Special (Garbage song)

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Standard artwork for European commercial release
Single by Garbage
from the album Version 2.0
B-side"13 x Forever"
ReleasedOctober 5, 1998
Format3" CD single
CD maxi, Cassette single
RecordedMarch 1997 - February 1998
Smart Studios,
Madison, Wisconsin
GenreAlternative rock, power pop,[1]
LabelMushroom Records UK
Almo Sounds (North America)
Garbage singles chronology
"I Think I'm Paranoid"
"When I Grow Up"

"Special" is an alternative rock song written, performed and produced by Garbage, and was the third international single to be released from the band's platinum second album Version 2.0. "Special" gained much attention in the music press upon the 1998 release of Version 2.0, as it contained a vocal interpolation of a lyric taken from "Talk of The Town" by The Pretenders.

A moderate hit in the United Kingdom and Australia in October 1998, "Special" became a sleeper hit in the United States the following year.[2] The song's success was marked by becoming nominated in the Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group categories at the 2000 Grammy Awards,[3] and winning a Wisconsin Area Music Industry award for Song of the Year[4] and a Citation of Achievement from the BMI Pop Awards.[5] The sci-fi inspired music video for "Special" also received nominations from music industry award panels, winning a D&AD Award, a MTV Video Music Award, and a VH1 Visionary Video award.[6]

In 2007, "Special" was remastered and included on Garbage's greatest hits album Absolute Garbage.[7]

Composition and recording[edit]

Garbage began writing their second album, which would go under the working title of Sad Alcoholic Clowns, in March 1997 in the band's label-head Jerry Moss's Friday Harbor, Washington, vacation house. The group demoed and made rough outlines for new songs, of which "Special", was one of. When they felt they had made a good start, Garbage took the work they made in Washington back to their Madison, Wisconsin base at Smart Studios and begin fleshing out the ideas and rough sketches over the following year.[8]

Garbage intended their second album to build upon the framework, music style and musical template laid down by their first release; to create a rapprochement between the "high-tech and low-down, the now sound and of golden memories" and wear musical references to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.[9] Garbage recorded all of their work for the second album through a 48-track digital system digitally, direct to hard drives utilizing a 24bit Pro Tools rig.

Garbage employed touring bassist Daniel Shulman to perform electric bass on "Special", which he performed using a Fender Precision Bass run through an Ampeg SVT and then treated with "severe" equalization to achieve a Paul McCartney-esque Höfner sound to the part.[10] The guitar solo intro (which returns at the end of both choruses) was performed on a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar.[10] At the end of the first chorus, Garbage recorded a multi-tracked harmony vocal from Manson ("I can't think of any latter-day bands where a female is singing those sort of stacked '60's style vocals").[11]

After the initial riff, at the beginning of each verse line, the pronounced word "I" was sung as a sample from The Beatles' "All I've Got to Do" song.[12]

While experimenting with various phrasing over the outro to "Special", group vocalist Shirley Manson ad-libbed "We were the talk of the town" from the refrain of The Pretenders song "Talk of The Town". The band were keen to keep the lyric, and to circumvent any potential legal problems, Manson contacted Chrissie Hynde by telephone to ask for permission to use the lyric. Hynde agreed to let Garbage use the lyric without even hearing "Special" first (and did not ask for any credit or royalties); Manson felt that she should send Hynde a copy of the song just to be sure, but before she could do so, Hynde sent a fax to Smart Studios giving her written consent. Manson was reluctant to let people think that "Special" was simply a paean to Hynde; her lyrics concerned a friendship Manson had moved on from after her friend had let her down. Manson: "Ultimately it's about those feelings of betrayal you have for people when you set your sights too high and expect too much and how that can lead to disappointment in the end."[13]

Garbage completed recording, producing and mixing of their second album in mid-February 1998, and the album was given the title Version 2.0. "Special" was track listed as the album's fifth song. Version 2.0 was released worldwide on May 11 of that year; despite a slow start, Version 2.0 went on to equal its predecessor, selling over four million copies and achieving platinum-certification in many territories, including United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Europe and Australia.[14]

Song history[edit]

Garbage debuted "Special" live on May 15, 1998 at a concert at Ryan's Ballroom in Combined Locks, Wisconsin, which was the first date of the Version 2.0 tour.[15]

