Jan 09

THE SPECIALS – “Ghost Town”

FT + Popular115 comments • 10,317 views

#482, 11th July 1981

When Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews picked “Ghost Town” for an unforgettable appearance in Father Ted, they apparently wanted the worst record imaginable to play at a disco. But there’s actually a lot of dancing in the song, which knots its competing jostle of ideas together with an incisive – and wholly struttable – mid-tempo groove. The reason you wouldn’t dance to “Ghost Town” is that the floor’s already full – of fighting, but also of spectres. The record is full of crescendos and horn vamps that beckon you to dance and then break off, plunging the song back into shadow. And when the dance does kick off you’d rather not be part of it – those horrible shrieking backing vocals are the sound of a danse macabre, a skeleton skank conducted by the sleeve’s bony pianist.

In the astonishing video these hellbound howls soundtrack a car crammed with Specials swerving and banking chaotically through a deserted, apocalyptic London. The car isn’t out of control, its driver spins the wheel with determined abandon, its lunatic progress catching the sense of awful, mocking liberation in those vocals.

The video also illuminates the song’s other great moment of malevolent jauntiness, Terry Hall’s brief reverie of the “Boom Town”. Hearing the track, you could almost mistake his doleful delivery for sincere regret, but when you see him sing it – head tilted, corpselit and simpering – it sounds rotten, as haunted and corrupted as anything else in the Ghost Town. What makes this single so amazing is the way its emotional tenor is constantly shifting and reshaping, evoking horror and collapse so well but also making them sound darkly attractive: the shiver that runs down the spine on “People gettin’ angry” is a thrill of anticipation as well as fear.

All of which is to say that even if the grim energy of “Ghost Town” hadn’t fitted the times so well, even if the song had remained simply a lament for a scene (and a band) in breakdown, it would still be a gothic masterpiece. The near-coincidence that made “Ghost Town” a legend – British cities erupting in riot while this sat at Number 1 – shouldn’t obscure the fact that this is an astonishing achievement anyway. It’s the culmination of Jerry Dammers’ obsession with easy listening and program music, the perfect patchwork of those influences and the Specials’ tight ska roots, the sound of a group getting it stunningly right (and promptly imploding: “Ghost Town” is as unfollowable as “Good Vibrations”). From the dust-laden fade-in to the faltering heartbeat drums on the fade, there’s not one single element in this song that doesn’t work beautifully.



  1. 1
    Tom on 16 Jan 2009 #


    – I think this was a likely 10 from the moment I conceived the project, but I still wonder if I’d have reacted differently to this song had Popular progressed at its intended pace and I’d got to it in, say, Summer 2006 rather than January 2009

    – The third track on the EP, “Friday Night Saturday Morning”, is of course as unsentimental an account of nightlife inna de Boom Town as you’re likely to meet.

  2. 2
    peter goodlaws on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Slightly over-egged, if I may say so, Tom, but yes, this is one of the highlights of the year, a wonderful production. Interesting comparison with Saint-Saens’ masterpiece. I’ll have to dwell on that one.

    The riots were indeed kicking off, Bristol first, I think. Waldo copped the whole nine yards from his high-rise vantage point overlooking Brixton, the poor fucker. Not too much rioting in Eastbourne, although I do remember a couple of guinea pigs being hurt.

  3. 3
    Erithian on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Er… what he said.

    There’s not a lot I can add to that Tom, and for once your idea of a 10 coincides with mine. Atmospheric, chilling, brilliant – one of my top ten number ones of all time. Swings like a good ‘un, but when the vocal kicks in you realise it’s swinging like the hanging corpse of the town they’re talking about. The video may have been shot in London, but Coventry was suffering historically high unemployment at the time and there must have been an echo of this.

    It brings back really inappropriate memories for me, of the beauties of the Cornish coast. Not to pre-empt Billy’s TOTP Watch, but “Ghost Town” was number one on the 900th edition of TOTP, which I watched in a pub in Tintagel before heading back to the youth hostel which nestled beside the south-west peninsula coastal footpath. I’d been visiting friends in southern Cornwall and was about to hitch back to Manchester the following day, but Britain’s ghost towns and riots were a world away from the onshore breeze and sea views this song brings back to mind.

    Back home my dad was stopping off at a petrol station in Moss Side, and realised with horror that he was the only customer at the station putting petrol in his car, as opposed to stocking up for the action to come later that night. Luckily my lift the following day took me as far as Bolton, so I re-entered Manchester from the north instead of the south, which was one big tinder-box that week.

  4. 4
    Conrad on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Wholly struttable indeed Tom.

    I once DJ’d a party a few years back in an old warehouse (I don’t often do this sort of thing) and “Ghost Town” was the biggest floor filler of the night. Absolutely unstoppable – I was quite taken aback.

    I was 14 the Summer this came out and in July (right in the middle of the Edgebaston Test dammit) went to France for a 2 week exchange. A wonderful experience and I have very fond memories of being in a car tearing down country lanes in Brittany on the way to a party, packed full of French teenagers yelling along to “Ghost Town”. They all absolutely loved it.

    It’s an incredibly powerful recording, for which “More Specials” and the Ice Rink Strings had prepared us, but this was Jerry Dammer’s finest hour (and Terry Hall’s too – his laconic delivery never better suited).

    I think Peel described it as the best song to make Number 1.


  5. 5
    Tom on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Incidentally, I loved this at the time too, for the scary spoken bits and the video and the general vibe – I was quite a studious boy and watched the news a lot and was aware that this (and UB40’s “One In Ten” which TBH I probably liked more!) were Serious in a way that other pop wasn’t, so I was a bit in awe of it too.

  6. 6
    Lex on 16 Jan 2009 #

    The first time I heard of this song was when ILM did a “best UK No 1s ever” poll a few years back, and it was the only song in the top 10 I wasn’t familiar with – I think it may have even come top? Anyway I went to listen to it and was hugely underwhelmed then, and still am now. It’s not awful or anything but I keep finding my attention drifting elsewhere by the first minute, it doesn’t stick with me at all and is actually just a drag by the end. The “hellbound howls” are ridiculously hammy and I can’t take them seriously at all, ditto the “spooky” wind machine effect, and I find the singer’s voice a rather pale, grey thing. I would give it 5, and am completely perplexed by the reverence being paid to it.

  7. 7
    Tommy Mack on 16 Jan 2009 #

    A 10 only coz this one doesn’t go to 11… Ace write-up too, bad times never sounded so good, I can’t imagine what it must have sounded like in the riot-scarred dystopia of 1981.

  8. 8
    Tommy Mack on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Terry Hall always sounds like the last man you’d want to knock round with, even, no, especially when singing about fun – I think Tom alluded to this in his Too Much Too Young piece – even more malicious than Johnny Rotten, the man literally hasn’t got a good word to say for anyone or anything ‘I won’t dance in a club like this…I’m a parasite’ – thrillingly nasty stuff

  9. 9
    peter goodlaws on 16 Jan 2009 #

    The great thing I’ve learned from my short time on this project is how you will always get the odd dissenter thrashing away in a sea of tunnel-visioned enthusiasts. On this occasion, Lex has pitched in at number six and taken “Ghost Town” apart, whilst the rest of us have pretty much been playing with ourselves in its praise. Bravo, Lex! I don’t agree with you but it’s very refreshing when someone puts the brakes on. A mature democracy, I think it’s called.

