Today's artists are an English 2 Tone and ska revival band formed in 1977 in Coventry. Their music combines a "danceable ska and rocksteady beat with punk's energy and attitude". Lyrically they present a "more focused and informed political and social stance" than most other ska groups. The band wore mod-style "1960s period rude boy outfits (pork pie hats, tonic and mohair suits and loafers) added here a later spin-off....N'Joy
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The band was originally formed in Coventry, in 1977, as the Coventry Automatics and 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 started his own 2-Tone label, named for its multiracial agenda and after the two-tone tonic suits favored by the like-minded mods of the '60s. The Dammers-designed logos, based in ' 60s pop art with black and white checks, gave the label an instantly identifiable look. Dammers' eye for detail and authenticity also led to the band adopting ' 60s-period rude-boy outfits. The band released the "Gangsters" single, which reached the U.K. Top Ten. Soon after the movement was in full swing. Over the next several months, 2-Tone enjoyed hits by similar-sounding bands, such as Madness, the (English) Beat, and the Selecter. Late in 1979, the band released its landmark self-titled debut album, produced by Elvis Costello, where The Specials managed to distill all the anger, disenchantment, and bitterness of the day straight into their music.They followed with several 2-Tone package tours and a live EP, Too Much Too Young that track, a pro-contraception song, was banned by the BBC but still reached the number one spot in the U.K.
In 1979, shortly after drummer Hutchinson left the band to be replaced by John Bradbury, Dammers formed the 2 Tone Records label and released the band's debut single "Gangsters", a reworking of Prince Buster's "Al Capone". The record became a Top 10 hit that summer. The band had begun wearing mod/rude boy/skinhead-style two-tone tonic suits, along with other elements of late 1960s teen fashions. Changing their name to the Specials, they recorded their eponymous debut album in 1979, produced by Elvis Costello. Horn players Dick Cuthell and Rico Rodriguez were featured on the album, but would not be official members of the Specials until their second album.
The Specials led off with Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, A Message to You" (slightly altering the title to "A Message to You, Rudy") and also had covers of Prince Buster and Toots & the Maytals songs from the late 1960s. In 1980, the EP Too Much Too Young (predominantly credited to The Special A.K.A.) was a No. 1 hit in the UK Singles Chart, despite controversy over the song's lyrics, which reference teen pregnancy and promote contraception.
Reverting once again to the moniker the Specials, the band's second album, More Specials, was not as commercially successful and was recorded at a time when, according to Hall, conflicts had developed in the band. Female backing vocalists on the Specials first two studio albums included: Chrissie Hynde; Rhoda Dakar (then of the Bodysnatchers and later of the Special AKA); and Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go's. In the first few months of 1981, the band took a break from recording and touring, and then released "Ghost Town", a non-album Specials single, which hit No. 1 in 1981. However, shortly afterwards, Golding, Hall and Staple left the band to form Fun Boy Three.
For the next few years, the group was in a seemingly constant state of flux. Adding Dakar to the permanent line-up, the group recorded "The Boiler" with Dakar on vocals, Dammers on keyboard, Bradbury on drums, John Shipley from the Swinging Cats on guitar, Cuthell on brass and Nicky Summers on bass. The single was credited to "Rhoda with the Special AKA". The controversial track described an incident of date rape, and its frank and harrowing depiction of the matter meant that airplay was severely limited. Nevertheless, it managed to reach No. 35 on the UK charts, and American writer Dave Marsh later identified "The Boiler" as one of the 1,001 best "rock and soul" singles of all time in his book The Heart of Rock & Soul.
After going on tour with Rodriguez, the band (without Dakar, and as "Rico and the Special AKA") also recorded the non-charting (and non-album) single "Jungle Music". The line-up for the single was Rodriguez (vocal, trombone), Cuthell (cornets), Dammers (keyboards), Bradbury (drums), Shipley (guitar), returning bassist Panter, and new additions Satch Dickson and Groco (percussion) and Anthony Wymshurst (guitar).
Rodriguez and the three newcomers were all dropped for the next single, "War Crimes", which brought back Dakar and added new co-vocalists Edgio Newton and Stan Campbell, as well as violinist Nick Parker. Follow-up single "Racist Friend" was a minor hit (UK No. 60), with the band establishing themselves as a septet: Dakar, Newton, Campbell, Bradbury, Cuthell, Dammers and Shipley.