In advance of the UK release, Garbage promoted "Special" at the beginning of September with a live performance of the song on TFI Friday, a pre-record of both "Special" and "When I Grow Up" for Pepsi Chart Show, and also performed a three-song set of "Special", "You Look So Fine" and "I Think I'm Paranoid" for broadcast on MTV Europe. Promotional discs and 12" remix packs were distributed across Europe from September 21 to clubs and DJs, which enabled the featured Brothers in Rhythm remixes to reach #6 on the pre-release industry Buzz Chart.[16] "Special" was A-listed at Radio One and XFM and B-listed at Virgin, and also made the playlists of 52 regional radio stations.[16]

"Special" was released by Mushroom Records UK in the UK on October 5 on three formats.[17] The cassette single and first CD single contains B-side "13 × Forever"; the CD also included a Brothers in Rhythm remix. The second CD single included a newly recorded acoustic version of Version 2.0 album track "Medication"[18] and a club remix of "Push It" by New York City club DJ Victor Calderone.[17] On October 12, "Special" charted at #15 in the UK Singles Chart.[19] A week after the initial single release, Mushroom issued "Special" in a collectable 3" CD single format in blister pack packaging, featuring both B-sides and the Brothers in Rhythm remix of "Special". The 3-inch CD format was deleted after one week on sale.[17] The same week, Version 2.0 was certified platinum by the BPI for shipping over 300,000 units in the United Kingdom.[20] Top Of The Pops broadcast the band's earlier pre-record of "Special" to mark its chart position.

Across in Europe, BMG issued "Special" on CD maxi and CD single formats in various territories from October 5.[17] Festival Mushroom, having absorbed and folded White Records as part of a recent merger of Festival Records and Mushroom Records, released "Special" on a single CD maxi format collecting together the five tracks from the commercial UK release on October 26.[17] "Special" peaked at #54 on the Australian ARIA charts, and spent six weeks in the top 100.[21]

Unlike Garbage's previous single, "I Think I'm Paranoid", the release of "Special" throughout Europe occurred when Garbage were not performing locally, the band having launched the three-month-long North American fall leg of their Version 2.0 tour in Denver, Colorado on September 15.[15] As the tour progressed, "Special" was added to Modern Rock radio stations across North America on October 12, while remixes produced by Rickidy Raw were serviced to Urban radio.[22] "Special" debuted on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart at #40 on October 31.[23] Garbage performed "Special" on Late Show with David Letterman on October 29, and the following day promoted the single on The Howard Stern Show, (but performed their 1997 Modern Rock #1 hit #1 Crush instead of "Special").[24] As the tour reached Canada, Garbage performed an extended set of tracks, including "Special" for a MusiquePlus televised performance filmed in Montreal on November 14, before returning to the US to wrap up the run of headline dates on November 28 in Green Bay.[15] The following day, Garbage immediately set out to promote Version 2.0 and "Special" on a month-long radio show circuit starting at Madison's WMAD for Modern Rock Live and on for a further twelve US radio shows;[22] Garbage also performed "Special" live on The Tonight Show on December 11.[22] December 20 marked the final radio show in Detroit.[15] Imports of "Special" from Europe make enough dance club playlists by the end of 1998 that the song was certified the #3 "Hot Dance Breakout" by Billboard on December 25:[25] "Special" made a debut on the January 6, 1999 Hot Dance Club Play chart at #44.[26]

On January 4, 1999, "Special" was serviced to Top 40 radio stations[27] in a new alternate mix for airplay.[28] This second push of "Special" dovetailed with the announcement of nominations for the 41st Grammy Awards on January 6; Version 2.0 was nominated for both Album of the Year and Best Rock Album.[29] On January 26, "Special" was declared "#1 Most Added" track at Top 40 radio with 53 adds, beating out Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right but It's Okay".[22] "Special" peaked on Modern Rock at #11 on January 30 (in its 14th week on the chart).[30]

Garbage returned from a sold-out European arena tour (where during a gap in dates they performed both "Special" and "The Trick Is to Keep Breathing" acoustically on French TV show Nulle Part Ailleurs) to spend two months supporting Alanis Morissette on her North American Junkie arena tour from February 16 in Cincinnati, Ohio.[31] On February 20, "Special" registered on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart at #13, and, as mainstream airplay for the single increased, climbs to #1 in that chart over the next five weeks.[32]