    Talking of number six, he’s facking deed, is he not?!

  10. 10
    Billy Smart on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Perhaps the ‘tenniest’ ten out of ten that we’ll come across on Popular, for the extrordinary circumstances of so many great things coming together in one moment;

    The bold, innovative, incredibly evocative approach to arrangement and songwriting…

    The video as much more than a promo but as a striking short film in itself (the way that the appearance of the buildings and motion of the car cuts to the music!…

    All of the details of a band’s design and image working together to become something like a way of a life – far beyond a pose…

    A song that is patently about something that actually matters, and about life in 1981…

    And *for once*, the British public en masse gets all of this and puts it at number one for three weeks, at the height of the worst recession and most violent social unrest in (mainland) Britain for a generation.

    For all its murkiness and menace, ‘Ghost Town’ is also a shining beacon of all that pop music can be and can achieve.

  11. 11
    Billy Smart on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Best ‘Ghost Town’ experience in my life: Walking into a pretty rough bar in East Manhattan in 1999, it playing on the jukebox, and seeing some pretty tough-looking drinkers embrace each other and dance along to it. So far from its original context, and yet still something outlandishly remarkable.

  12. 12
    Billy Smart on 16 Jan 2009 #

    #2 Watch: 2 weeks of ‘Stars on 45 Part 2’. Medleymaina continues to sweep the nation.

  13. 13
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 16 Jan 2009 #

    what i remember about terry halls voice is how funny its deadpan always seemed — mordantly hilarious, and (ike eeyore) ever funnier with repetition, my sister and i (we shared a flat t the time) used each to yell to the other one whenever he came on TV so we could enjoy it together

    what i can’t now calculate — bearing lex’s response in mind — is how much of this effect was visual (TH has a clown’s stoneface demeanour, doubly so when still a whip-thin young man surrounded by people frantically jumping around) and how much was an effect of (and counter to) the times; a shared point for people living through an era as it unfolded, which (like a lot of punk for the younger; or indeed 50s rock’n’roll for ppl my age) seems somehow drained of the thing it’s being celebrated for by its celebrants

    my theory has always been: it’s the comedy that dates that was actually funny; the comedy that “stands the test of time” isn’t actually funny — it just sounds like it is

  14. 14
    Billy Smart on 16 Jan 2009 #

    My eight-year old self really loved this, especially with the video, driving further and further away and ending up throwing stones into the river. The narrative of things getting worse resonated totally with me, making ‘Ghost Town’ one of the few singles of that time which I think I completely understood what it was about.

  15. 15
    rosie on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Hmm. Mark inflation has set in good and proper. I can’t hear anything in this but a whining dirge from a bunch of deadbeats who think the world owes them a living. How can this possibly be better than Grapevine, or Good Vibrations, or Jumping Jack Flash?

    4 at best from me.

    On reflection I think it may be as well for me to bow out of Popular quietly before I had planned. I don’t think I have anything to contribute from here on.

  16. 16
    Martin Skidmore on 16 Jan 2009 #

    I can’t go along with that last dating comment, but otherwise I agree – the implied comparison with Keaton is apt, I think.

    I loved this then and still do. It really connected with me: I had loved the band for years (since seeing them as the Coventry specials supporting Suicide and the Clash), and I was extremely aware of the circumstances of the Bristol (where I lived) riots in particular, aware of a lot of things that never seemed to reach the newspapers (like what actually kicked it all off, more info on offer – actually, I might just do an entry on my LJ about that (martinskidmore)). I still find it an exceptionally compelling and potently moody record.

  17. 17
    Billy Smart on 16 Jan 2009 #

    TOTPWatch: The edition of the 9th of July 1981 is an important one for The Specials as it was the last time that the full line up appeared together – Terry, Lynval and Neville walking out to form the Fun Boy 3. It was also the 900th edition of Top of the Pops.

    Also in the studio that week were; Kirsty MacColl, Randy Crawford and Imagination, plus Legs & Co’s interpretation of ‘Wordy Rappinghood’. The hosts were Pete Murray, Jimmy Saville, Alan Freeman and Adam Ant.

  18. 18
    Glue Factory on 16 Jan 2009 #

    An honourable mention must go to the 12″ version of this, in which most of the track strips away leaving just the drums and bass and Rico’s gorgeously haunting trombone to carry on.

    And although its historical circumstances no doubt add weight to the record, it would surely still be a 10 without them.

  19. 19
    Jack Fear on 16 Jan 2009 #

    This is one where cultural context is vitally important, I think.

    Interesting point about the overproduction, Peter—and one that relates, I think, to my initial experience of the song as a listener here in the States. This video was a staple of early MTV; most young-teen viewers, though, had no social context for the song, or indeed for ska in general. For a number of reasons—some having to do with signifiers alien to American pop at the time (the suits, the squawky horns), some to do with the relative overexposure of Madness over here—there was a half-formed idea that two-tone was a novelty music, somehow inherently comical. (Something Mark kinda touches on, too.)

    And in that light, “Ghost Town” does sound like a novelty record: the theatricality of the bass voice, the sound effects and horror-movie keyboards, the wailing vocals. Fourteen-year old me assumed it had to be a joke of some kind, albeit (and this is crucial) a joke that I wasn’t in on.

    I’ve come around, of course—in retrospect it’s plain that even Madness weren’t entirely about the laffs, and the jarring production elements of “Ghost Town” sound like what they are—an Expressionist groping towards any available means for creating the necessary emotional atmosphere.

    It’s simultaneously goofy and brilliant, right up there with the motorcycle SFX in “Leader of the Pack” or the crazed knob-twiddling of Joe Meek; and if it took me a while to recognize how good it truly is, it’s partly a result of my own ongoing musical education and partly due to shifts in the landscape of pop. A document of its time, yes, but hugely forward-looking in its conception and execution. A well-deserved 10.

  20. 20
    Tom on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Rosie – my advice is to pay attention to the discussion not the marks, which have always been a gimmick anyway :)

    I can easily imagine times when I’d prefer to hear any of the excellent records you mentioned to “Ghost Town”, even though, yes, I do think “Ghost Town” is the best.

    Jack Fear – great post! I think this is the answer to Lex’s complaints too: yes they’re hammy, they’re theatre, like gunshot sounds on a hip-hop or dancehall track are hammy. I think they’re incredibly effective, though – the violence of the screaming cutting in suddenly works really well.

    Pink S – Yes, Terry Hall is very funny: “Saturday Night” being a prime example.

  21. 21
    Erithian on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Rosie, in the words of KC and the Sunshine Band, please don’t go. Just because you’re the dissenting voice on something everyone else is raving about (and you’re not alone) you needn’t think your views are in any way irrelevant or unwelcome. I can see a few occasions coming up when I’ll be the grumpy one!

    The day “Ghost Town” chalked up its third week at number one (and I’m talking about the Tuesday the chart was announced, not the following Saturday which is the “official” date Tom is using) was 21 July 1981. A landmark day in English sporting history, the day Bob Willis’ 8 for 43, following Ian Botham’s 149 not out, skittled the Aussies to win what is probably the most famous Test match ever. Like a fine wine, you don’t need to say anything more than “Headingley ‘81” to bring it all back!

