get out there and get yourself a copy. Now. If you like ska that is.