How Special were The Specials? Undoubtedly some of them along the line went to a special school, if you get my drift. Certainly the dramatic decline of Terry Hall’s career suggests that education was not what he was all about.

Ah but take us back to the heady days of the first great Ska revival. The Specials were certainly at the Transit vanguard of this appropriation of tunes better suited to the Caribbean and transplanting them to the South Midlands. Ska is a joyous, infectious racket in theory – of course theories can rarely be proved in the cold light of day and instead what we got were a number of groups bludgeoning pissed down* Skatalites “classics”. But at least the Ska revival allowed lots of dumb groups (Bad Manners, The Beat) to bounce around and get their frustrations out in the carefully controlled atmosphere of the back room of a pub. Instead of beating people up on street corners (which I daresay Buster Bloodvessel may have turned to if he hadn’t got the funk.)

Problem is with any kind of dumb music, a band comes along and tries to make it intelligent. Two Tone Records gave us The Specials. Two Tone because, hey, some of them were black and some of them were white. Two Tone also because there were two tones in their music, the up beat and the down beat. And boy were they down beat. What The Specials did for racial integration in this country, they also did for political comment in song. Exactly nothing.

To try and explain the place of The Specials in a transatlantic context I will compare the first great ska revival with the second. Loathe as I am to point out that the Yanks fell for the same trick we did just fifteen years too late, I can try to make comparisons. If The Selecter are No Doubt, then The Specials were The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The highpoint of The Specials recording career was “Ghost Town”, a song about people not going out in Coventry anymore. Of course they weren’t going out anymore, all they were playing in the clubs was fucking Specials records. Oh – Coventry is like Detroit. Pointless concrete city who’s football team never does anything.

Ska withered and died, and will do too in the States. There are only so many songs you can play with two notes alternating. One starting on the up beat and the other starting on the down beat. Terry Hall became the mathematically correct third of Fun Boy Three, the highlight of whose career was doing a duet with Bananarama. And there’s nothing special about that.

*Pissed Down is like being watered down, with an obvious substitution of liquids.