    It was either a lucky coincidence or a prescient release which saw this record at the top during the riots – but it was a trick Jerry Dammers was to pull off again, albeit with a record you were unlikely to hear on the radio. The following winter “The Boiler” by Rhoda and the Special AKA, a harrowing tale of date rape, was in the top 40 during what was dubbed “National Rape Week”, the week when an early docusoap about Thames Valley Police highlighted the sensitive approach the police of the day took towards rape victims – an officer hears a sobbing girl pour out her tale before sitting back and declaring, “That’s the biggest load of bollocks I’ve ever heard.”

  22. 22
    David Belbin on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Agree with Glue Factory @18. the 12″ was what the fans bought in those days and is the true masterpiece. I’m looking forward to hearing how they do this on stage at the reunion gigs later this year. My strongest recollection of the riots when this was number one is of a terrrified house-mate who works as a waitress coming back from Nottingham’s Ben Bowers restaurant, where rioters had smashed their way in while customers hid in the basement, but she was one of the last to go down and had a brief (non-violent) confrontation with one of the looters. I was all for heading out on my bicycle and checking out the action but the other people in my house wouldn’t let me go. Probably a good thing, a mate of mine who did the voyeur bit got arrested. Mind you, I was unemployed for most of that period, so maybe I should have been rioting.

  23. 23
    Erithian on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Number 7 Watch – during Ghost Town’s reign Abba’s “Lay All Your Love On Me” peaked at 7, their smallest hit for several years, which was a shock. One place below the Motorhead Live EP…

    My link to Terry Hall btw – in 1984 my girlfriend’s dad had a singing telegram on his birthday. A few months later we saw The Colourfield doing the sublime “Thinking Of You” on TOTP and recognised singer Katrina Phillips as the girl who’d done the singing telegram!

  24. 24
    Tom on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Wasn’t that ABBA record only available on 12″?

  25. 25
    pink champale on 16 Jan 2009 #

    a ten from me too, probably the second greatest of all the number ones. though i can’t add much to the great comments so far. like tom says, even as a seven year old it was obvious that there was someting about this that went beyond what was normally in the charts (even during that golden period) and that it somehow encapsulated what was a pretty terrible time. (not that seven year old me was having a terrible time, but it didn’t take much to see that lots of people were). now i like the fact that you know for an absolute fact that when maggies’ “where there is dischord may we bring harmony” appears on tv the next shot will be petrol bombs on railton road with ghost town playing over the top.

    i’m intrigued by rosie’s ‘think the world owes them a living’ comment – how do you get that? not that whines from oiks who think the world owes them a living are a bad thing – ‘statisfaction’ for a start

    yes, friday night/saturday morning is fantastic too – bleak clubbing songs are always good – see the streets, soft cell, smiths, iggy, whigfield, etc – but there’s not much that matches terry’s doleful ‘wish i had lipstick on my shirt/instead of piss stains on my shoes’ for bringing a shudder of recognition.

  26. 26
    rosie on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Erithian @ 21: K C & the Sunshine Band? Surely you mean Big Joe Williams? Or better still, Them featuring the nascent Van Morrison (now there was a shoo-in 10 double-A side – with Gloria – had it hit the top!)

    I’ve had a peek at what’s to come and I realise that I can’t go yet as there are things coming up I need to say things about (whether good or bad you’ll have to wait and see but it includes something that I’ve tended to rate 1 on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and 10 on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.) So I’m not going down to Noo Orleens just yet!

  27. 27
    Tom on 16 Jan 2009 #

    #27 SURELY he means K – *strangled by Rave Bunny*

  28. 28
    LondonLee on 16 Jan 2009 #

    The video was directed by the ace graphic designer Barney Bubbles whose work has been lauded here before (the sleeve of ‘Rhythm Stick’ for one), it was filmed in the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

    Tense times indeed, you really did expect it to kick off anywhere at any moment. I vividly remember a breathless newsflash! on the telly about a riot down the road from us in North End Road in Fulham, turns out it was just some kids having a fight outside the McDonald’s but it just shows how the nation’s nerves were on a knife’s edge at the time.

    Perfectly suited for the echoey strangeness of Dub, you can almost see the empty burger wrappers blowing across the desolate street.

  29. 29
    definitely not Kat at all oh no on 16 Jan 2009 #

    I think this might be the song I’ve heard discussed in documentaries the most. I do like it a lot, but as other people have mentioned, historical context is pretty important here and I was still just a collection of cells in a uterus at this point. I prefer Too Much Too Young.

    The Father Ted disco sketch was fvcking brilliant though.

  30. 30
    pink champale on 16 Jan 2009 #

    thinking about it, in terms of their hold on the public imagination, i wonder whether the 1981 riots don’t benefit from the ghost town association as much as the other way round? the riots later in the eighties – where people actually died – don’t have such a readymade representation and so get a bit overlooked. and the huge riots in blackburn (or was it bradford? i can’t even remember) in the early 00s are already all but forgotten.

  31. 31
    SteveM on 16 Jan 2009 #

    What a great cover. I had failed to notice this until now.

    Love at first listen for me. As well as the memorable flute hook the mocking/deranged ‘laaaa la la la la”s helped there. Both they and the middle eight are terrific counters to the mood of the main hook and I love this kind of switching in a song (esp. where it’s denoting reflection to another time and place). Obvious but effective and compelling.

  32. 32
    Lex on 16 Jan 2009 #

    I just relistened, because I couldn’t remember how it went (from this morning! which says it all) – the trouble is I’m not hearing any of the violence and horror and derangement which you all say is key to it. I can hear where it’s meant to be but it just sounds limp and unexciting to me – the beat is like Casio-preset dub, thin and tinny, lacking the overwhelming cavernous feel that I tend to love in the genre, and nothing about the song gets me emotionally. It sort of plods along and goes nowhere exciting. The whole song is more pleasant than violent!

    I want Rosie to stay as well b/c I am looking forward to what you all have to say about the songs which I grew up with…though that’s still a decade off, sigh.

  33. 33
    Tom on 16 Jan 2009 #

    #30 this is a very good point!

  34. 34
    Lex on 16 Jan 2009 #

    (Five minutes later and I have already forgotten how it goes AGAIN.)

  35. 35
    SteveM on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Funny, most other people don’t seem to have this problem (altho I suppose it is a blessing if you don’t actually rate the song)

  36. 36
    will on 16 Jan 2009 #

    No arguments from me – 10. Never again was the Number One single such an accurate barometer of national mood.

    The other thing that should be noted is that Ghost Town almost instantly attained ‘classic’ status. Everyone – from my 11 year old contemporaries to Radio 1 DJs to the inkies, even my 8 year old Shakin’ Stevens fan brother – thought it was brilliant.

  37. 37
    Tom on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Never again was the Number One single such an accurate barometer of national mood.

    Sadly I can think of at least one glaring counter-example, which probably won’t be getting a 10.

  38. 38
    LondonLee on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Lex is objecting to the cheesy theatricality of the backing voices, the wind effects and Phantom of The Opera organ but I think that’s what makes it. Take all that away and it would be in danger of being a rather worthy dirge like ‘One In Ten’

  39. 39
    Conrad on 16 Jan 2009 #

    #30 – Yes! that may be right. But I also think the juxtaposition of the rioting with a certain wedding (and perhaps even the cricket) have helped give Summer ’81 – and by association, the riots themselves – a kind of iconic status.