The new line-up (still known as the Special AKA) finally issued a new full-length album In the Studio in 1984. Officially, the band was now a sextet: Dakar, Campbell, Bradbury, Dammers, Shipley and new bassist Gary McManus. Cuthell, Newton, Panter and Radiation all appeared on the album as guests; as did saxophonist Nigel Reeve, and Claudia Fontaine and Caron Wheeler of the vocal trio Afrodiziak. Both critically and commercially, In The Studio was less successful than previous efforts, although the 1984 single "Free Nelson Mandela" was a No. 9 UK hit. The latter contributed to making Mandela's imprisonment a cause célèbre in the UK, and became popular with anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. Dammers then dissolved the band and pursued political activism
Shortly after the official breakup, various members of the band joined up with other bandless ska revivalists (English Beat, etc.) to form a touring unit named Special Beat. By the mid-'90s, in response to the third wave ska revival, a Dammers-less version of the Specials reappeared with a series of shameful cash-in albums: Today's Specials (1996,) Guilty Til Proved Innocent! (1998,) and Conquering Ruler (2002.) Currently they are still touring as the Specials (without Jerry Dammers that is, and John Bradbury who died on December 28, 2015)
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A perfect moment in time captured on vinyl forever, such is the Specials' eponymous debut album; it arrived in shops in the middle of October 1979 and soared into the U.K. Top Five. It was an utter revelation -- except for anyone who had seen the band on-stage, for the album was at its core a studio recording of their live set, and at times even masquerades as a gig. There were some notable omissions: "Gangsters," for one, but that had already spun on 45, as well as the quartet of covers that would appear on their live Too Much Too Young EP in the new year. But the rest are all here, 14 songs' strong, mostly originals, with a few covers of classics thrown in for good measure. That includes their fabulous take on Dandy Livingstone's "A Message to You Rudy," an equally stellar version of the Maytals' "Monkey Man," and the sizzling take on Prince Buster's "Too Hot." If those were fabulous, their own compositions were magnificent. The Specials managed to distill all the anger, disenchantment, and bitterness of the day straight into their music. The vicious "Nite Klub" -- with its unforgettable line, "All the girls are slags and the beer tastes just like piss" -- perfectly skewered every bad night the members had ever spent out on the town; "Blank Expression" extended the misery into unwelcoming pubs, while "Concrete Jungle" moved the action onto the streets, capturing the fear and violence that stalked the inner cities. And then it gets personal. "It's Up to You" throws down the gauntlet for those who disliked the group, its music, and its stance, while simultaneously acting as a rallying cry for supporters. "Too Much Too Young" shows the Specials' disdain for teen pregnancy and marriage; "Stupid Marriage" drags two such offenders before a Judge Dread-esque magistrate, with Terry Hall playing the outraged and sniping prosecutor; while "Little Bitch" is downright nasty. Those were polemics; "It Doesn't Make It Alright" reaches a hand out to listeners and, with conviction, delivers up a heartfelt plea against racism, but even this number contains a sharp sting in its tail. It's a bitter brew, aggressively delivered, with even the slower numbers sharply edged, and therefore the band wisely scattered sparkling covers across the album to help lift its mood. The set appropriately ends with the rocksteady-esque yearning of "You're Wondering Now," the song that invariably closed their live shows. Even though producer Elvis Costello gave the record a bright sound, it doesn't lighten the dark currents that run through the group's songs; if anything, his production heightens them. It's left to guests Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell to provide a little Caribbean sun to the Specials' sound, their brass sweetening the flashes of anger and disaffection that sweep across the record. And so, this was Britain in late 1979, an unhappy island about to explode.
