The Specials (album)

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The Specials
Studio album by The Specials
Released November 3, 1979 [1]
Recorded Summer 1979 at TW Studios, Fulham, London
Genre Ska, reggae, 2 Tone, punk rock
Length 45:11
Label 2 Tone Records
Producer Elvis Costello and The Specials
The Specials chronology
The Specials
More Specials

The Specials is the debut album by British ska revival band The Specials.

Released in 1979 on Jerry Dammers' 2 Tone label, the album is seen by some as the defining moment in the UK ska scene. Produced by Elvis Costello, the album captures the disaffection and anger felt by the youth of the UK's "concrete jungle"—a phrase borrowed from Bob Marley's 1972 album Catch a Fire but equally apposite used here to describe the grim, violent inner cities of 1970s Britain.

Musically, the album encapsulates the wave of British ska, greatly reworking the original sound of 1960s Jamaican ska. The music shares the infectious energy and humour of the original sound, but injects new-found anger and punk sensibility. The resulting sound is considerably less laid-back and "Caribbean" sounding than original ska, and dispensed with much of the percussion and the larger horn sections used in the older variety. The Specials also brought guitar to the front of the mix; it had often been a secondary instrument in Jamaican ska. The album features a mixture of original material and several covers of classic Jamaican ska tracks, a debt which went uncredited on the 1979 release.

Many songs on The Specials' debut album were covers of older Jamaican songs. "Monkey Man" had been a hit for Toots & the Maytals in 1969, "Too Hot" was a Prince Buster original from 1966, and the opening track, "A Message to You, Rudy" was a Dandy Livingstone single in 1967. "You're Wondering Now" was originally performed by The Skatalites; a vocal version was recorded by duo Andy and Joey in 1964. Other tracks are reworkings of Jamaican originals: "Too Much Too Young" was based on Lloyd Charmers' "Birth Control" and "Stupid Marriage" draws heavily on the Prince Buster hit "Judge 400 Years" (also known as "Judge Dread").

A live version of "Too Much Too Young" was later released on a five-track EP, The Special AKA Live!, which went to number one on the UK charts. "'A Message to You, Rudy" was also released as a single.

Trombonist Rico Rodriguez, who performed on many '50s and '60s Jamaican recordings before moving to London in 1962, played on the band's version of "A Message to You, Rudy", as he had on the original recording 15 years previously. As a former member of the legendary Skatalites, a band that helped define the sound of ska, Rico's appearance on the album considerably added to the album's credentials.

A digitally remastered edition also featuring promotional videos to "Gangsters" and "Too Much Too Young" as enhanced content was released by EMI in 2002.

Also, the song "Little Bitch" is featured as a playable song on the very first release of the dance simulation game Dance Dance Revolution.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[2]
BBC Music favourable[3]
Smash Hits 9/10[4]

Writing for Smash Hits in 1979, Red Starr praised the album, saying it had "some excellent original touches" and that the lyrics were "very strong". He went on to praise Costello's "first rate production" and finished his review by saying that the album was a "very promising debut and highly recommended".[4]

In 2000, Q placed The Specials at number 38 in its list of the 100 greatest British albums ever. Pitchfork Magazine featured The Specials as number 42 in their list of the 100 best albums of the 1970s. Rolling Stone listed the album at number 68 in the best albums of the 1980s, as the album was released in the US after the decade changed.[5]

Track listing[edit]

Side one
  1. "A Message to You, Rudy" (Dandy Livingstone) – 2:53
  2. "Do the Dog" (Rufus Thomas, arr. by Jerry Dammers) – 2:09
  3. "It's Up to You" (Dammers, The Specials) – 3:25
  4. "Nite Klub" (Dammers, The Specials) – 3:22
  5. "Doesn't Make It Alright" (Dammers, Dave Goldberg) – 3:26
  6. "Concrete Jungle" (Byers) – 3:18
  7. "Too Hot" (Cecil Campbell) – 3:09
Side two
  1. "Monkey Man" (Toots Hibbert) – 2:45
  2. "(Dawning of A) New Era" (Dammers) – 2:24
  3. "Blank Expression" (Dammers, The Specials) – 2:43
  4. "Stupid Marriage" (Dammers, Mark Harrison, Neville Staple) – 3:49
  5. "Too Much Too Young" (Dammers, acknowledgment to Lloyd Charmers) – 6:06*
  6. "Little Bitch" (Dammers)† – 2:31
  7. "You're Wondering Now" (Seymour) – 2:36

* Canadian and some US pressings of the album have a shorter, 2:16 version of this song.

† On some US releases, the song "Gangsters" appears between "Too Much Too Young" and "Little Bitch". In Australia and New Zealand, "Gangsters" was included between "Do the Dog" and "It's Up to You".


Guest musicians


  1. ^
  2. ^ Greene, Jo-Ann. "The Specials – The Specials". Allmusic. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  3. ^ Jones, Chris (10 October 2008). "Review of The Specials – The Specials". BBC Online. Retrieved 1 May 2012. 
  4. ^ a b Starr, Red. "Albums". Smash Hits (November 1–14, 1979): 29. 
  5. ^ "100 Best Albums of the Eighties", Rolling Stone, retrieved 31 May 2012