  40. 40
    Mark M on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Well, I was a long, long way from the context – Mexico City, to be precise, although I was aware was happening back in the old country and knew that Brixton was pretty close to our family home. Also, we already loved The Specials because my brother had brought the first album with him from England. But anyway, I loved Ghost Town instantly then and I love it still.
    Good point about the ’81 riots being much more iconic than say Brixton 1985 (I saw the aftereffects of that one) and others since…

  41. 41
    lonepilgrim on 16 Jan 2009 #

    it’s refreshing to read the doubters and naysayers as it makes me think harder about what it is for me that makes this such a fantastic tune.
    I was in Newcastle at the time – which had been suffering from decline and neglect for a good few years but which, IIRC, did not have riots like London, Bristol or Liverpool. Nevertheless this did seem to sum up the mood of the time as the full effects of Thatcherism began to kick in.
    It partly reminds me of PiL’s ‘Careering’ from Metal Box in it’s use of a whining drone against the dubby rhythms – but this seems sourer in it’s appropriation of a end of the pier/icerink organ tone.
    Given the current economic climate you can imagine some enterprising artiste releasing a new version of this song.

    re# 28 I was astonished to discover that Barney Bubbles had directed the video. The new book on his work is a revelation to me as I’ve discovered that pretty much all the sleeve art I admired from that time was by BB. I even have an original copy of his poster for the ‘Lives’ exhibition at the Hayward Gallery which I hadn’t realised was his work until now.

  42. 42
    Erithian on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Oh come on Tom (#37), give us a clue to the one you’re thinking of!

    I still have on tape an excerpt from the 1981 episode of “25 Years of Rock”, a Radio 1 precursor to “The Rock’n’Roll Years”. It splices “Ghost Town” with news reports from the time – the track fades in under a reporter saying “Parts of Brixton are burning tonight… a heavy orange pall lays across the scene, and graffiti by the burnt-out cars urges “Fight Back!” I don’t believe this is England”. Over the instrumental passages are women in Toxteth commentating on joyriders as you hear the screech of brakes in the background, and an account of a kick-off at a skinhead gig in Southall. It then segues to Darcus Howe talking about the New Cross Massacre (when 13 black youths were killed in an arson attack in January) and into another 1981 number one – bunny-bait, but it was two major acts collaborating on a song about “people on streets”. A fantastic piece of radio, would have made a great remix.

  43. 43
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 16 Jan 2009 #

    it isn’t just living through the riots and political turmoil, it’s growing up through the music of the era, as a sequence of changes and shifts — actually responding to records as “news reports from the collective consciousness”, in a very pressure-cooker sense

  44. 44
    SteveM on 16 Jan 2009 #

    bah #39 i agree with Tom in that ‘One In Ten’ is ace altho i probably prefer the 808 State remix slightly more. neither ultimately as good as Ghost Town tho.

  45. 45
    Tommy Mack on 16 Jan 2009 #

    The tacky theatricality is also part of the horror, like a puppet show with ugly wooden puppets with mad stary eyes, the horror in the execution underscores the horror in the the subject matter.

  46. 46
    Tom on 16 Jan 2009 #

    #44 I am not sure I still think One in Ten is ace, I will relisten!

    #42 “I feel like everyone else in this country today – utterly devastated…. We are today a nation, in Britain, in a state of shock, in mourning, in grief that is so deeply painful for us.”

  47. 47
    Billy Smart on 16 Jan 2009 #

    I’d argue that the 1981 wave of riots probably are the most historically significant in postwar mainland Britain because of the combination of a racial catalyst (the Special Police Group’s Search Under Suspicion policy serving to antagonise many law-abiding black city dwellers), the social deprivation of much of Britain of 1981 – the height of the worst recession since the thirties, and the sheer geographic scale and sweep of events, many cities over several weeks.

  48. 48
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 16 Jan 2009 #

    one in ten is better if you sing “i have a one-inch head”

    (this is an old danny baker joke but it’s funny because it’s true)

  49. 49
    Erithian on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Tom #46 – oh of course, as glaring as that!!

  50. 50
    Pete Baran on 16 Jan 2009 #

    I’s have thought the 1958 Notting Hill riots had more of an effect on government policy and British cultural life than any since. It changed immigration policy, certainly served as a catalyst to Enoch Powell’s change in political views on immigration which almost destroyed the Tories. It was also the catalyst for the Notting Hill Carnival.

  51. 51
    LondonLee on 16 Jan 2009 #

    ‘One In Ten’ is alright but lines like “I’m another teenage suicide on a street that has no trees” are a bit iffy, the treeless street image feels like laughable piling on. We have to make teenage suicide sound even worse!

  52. 52
    Matthew on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Reading Popular in two directions at once as I am, I’ve been treated to “Israelites” and now this at almost exactly the same time. It can’t really get any better than that, can it?

  53. 53
    lonepilgrim on 16 Jan 2009 #

    re#52: it’s fortuitous that you should make the link Matthew – the fruit of your diligent trawl through past popular entries – as the two songs make an interesting comparison.
    I mentioned a sourness about ‘Ghost Town’ in my earlier entry which in some ways is refreshing to find in a number one single – particularly after the two previous entries. However, it could seem a bit petulant a response to loss and suffering when compared to Desmond Dekker’s more resolute approach – for all it’s anger it’s questionable whether the singer(s) of Ghost Town are actually going to fight what’s happening or just grumble about it

  54. 54
    dickvandyke on 16 Jan 2009 #

    To add to the miserable context of ’81, in Leeds and surrounding northern towns, we had the Yorkshire Ripper at large.

  55. 55
    lonepilgrim on 16 Jan 2009 #

    re 54 – he was arrested in January 1981 – but there was more than enough misery to go round wherever you were that year – unless you were part of the Tory revolution

  56. 56
    AndyPandy on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Well produced and ok tune but terrible vocals (probably a 5 or 6 to me) but aren’t the 10s here etc at least partly because we’re generally educated people on here who see it as being wonderfully in context (the NME wet dream sort of briefly becoming reality etc)rather than that much to do with the music which surely this should really be about. But of course the idea that the majority of people who bought this were even sympathetic to the rioters is probably very open to debate. I’d hazard a guess that as with most pop music the vast majority just hear a nice tune/sound and don’t really invest too much in any message/meaning.
    To me this is far too redolent of those embarrassingly po-faced and worthy early eighties yoof programmes that BBC2 and early Channel 4 used to put on about unemployment etc and which you just knew the real unemployed youth wouldnt have watched if they were the last programmes on earth… I suppose Channel 4 researchers and students made up their miniscule audinces
    And to get into pedantic mood The Specials (with the exception of the ethnic minority members and possibly Terry Hall) were hardly the representatives of the disenfranchised unemployed masses (or “oiks” thinking they were “owed a living” as someone said)that would make the rock writers wet dream complete. Jerry Dammers was the son of quite a senior clergyman and according to Horace’s autobiography the others were all pretty middle class and met at college.
    Give me Madness anyday – I’m sure one line of their ‘Baggy Trousers’ (now those words really did speak to “the kids”)said far more to the average early 80s working-class teenager than this ever did…

  57. 57
    Crimson Cheeked King on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Um, hello. I’ve been invited to lob in my anti-Specials pub argument.

