The Specials are a nexus point in British pop, and it’s easy to see why they were so important to so many. They pick up on the thread of Britain’s love for Jamaican dance music and the skinhead culture of the early 70s. They’re another incarnation of Britpop’s Hamburg Ideal – bright, straight-talking lads honing their pop to an awesome no-bullshit sharpness. Their working model of collective, cross-racial collaboration has been an indirect blueprint for almost every mutation in the UK’s urban music scenes since. And by giving that concept a label – Two Tone – and tying their creativity so closely to the ferment of British street politics, the band moved from blueprint to inspiration. Like all bands, they were a roil of individual egos; like many, they fell apart too soon, but it would be tough to argue that the Specials were anything other than a Good Thing.
But none of that explanation captures the hard physical response the Specials’ music inspires – particularly this Live EP. The less famous tracks – a clutch of covers acting as a ska primer for the band’s new audience – are as compact and forceful as any of the dance music we’ll meet later. But it’s lead track “Too Much Too Young” that sold the EP – it captures what made (and makes!) Two Tone so exciting, its understanding of how a dancefloor balances between abandon and aggression. “Too much” gives you both at once in its double-time peaks – “Aint he cool? NO HE AIN’T”, Terry Hall’s exasperation making the song explode. The interlock of band and backing vocals is thrillingly tight, but Hall’s the star here, his anger pushing the song along, his sardonic edge giving it an extra expressive dimension: he’s also, as ever, a naturally funny performer, timing each line perfectly until the tempo – and the anger – peak and the song smashes into its brick wall.