The Specials - The Specials (flac 287mb)
01 A Message To You Rudy (2:52)
02 Do The Dog (2:09)
03 It's Up To You (3:23)
04 Nite Klub (3:21)
05 Doesn't Make It Alright (3:24)
06 Concrete Jungle (3:18)
07 Too Hot (3:09)
08 Monkey Man (2:44)
09 (Dawning Of A) New Era (2:24)
10 Blank Expression (2:43)
11 Stupid Marriage (3:48)
12 Too Much Too Young (2:15)
13 Gangsters (2:44)
14 Little Bitch (2:31)
15 You're Wondering Now (2:34)
The Specials - The Specials (ogg 105mb)
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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. That said a year later they released the original band's crowning achievement, Jerry Dammers' "Ghost Town" chronicles the twin calamities of race-related violence and unemployment that exploded in England in 1981. A No 1 hit in the UK
The Specials - More Specials (flac 309mb)
01 Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think) (3:38)
02 Man At C + A (3:37)
03 Hey, Little Rich Girl (3:37)
04 Do Nothing (3:43)
05 Pearl's Cafe (Voc.Rhoda Dakar) (3:09)
06 Sock It To 'em J.B. (2:54)
07 Stereotypes Pt 1+2 (7:25)
08 Holiday Fortnight (2:47)
09 I Can't Stand It (Voc.Rhoda Dakar) (4:04)
10 International Jet Set (5:39)
11 Enjoy Yourself (Reprise) (1:48)
12 Ghost Town 5:58
The Specials - More Specials (ogg 117mb)
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Three years and a reputed £500,000 pounds in the making, and what was the result? For starters, an album that just scraped into the U.K. Top 35 and a set that rounded up three out of the four Special A.K.A. singles: "War Crimes," the double A-sided "Racist Friend"/ "Bright Lights," and "Nelson Mandela," as well as the latter's 12" B-side, "Break Down the Door," and a set that spun off the group's final release, "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend." Thus, half the album had already spun at 45, poor value for the money. However, at a time when Wham!, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Duran Duran reigned supreme, In the Studio was offering something distinctly different, which explains its popularity. This was Jerry Dammers' baby, and the birthing had been decidedly difficult. And it's no wonder considering just how far Dammers had taken his music, light years from the Specials' roots and miles even from the group's more diverse More Specials finale. "Housebound," for example, is absolutely claustrophobic, the rhythm disconcerting and the melody moving into no wave territory. "The Lonely Crowd" is even more dislocating, with the club-meets-funk rhythm crashing into the no wave jazz atmosphere, while the purer club strains of "Nite on the Tiles" are equally disturbing, with its odd blend of genres. Even the more accessible numbers have bite and exceedingly sharp edges, from the frustration that fills the soul-styled "Break Down" to the derision that floods the lyrics of "Bright Lights" and on to the cutting theme of the dreamy, roots-flavored "Girlfriend." Dammers' world view was growing ever darker, and his lyrics reflect this polarization. Where once there was thoughtful reasoning laced with sarcasm, here the coddling is gone, and even the irony is heavy-handed. Proof is found in the uncompromising "Racist Friend," where Dammers insists one should sever such relationships rather than attempt to alter such opinions. The evocative, Arab-esque "War Crimes" is even more militant. Israel's invasion of Lebanon, in much of the world's opinion, certainly qualified as a war crime, but many felt that Dammers overstepped the mark by comparing it to Nazi death camps. Only the warm melody and gentle delivery prevent the song from being dismissed as an outright polemic. But the 2-Toner now saw the world only in black and white, searingly condemning everything around him. Which is why "Mandela" comes as such a shock smack-dab in the middle of the set. Its glorious melody, jubilant atmosphere, and exuberant optimism are the only bright moments on the entire album, a single song of hope which crumbles to dust by sequencing it just before the horrors of "War Crimes." That, like everything else on this album, was deliberate, and underscored the total desolation that Dammers saw all around him. It's an ugly vision, but the world is very much like that.
The Special A.K.A. - In The Studio (flac 274mb)
01 Bright Lights 4:11
02 The Lonely Crowd 3:51
03 What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend 4:50
04 Housebound 4:12
05 Nite On The Tiles 3:03
06 Nelson Mandela 4:07
07 War Crimes 6:13
08 Racist Friend 3:49
09 Alcohol 5:00
10 Break Down The Door 3:36
The Special A.K.A. - In The Studio (ogg 99mb)
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The Specials were one of the most popular and influential bands in the U.K., scoring a streak of seven straight Top Ten singles. Their popularity culminated with the prophetic "Ghost Town," which spent three weeks at number one in the summer of 1981. The "Ghost Town" single was the last to feature Terry Hall and the original lineup -- after its release Hall split along with the group's other two vocalists, Lynval Golding and Neville Staples, to form the Fun Boy Three. Where the Specials were a ska revival band, the Fun Boy Three were a new wave pop group with distinctly weird, skeletal, and experimental overtones. They released their first single, "The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)," shortly after they departed from the Specials. The single peaked at number 20 late in 1981. Early in 1982, the group charted again with "It Ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)," a duet with Bananarama on an old Jimmie Lunceford song. The Fun Boy Three finally released their eponymous debut in the spring of 1982. That summer, they had a hit with a cover of George Gershwin's "Summertime." The group recorded a second album with Talking Heads leader David Byrne late in 1982. The resulting album, Waiting, appeared in the spring of 1983, concurrently with the Top Ten singles "The Tunnel of Love" and "Our Lips Are Sealed," a song Hall wrote with Jane Wiedlin, who already made it into a hit the previous year with her group, the Go-Go's. By the summer of 1983, the Fun Boy Three were peaking in popularity and Hall disbanded the group.