    Here goes – throughout their hits, the White guy gets the clever sardonic lines, leaving the Black guys get to make monkey noises or chant gibberish like “This town is coming like a ghost town.” It’s like having Noel Coward on the Black and White Minstrel Show. (Admittedly, Too Much Too Young is worse than Ghost Town on this score and Lynval and Neville didn’t get much more to do in the Fun Boy Three.)

    With Ranking Roger in The Beat, the guy sounded sharp, and the group were a foot-tappin’ amalgamation of different types of music. The Specials were a lead-footed moany drag in comparison. Girls – slags, lager – piss. Right on!

  58. 58
    LondonLee on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Dammers did seem to have a puritanical streak about, shall we say, working class pleasures. He was usually very funny about it though, until he left his sense of humour in his other suit and produced ‘Racist Friend’

  59. 59
    rosie on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Trouble is, I can’t hear the name “Terry Hall” without thinking instantly of Lenny the Lion (whom I’d met six months earlier, did I ever mention that?)

  60. 60
    SteveM on 16 Jan 2009 #

    re #56 I loved ‘Baggy Trousers’ but I’m not sure I’d like ‘the average early 80s working class teenager’ much (altho not cos of their social status).

    Looking at the top 40 during ‘Ghost Town’ reign I wonder if Bad Manners were somehow running off or reaping some benefits off the back of GT’s “lalalas” with ‘Can Can’, if not vice versa. Summer of ’81 a good time for an inane but fun sing-song? Then again, when isn’t..?

    Also sounding good that week: ‘Wordy Rappinghood’, ‘You Might Need Somebody’, ‘Sat In Your Lap’, ‘Chant No. 1’ and a sliding ‘Me No Pop I’ to name but a few. Oh and one week later Squeeze’s ‘Tempted’ – still shocked by how low they chart-peaked.

  61. 61
    SteveM on 16 Jan 2009 #

    #57 are you trying to paint Hall and Dammers as some kind of tyrannical control-freaks? Were Golding and Staple never content in their roles and afraid to challenge the setup? What was this force keeping them down in this particular situation?

  62. 62
    wichita lineman on 16 Jan 2009 #

    Re 56: Can’t quite see why it would be so hard for ‘the kids’ to relate to Ghost Town – unless your thinking of pre-pubescents, who probably wouldn’t have much to relate to on One Day In Your Life or Being With You either.

    I went to Coventry for a day, while unemployed (I got a lift, nothing better to do), in 1985 and couldn’t believe the streets of boarded up shops. The city was effectively derelict. I’m sure pop lovers living in Mexborough, Middlesbrough and Morecambe would have identified in 1981, whether they were NME readers or not. It wasn’t so recession-struck, but I never went near Croydon’s nite klubs – the pubs were rough enough.

    Re 57: I wonder who wrote the line “me don’t want pickney” for Lynval and Neville. I was rather surprised when checking the credits to find out how much of the Specials’ canon J Dammers DIDN’T write: eg the moantastic “I got one art O level, it did nuffing for me” which even to an academic thicko like me didn’t wring out any sympathy at the time.

    Re 61: Jerry Dammers sounds exactly like a tyrannical control freak when you read accounts of Specials sessions, notably In The Studio. Hence, everyone left him.

    Re 51: “I’m a middle-aged businessman with chronic heart disease” was a little odd too, wasn’t it? But I’ll always stick by The Earth Dies Screaming/Dream A Lie, if only for having the most Crass-like titles of any Top 10 hit.

  63. 63
    Doctor Casino on 17 Jan 2009 #

    Still a few months shy of my birth here and the current events in question are so remote and hazy to me that it sort of enhances the song – the actual injury and loss of property fall away into the myth of a decrepit and directionless society – the “no future” from the Sex Pistols actually feels like it’s come home to roost here. I’m reading up on the events on Wikipedia as we speak and I heard the song for the first time today – it’s got a great sound and some solid hooks. Doesn’t “sound” like a #1 to me. Great scene-painting and very very evocative though. “Spirit In The Sky” is maybe the best reference point oddly enough – just in terms of the amount of empty space and general dreariness, but I feel like I’m forgetting a much better comparison.

  64. 64
    Conrad on 17 Jan 2009 #

    #57 – Neville Staples in particular never struck me as particularly talented (“Stereotypes Part 2” where he gets centre stage is embarrassingly naff). Perhaps that had something to do with it. He was more of a presence on stage – kind of the Specials’ equivalent to Bez.

    You can accuse Dammers of many things – control freakery among them – but rascism? I don’t think so.

    As for Hall, well he doesn’t come across as the most likeable of people – certainly not in Horace’s autobiograhy. In fact, none of The Specials come across as the sort of people you’d want to spend much time with. They really didn’t seem to enjoy their success either – even as “Too Much Too Young” was going to Number 1 they were fighting and arguing on tour in the States.

    And now they’re reforming without Dammers…

    …agree with you about Ranking Roger though. He was a very charismatic performer, and a big part of The Beat’s success.

  65. 65
    Crimson Cheeked King on 17 Jan 2009 #

    #64 Q. What was Jerry Dammers’ last iTunes download? A. Can I Play With Madness?

    Racism is an accusation that’s too easily made, and my post at #57 was pretty ill-considered in that regard. But with The Specials routinely represented as a paragon of multicultural Britain at its best, I thought it was worth peering through a jaundiced eye, just for a second.

    #61 I’m not sure about the group functioned, but the records themselves too often see Lynval and Neville cast as dummies. It seems a bit shabby – two no. ones earlier we saw a Black guy – America’s greatest poet (not just a cliche) – singing a beautiful song, elegantly strolling round a luxurious beach house. Our people deserve nothing less!

  66. 66
    AndyPandy on 17 Jan 2009 #

    Wichita at 62 – yes i see your point but don’t ‘the kids’ usually prefer to be excited/cheered up in their pop hence that particular loathing for the Smiths I remember from various workplaces/pubs etc in the 80s.
    And yes the Mexboroughs, Morecambes, Barnsleys etc etc and especially North East were as prey to unemployment as any inner city but these were almost completely white areas and I should imagine if we’re talking about this record as a cipher for the 1981 riots the youth in those places would have looked on the disturbances as a black phenomenon and not something that had anything particularly to do with them.

    After all the riots were confined to inner city areas with a large Afro-Caribbean population – not just Brixton and various other areas of London, Toxteth, Moss Side, Handsworth etc but even Reading and High Wycombe in the supposedly thriving south east. That there were riots in such places but not anywhere in the unemployment stricken north/midlands outside 2 or 3 inner cities surely shows it was more racial tension/policing than mass unemployment that were the trigger. Anyway I’m making this a bit socio-economic and a long way from the pop charts so I’d bette stop there…

  67. 67
    wichita lineman on 17 Jan 2009 #

    Re 66: Well, I was talking about the song itself (obv. written and recorded before the riots) which CAN be read in its immediate social context, but doesn’t necessarily have any racial element.

    Riots in Crowborough, Sussex, (which is pretty white) tend to be forgotten. Is High Wycombe that multi-cultural? Don’t want to sound nit pickety but “the people getting angry” was true across the board, black and white – the government was getting some of the worst poll ratings ever at this point. Two Million Voices by the Angelic Upstarts was another contemporary comment 45 and, like One In Ten, not in the same league as Ghost Town.

    Re 64: Stereotypes Pt 2. Not very good, is it?

  68. 68
    Ken on 18 Jan 2009 #

    I think this is the first time Tom has awarded a 10 to a tune I actually like. Not being British, I have a hard time understanding how this song even got to the top of any chart; it’s defiantly unpop.

  69. 69
    peter goodlaws on 18 Jan 2009 #

    # 67 – Yeah, riots in Crowborough there were indeed. Astonishing, really, as the town was then (and still is) one of the most well-healed in the UK. Principal amongst the unrest involved lots of Amandas and Imogens riding their ponies at a quick trot down the wrong side of the road, thus causing several tea rooms and antique shops to boarder themselves up. Fucking terrifying.

  70. 70
    LondonLee on 18 Jan 2009 #

    Re #66 None of my non-art school friends liked the Smiths, actively hated them in fact. “Get this depressing crap off and put on some Level 42” was the usual response.

  71. 71
    AndyPandy on 18 Jan 2009 #

    Although I come from Slough I was living in Wycombe for a few years in the later eighties (ie not in 1981).So I know quite a lot about the place. I went to a couple of blues parties (mid-late 80 as all that ‘Under Mi Sensi’ digital reggae was being played) on the Micklefield estate there.

    High Wycombe is home to about 15,000 people of either Pakistani or Afro-Caribbean descent – proportionally one of the higher figures in the country. More people from St Vincent in wycombe than anywhere in the world outside St Vincent! First stop outside London on the train I remember a documentary mentioned as being a reason for its attraction.
    Also one of the oldest post-Windrush West indian populations – a lot of immigrants arriving in the early 50s to work in the paper mills and furniture factories.They even named a road on a council estate Windrush Drive which back in the 60s/70s when the flats there were built was quite forward thinking for Wycombe!

    The nearness to London and the multicultural feel on certain estates may be the reason why it became quite significant on the early dance/rave scene. What was arguably the first ever jungle record ‘Johnny Jungle’ came out of Wycombe as did the hardcore classic ‘Dub Wars’ by Dance Conspiracy and big drum and bass figures like DJ Pulse, Wax Doctor, Pascal, Rude Boy Monty all come from Wycombe as did rappers Caveman and Judy Boucher the reggae singer. She served me on the housing benefit desk at the Council there a few years after her No 2 hit “Can’t be with you tonight” after she went back to working there.

    Yes its amazing what you can read on Popular even a mini history of High Wycombe’s contribution to music!

    Aand I thought students were all Smiths fans Lee at 66! I mentioned them as I don’t remember a band so actively detested by most of my workmates/contemporaries as the Smiths – most ‘alternative/indie’ type bands might as well have existed in an alternative univese but the Smiths probably because of the way they seemed to sum up everything they didnt like about that kind of music did seem to register in their consciousness and never failed to get an abusive comment if they ever came up – all that “heaven knows I’m miserable now” type stuff…

  72. 72
    AndyPandy on 18 Jan 2009 #

    Lee at 66 I see I completely misread your comment and what you’ve said it exactly the point I was trying to make!my eyes are going must be my age…

  73. 73
    Tommy Mack on 19 Jan 2009 #

    Re: 62, isn’t “me don’t no more pickney” a quote from an old reggae tune? A sort of early human sample?

  74. 74
    Erithian on 19 Jan 2009 #

    Yes it is – “Birth Control” by Lloyd Charmer; the “Gimme de birth control, me no want a pickney” line was borrowed for “Too Much Too Young”.

    Ranking Roger – at the height of the riots, The Beat performed “Doors Of Your Heart” on Saturday morning kids’ TV – I think it was still Swap Shop – and Ranking Roger looked especially impassioned as he toasted: “Stick ‘im in the living room and turn out the light / Bet you wouldn’t know if ‘im was black or white … so what’s the use in fighting / warrrrrr – alright!” Such an underrated band.

  75. 75
    Tommy Mack on 19 Jan 2009 #

    The Beat are playing Hootenany in Brixton soon – well worth a look!

  76. 76
    Tommy Mack on 19 Jan 2009 #

    29th May! http://www.thebeatofficial.com/tour.html

  77. 77
    lonepilgrim on 19 Jan 2009 #

    Has anyone heard this incarnation of The Beat play live? They don’t seem to have too many original members but I’d like to see them if they’re any good

  78. 78
    Lena on 19 Jan 2009 #

    The other day I applied for my NI number (in Upper Tooting) and while that went swimmingly, I could not but help think of a certain day that led to my being here in the first place: July 10, 1981. That is the day I arrived in Canada (again), back to Oakville, and from there I discovered CFNY and current British music that was totally unknown to me in Berkeley. I am convinced that if I never heard that station, I literally would not be in London now, nor would I have visited London in the first place in ’88.

    The day before we flew out of San Francisco, my mom and I were staying in a hotel. It was the first time I’d seen the tv news in a while, as our tv had been packed up for weeks. A big hotel tv with the news of rioting all over England, and then the huge face of Thatcher intoning this or that. It had gone on for…days? Weeks? All over the place. And this song, which I would argue goes to a place where numbers (crucial as they are) don’t really matter much any more, was already number one, though I wouldn’t hear it until the fall when it hypnotized me and shocked me (and yet sounded oddly familiar too, going back to U.S. jazz songs of the Depression)…little did I know that the man who was eventually going to become my husband was going through his own life-changing summer as well – ghosts for both of us, moments of the past, there and yet not there.

  79. 79
    Tommy Mack on 19 Jan 2009 #

    Re: 77. Not seen ’em, but if you’re anywhere near Brixton, you should go – I imagine it’ll be about a fiver to get in and it’s a good pub!

  80. 80
    ace inhibitor on 19 Jan 2009 #

    think the scale of 1981 was pretty unique. After Bristol the previous year, and Brixton in April, July 1981 saw ‘riots’ in Southall, Liverpool, Manchester, Brixton again, Woolwich, Lewisham, Stoke Newington, Balham, Fulham, Reading, Ellesmere Port, Nottingham, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Hull, Preston, Slough, Birmingham, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Leeds, Cirencester, Blackpool, Blackburn, Southampton, Portsmouth, Luton, Derby, Leicester, Battersea Park (‘a crowd of rollerskaters attacked and injured 3 policemen’), High Wycombe, Birkenhead, Aldershot, Gloucester. (‘Uprising – the police the people and the riots in Britain’s cities’, M.Kettle & L.Hodge, 1982 which ends as follows: “In 1981 the frequently voiced fears that young people – above all, young black people- would rise up against the police and lay claim to a respect which had been denied them became a dramatic reality. The subsequent response of British society has not eradicated the likelihood that it will happen again.”)

  81. 81
    Erithian on 20 Jan 2009 #

    So, for what made the summer of ’81 iconic, we’ve got the riots, the royal wedding, the Ashes series, Shergar’s Derby and McEnroe’s first Wimbledon. I’ll add another – Coe and Ovett breaking each other’s world records every week. Any more?