"Where do we go from here, what kind of sound do we follow?" muses Terry Hall on "Way on Down," a track from the Fun Boy Three's eponymous debut album. It was a question on numerous lips, ever since Hall and his fellow ex-Specials Neville Staples and Lynval Golding announced the formation of their new group. It's doubtful that anyone came even close to the correct answer. The album was built firmly around tribal drumming, whose percussive possibilities were inspiring a number of groups at the time. Most notably, Adam Ant had merged the beats with a Gary Glitter stomp and a military tattoo, and was now riding the rhythms toward world domination. The Boys, however, were taking the same African influence in an entirely different, and even more innovative, direction. Most surprisingly, or perhaps not, considering the size of their former band, was how minimalistic the music was. Many of the songs were stripped down to bare vocals and percussion, while even those tracks which did sport other instruments mostly utilized them as mere embellishments around the showcased rhythms. Long before modern rap and techno placed all its focus on the beats, the Boys were diligently working around this same concept. In fact, the album on occasion brought to light the direct link between African beats and American hip-hop; elsewhere it foreshadowed the rise of jungle, and even hinted at progressive house and techno-trance. At the same time, the vocalists created their own rhythm, which cunningly counterpoints the main beats. The band used both vocals and rhythms to explode genre boundaries, as "Sanctuary" beautifully illustrates. Beginning as an exercise in African choral singing, it subtly evolves into a Gregorian chant, all the while pulsating with pounding tribal drumming. It says much about the state of the British music scene of the time that such innovative music was not only accepted, but reveled in. Three of the album's tracks -- "The Lunatics," "It Ain't What You Do It's the Way That You Do It," and "The Telephone Always Rings" -- snaked their way into the U.K. Top 20. The album pulsated all the way number seven. It also introduced the world to Bananarama, who provided backing vocals on many of the record's tracks. "One of the most wonderful recordings of our time," the album sleeve boldly stated, and it was absolutely true.
The Fun Boy Three - The Fun Boy Three (flac 445mb)
01 Sanctuary 1:24
02 Way On Down 2:55
03 The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum 3:15
04 Life In General (Lewe In Algemeen) 3:20
05 Faith, Hope And Charity 2:50
06 Funrama 2 (Feat Bananarama) 3:08
07 Best Of Luck Mate 3:21
08 T'Aint What You Do (It's The Way That You Do It) 2:52
09 The Telephone Always Rings 3:39
10 I Don't Believe It 3:27
11 Alone 3:01
12 Just Do It (Feat Bananarama) 2:59
13 The Funrama Theme (Extended Version) 6:03
14 Summertime (Extended Version) 6:26
15 Summer Of '82 4:01
16 The Telephone Always Rings (Extended Version) 5:34
17 The Alibi (The Station's Full Of Pipes) (12' Extended Mix) 5:56
18 It Ain't What You Do (Ext. Version) 5:50
19 The Funrama Theme (Ext. Version) 6:02
The Fun Boy Three - The Fun Boy Three (ogg 178mb)
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For fans bowled over by their debut disc's heady and minimalist mix of tribal percussion, expressionist camp, and distinctly un-ska-like songs (scant residuals here from the trio's time with the Specials), Fun Boy Three's second album, Waiting, with its slicker production and decidedly more pop-flavored sound, was probably something of a shock. But what an enjoyable jolt it was. Along with the Terry Hall-penned "Our Lips Are Sealed" (also a Go-Go's hit), other highlights include the cinematically tango-tinged "Things We Do" and the spookily playful "We're Having All the Fun." The disc also features plenty of the band's wry and spot-on lyrics, which range from the comical strains of the ganja cut "Farm Yard Connecting" to an account of child molestation in "Fancy That." Topped off with David Byrne's fine production work, Waiting ranks way beyond the second-rate status it often gets saddled with.
The Fun Boy Three - Waiting (flac 181mb)
01 Murder She Said 1:57
02 The More I See (The Less I Believe) 3:38
03 Going Home 3:36
04 We're Having All The Fun 2:51
05 The Farm Yard Connection 2:46
06 The Tunnel Of Love 3:08
07 Our Lips Are Sealed 3:36
08 The Pressure Of Life (Takes The Weight Off The Body) 3:10
09 Things We Do 3:36
10 Well Fancy That! 3:06
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