  82. 82
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 20 Jan 2009 #

    it was the year “the great muppet caper” was released

  83. 83
    lonepilgrim on 20 Jan 2009 #

    that was the muppets for ya, always on top of the zeitgeist

  84. 84
    Caledonianne on 25 Jan 2009 #

    I would just second what AndyPandy said re High Wycombe (which I pass through on the train every working day). Its racial tensions are thoroughly discussed in “Presumed Guilty” by favourite meeja lawyer, Michael Mansfield QC.

    At the time we in Scotland (thankfully) were rather disengaged from the riots (tho if I remember rightly some acolytes of a recent CBB evictee tried to foment some 1980s bother, but got no takers). I’ve always thought of this as being a better record than a song, and I appreciate it rather more now than I did at the time. I can see why it’s a 10 as a means of capturing a moment of time, but don’t rate it that highly as a musical offering.

    For me, this is the week I graduated, and that Harry Chapin was killed. That, to me, was much more important than what was happening in cities that seemed to me then as alien as LA or New Orleans.

  85. 85
    DV on 26 Jan 2009 #

    I remember this record almost frightening me with its sense of the looming apocalypse. Good job everything is going well in the world now.

  86. 86
    lonepilgrim on 9 Feb 2009 #

    there’s a fun use of this in episode 3 of the BBCs series ‘Being Human’ (still on iPlayer for a few days): – being listened to by a GHOST on his walkman as he mooches around TOWN – plus a whole lot of other miserabalist 80s toons as well

  87. 87
    Mark M on 10 Feb 2009 #

    Re 86: I thought the 80s miserablist ghost was pretty spot-on, as these things go.

  88. 88
    Erithian on 10 Feb 2009 #

    I’m loving “Being Human”, not my usual TV genre but very well put together. I thought people on here would like the Marc and the Mambas references!

    Just remembered that on my tape of Piccadilly Radio’s end-of-81 rundown, the howls at the end of “Ghost Town” segue beautifully with the howls at the start of “Prince Charming”, to the extent that I can’t hear the former without imagining the latter fading in.

  89. 89
    punctum on 18 Sep 2009 #

    I had left school and was three months away from beginning my life as a student in Oxford. The Glasgow of the summer of 1981 remained a two-dimensional winter; collapsing old buildings, huge derelict tracts of wasteland, muttered curses, switchblades, the HOME RULE graffiti on the side of the soon-to-close steelworks in Parkhead, unemployment, gloom, the European City of Collateral.

    It’s hard to determine whether home life was that different in nature; my father felt more settled in his final months, yet there were still the outbursts, the unnecessary stress, everything pointing to a premature end. Perhaps he could have completed his journey towards happiness in another year or two, but in most senses it was already too late. In any case the end came on the morning of Tuesday 14 July, when he suffered a coronary thrombosis and was taken to the local hospital; although he had rallied round to a degree that afternoon, he declined suddenly on the Wednesday morning (the hospital rang us at 7:40 am) and by the time we got there he had gone, eleven days after his fiftieth birthday. His was the first dead body I had seen; he looked asleep and felt unutterably cold. The open mouth was really the factor which shook me.

    There was an unusually black and low-level mass of clouds in the Airdrie and Coatbridge sky that morning on our way back home; my mother made a great play of being inconsolable, but really – and shamefully? – we were relieved, as though released from a huge weight which had been slowly crushing us over the previous decade. Is it inhuman and unforgiving for me still to be feeling this, a quarter of a century later, despite the fact that it was my father’s love and passion for music and art and cinema and literature (oh, what he would have made of Blue Velvet!) which pretty much formed the person whose words you are reading now? Is anything worthwhile in life anything less than complicated?

    It was many, many years later that I discovered that Jerry Dammers had written “Ghost Town” specifically with Glasgow in mind; the Specials toured there in late 1980, and took especial note of the decay (though their native Coventry could tell a similar story, as could most British inner cities). It is the slow terminus of everything which had previously manifested itself as life, and I do not say this simply because it was the last number one record which my father lived to see; its intent is implicit in its title, and its atmosphere, with harmonies partly drawn from Ellington’s “East St Louis Toodle-Oo” (my dad spotted that very quickly), was that of an abandoned vaudeville palace from a century before; the Dickensian cackles of the wordless backing vocals, the immense, vast, dark deserts of spaces between anything being played or said, partly ascribable to dub but bearing a huge debt to the spaces inside Joe Meek’s head, and the song’s two hopeless twin peaks – that heartbreaking moment when the sun shines and Dick Cuthell’s cornet celebrates in curlicues as Terry Hall sings “Do you remember the good old days?” and its polar opposite on the full-length 12-inch version, with Rico’s mournfully eloquent, Roswell Rudd-esque trombone elegy, drum crashes around him thundering like bulldozers or closing down on him like a gigantic sarcophagus lid.

    Equally it is difficult to imagine trip hop or even grime and/or dubstep having gone on their particular aesthetic autobahns without the example of “Ghost Town,” and Dammers’ experiments with avant-muzak on 1980’s More Specials album, to inspire them. For me, at my age, in that context, in those circumstances, “Ghost Town” felt like my life closing down, and the principal imperative for me to begin another one. The winds howl over the tenements of Easterhouse and Castlemilk at its conclusion just as they did over John Leyton’s moors twenty years previously; as a record it is unparalleled and unequalled, as a number one it is still scarcely believable – did I dream that a record sounding like this and saying what it says went to number one? Did I dream the riots in Southall and Toxteth and Brixton which erupted during its stay at number one? – but, as with “God Save The Queen,” it is a cold gauntlet (wanting so much to be warm) thrown down at the rest of pop; as with “Telstar” it is utterly sui generis; as with these two number ones, it is one of the greatest.

  90. 90
    n on 4 Apr 2010 #

    well, i was boarding the plane,to find a job in arabian gulf.!! left england for good, now its 28 yrs..!!!

  91. 91
    thefatgit on 6 Apr 2010 #

    That summer of 81, I felt strangely conflicted. I was approaching my 15th birthday. My mum and I visiting my gandparents in Southampton. The same weekend, the riots flared up all over. I felt detatched from all that anger, like I was in a bubble, yet at the same time, angry with everything. School wasn’t going at all well. Many times I was being lectured by my parents that I was “throwing away the best years of my life”. What the fuck did that mean? I was to find out later, but at the time everything seemed pointless. “Ghost Town” suted my mood perfectly. Even the brightest sunlight seemed washed out. I sensed decay in everything. Only the music could keep me engaged, as I spun all kinds of stuff endlessly. “Ghost Town”, however had that theatrically macabre feel about it, the “people gettin’ angry” growl that sunk deep into my skin. The horns that beckoned only to find bleak wasteland where the carnival should be. Spine-chilling.

    Back to Southampton, and the whole family had gone out for a meal in Town. A restaurant that belonged to some family friends was where we ate. I had steak iirc. That night, I had my first irish coffee. The evening had been fun, but the taxi ride home, we saw 70 or more rioters at the far end of the street we were supposed to go down. The taxi driver turned down a side street and took the road that ran parallel. We heard the sirens and the shouting. I caught glimpses of the riot in progress, as we passed 3 connecting side streets… cars got set fire to and people were running. The glimpses fuelled my imagination. After the school holiday, I wrote a composition, where all the youth of the nation had risen up to crush the establishment, and nothing worked properly and people began to starve. I called it “Ghost Town”.

  92. 92
    punctum on 27 Apr 2010 #

    Did anybody see this last week?

  93. 93
    Mark M on 27 Apr 2010 #

    Re 92, yep, enjoyed that. Dammers looks a right state, though.

  94. 94
    Billy Smart on 28 Apr 2010 #

    The voice of 2010 Jerry Damners can also be heard in this modest topical homage; http://www.youtube.com/user/teambeswickandpye

  95. 95
    Steve Mannion on 17 Jun 2011 #

    Seeing as it’s been a TTTT (top ten twitter trend) for much of today, bump.


  96. 96
    swanstep on 18 Jun 2011 #

    What an astounding record this is. Tom’s wonderful essay on Wuthering Heights ended by describing Bush as a kind of ghost pressed against the window of pop music urging everyone inside to be extraordinary. GT too feels like that kind of ghost: popsters, find something you really want to say, have no choice but to say; develop your chops so that you can musically embody that message perfectly when the moment comes; with luck, someone will hear you…

    Ghost Town peaked at #20 in New Zealand but did spend 13 weeks in the charts. The Specials’ Free Nelson Mandela – not quite GT but v.v. good – had 3 weeks at #1 in 1984.

  97. 97
    lonepilgrim on 9 Apr 2013 #

    this seems an appropriate place to mark the death of Margaret Thatcher – sadly I suspect that her ghost will continue to haunt us for a while to come

  98. 98
    Cumbrian on 9 Apr 2013 #

    There’s a chance we will get another opportunity to discuss her in the distant future, should something be forced to #1 this week in response to her death; assuming Tom is still doing it, of course.

  99. 99
    Auntie Beryl on 9 Apr 2013 #

    Something commemorative has risen to number 5 on iTunes this afternoon, but isn’t complimentary.

  100. 100
    Lazarus on 9 Apr 2013 #

    #97 I wasn’t sure whether to post something here, or on ‘the Chicken Song’ or even ‘Two Little boys.’ Would be good to see ‘Shipbuilding’ back as well. Anyone familiar with Elvis Costello’s ‘Tramp the Dirt Down?’

  101. 101
    Auntie Beryl on 9 Apr 2013 #

    #100 That’s currently number 82…

  102. 102
    mintness on 20 Apr 2013 #

    Remarkable song, of course, but I have to limit my score to a 9 for the simple (if irrational) reason that the transition from the “boom town” section back into the main riff reminds me of nothing other than neil’s “Hole In My Shoe”.

    “…and everyone was having a really good time! Except me…”

  103. 103
    hectorthebat on 11 Oct 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 930
    Michaelangelo Matos (USA) – Top 100 Singles of the 1980s (2001) 50
    Pitchfork (USA) – The Pitchfork 500 (2008)
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA)- The Songs That Shaped Rock (Additions 2011)
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 80s (2011) 190
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 1098
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 54
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1980s (2008)
    Dave Thompson (UK) – 1000 Songs that Rock Your World (2011) 489
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    John Peel (UK) – Peelenium: Four Tracks from Each Year of the Last Century (1999)
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (1997) 61
    Mojo (UK) – The 50 Greatest British Tracks Ever (2006)
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of NME’s Lifetime (2012) 8
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1980s (2012) 5
    NME (UK) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2014) 21
    New Musical Express (UK) – NME Rock Years, Single of the Year 1963-99 (2000)
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (2002) 53
    Q (UK) – 50 Greatest British Tracks (2005) 32
    Q (UK) – 50 Years of Great British Music, 10 Tracks per Decade (2008)
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 461
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – The 80 Best Records of the 80s (2006) 10
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Singles from 1980-2004 (2004) 6
    Sean O’Hagan, The Observer (UK) – Fifty Years of Pop (2004)
    Sounds (UK) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1986) 17
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Uncut (UK) – 100 Rock and Movie Icons (2005) 49
    Uncut (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles from the Post-Punk Era (2001) 26
    XFM (UK) – The Top 1000 Songs of All Time (2010)
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 23
    Berlin Media (Germany) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1998) 41
    Musikexpress (Germany) – The 700 Best Songs of All Time (2014) 403
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songs of All Time (2004) 124
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The Best Singles of 5 Decades (1997)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Volume (France) – 200 Records that Changed the World, 2008 (38 songs)
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 150 Songs from the 20th Century (1998) 123
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year
    Melody Maker (UK) – Single of the Year 1
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 1
    Sounds (UK) – Singles of the Year 1

    Spex (Germany) – Singles of the Year

  104. 104
    swanstep on 11 Oct 2014 #

    @Hectorthebat. Wow, that must be one of the longest Critic Watch entries ever. A truly celebrated record.

  105. 105
    Andrew Farrell on 12 Oct 2014 #

    Is it an exhaustive list, I wonder? Are there any publications who passed on the record (that Hector considers of note)?

  106. 106
    hectorthebat on 12 Oct 2014 #

    Plenty – there are very few US lists – Village Voice didn’t even include it in their list of best singles of the year, Blender didn’t include it in their list of best songs since the 80s, and nothing from Rolling Stone, etc.

  107. 107
    mapman132 on 16 Oct 2014 #

    There’s certain songs highly praised on this website that it seems “you had to be there” to fully appreciate. But this isn’t one of them. Even though I was an 8-year-old with no knowledge of this song or the civil unrest across the ocean in 1981, it still strongly evokes in me the emotions of urban decay and hopelessness to the point where listening to it and watching the video feels like I was there after all. It could just as easily soundtrack a drive through the ruins of Detroit, an exploration of an abandoned shopping center, or even a sad look at the rubble of my former elementary school. Definitely agree with the 10’s given out here. Too bad it wasn’t a hit in America.

  108. 108
    Inanimate Carbon God on 25 Jan 2015 #

    It was around this time that new wave monster 8675-309 (Jenny) was released, Tommy Tutone (not very 2-Tone musically and sartorially) had one of those quite rare “glorious hits every American of a certain age will know [and in this case prank call the aforementioned number] but didn’t even chart in the UK.”

    I’m tempted to check out their other work, but I fear, for the same reasons I don’t know any, say, Boston beyond More than a Feeling, it’ll be a case of “this hit’s a 10/10 but everything else they ever recorded was dreadful AOR bollox.”

  109. 109
    andy606 on 6 Jun 2015 #

    Great website – and pleased to see ‘Ghost Town’ gains a 10. Just compiling my own top 100 music memories. Love the reggae beat, the instrumental work and the vocals in this single.

  110. 110

    rip rico rodriguez :(

  111. 111
    Tommy Mack on 5 Sep 2015 #

    Oh, that is very sad. I met him on the street by chance in Kensington about 13 years ago. He was carrying his trombone case and I thought ‘that looks like Rico Rodriguez’, then I noticed his name on a tag inside his coat which he was carrying over his arm. Seemed like a very nice man, a sad loss.

    Might put on Jazz Jamaica now, something a bit cheerier than The Specials!

  112. 112
    John R on 29 Jul 2016 #

    Best song ever, strangest an all.

  113. 113
    Saira Solanki on 9 Apr 2021 #

    An exquisite song, capturing the zeitgeist of 80s Britain. 9/10

  114. 114
    Gareth Parker on 23 May 2021 #

    Supremely atmospheric social commentary from the Coventry based 2-toners. 8/10 in my view.

  115. 115
    ForChew on 31 May 2021 #


Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page