On March 6, "Special" peaked at #10 on its ninth week on the Hot Dance Club Play chart[33]) and also debuted at #35 on the Hot Adult Top 40 chart. The following week, "Special" debuted at #40 on the Top 40 Mainstream chart. On March 20, during a break in the Junkie tour, Garbage performed both "Special" and "When I Grow Up" as that week's musical guests on entertainment show Saturday Night Live.[31] March 27 saw "Special" debut on both the Billboard Hot 100 chart (at #88[34]) and the Hot 100 Airplay chart (at #71[35]). Garbage continued to promote the single on talk shows Charlie Rose and The Late Late Show, and return to The Tonight Show to perform "Special" for a second time on April 2. The Junkie tour ended on April 7 in Los Angeles; the following week "Special" made its final appearance on one chart (Hot Dance Club Play, at #43, its fourteenth week) and its first on another (Top 40 Tracks, at #39). "Special" registered its last charting on the Modern Rock rankings at #35 on April 24, having enjoyed a twenty-six-week chart run (however, a week later, "When I Grow Up" debuted on the Modern Rock chart).

"Special" continued to ride high in the mainstream charts throughout May 1999; peaking at #16 on the May 8 Hot Adult Top 40 (in its tenth week on that chart);[36] and peaking for three weeks from the same date at #18 on the Top 40 Mainstream chart.[32] "Special" peaked at #22 on Top 40 Tracks chart seven days later.[32] The week of May 22 saw "Special" reach its highest position on both the Hot 100 (at #52, in its ninth week of thirteen)[37] and on the Hot 100 Airplay (at #42, and in its eighth of ten).[38] "Special" ended its chart runs on both the Hot 100 Airplay and Top 40 Tracks on June 5; on both the Hot 100 and Top 40 Mainstream on June 19; and after twenty-two weeks on Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks on July 31.

Track listings[edit]

Music video[edit]

In the year 3030, Queen Astarte has taken to the skies to defend her once peaceful homeland from the evil lords of Garbania who seek to rule the universe. She has but one last chance to thwart their wicked plan...

"Special" music video opening crawl

The promotional video for "Special" was filmed over a four-day shoot in London at the end of August 1998 by director Dawn Shadforth for Black Dog/RSA Films. Shadforth came to Garbage's attention when they viewed her clip for "Beat Goes On" by electronica group All Seeing I.[39] Her innovative storyboard treatment for "Special" highly impressed the band, as her concept was not an obvious idea for a song like "Special".[39]

In her concept for "Special", Shadforth featured the members of Garbage in a dogfight in the skies of an alien world. Before production of the video commenced, Shadforth fashioned four study models of the fighter planes to enable her to plan in advance the shots and edits she needed to tell the storyline. The planes were designed by graphic artists who had worked on visual effects for Lost In Space and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Each band member was given a personalized plane design, emblazoned with imagery inspired by manga and sci-fi art; while each filmed their parts in a cabin set built upon a gimbal to give realism to the shots.[40] Stylist William Baker, who worked on the video, said "Dawn wanted to present Shirley Manson as a space-age fighter pilot, with shots showing her sexily manipulating the controls of her craft." (Shadforth later used techniques she used on the "Special" video in her 2001 music video for Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head".)[41] The video ends with the phrase, highly ominous in context of its story line, "to be continued..." However, Shadforth, as of early July 2016, had formed no known plans for any follow-up videos.

Shirley Manson in the "Special" video.

Throughout 1999, the "Special" music video received a number of nominations from industry panels. In April, Garbage were the leading nominee for the MVPA Music Video Awards industry event, with six nominations shared between the videos for "Special" and "Push It".[42] "Special" was nominated for Best Special Effects (to SFX UK).[43] In September, the "Special" video was nominated for Best Art Direction and won the award for Best Special Effects at the MTV Video Music Awards (given to effects team Shawn Broughton and Stuart Gordon of Digital Domain).[44] In December, the "Special" video won the Visionary Video award at the VH1 Fashion Awards.[45] The "Special" video also won a 'silver' Design and Art Direction award for Best Direction in Pop Promo Video[6] and was nominated for a CAD (Creative and Design) Award for Best Special Effects (to Paul Simpson, Stuart Gordon, and Sean Broughton).[6]

The "Special" music video began airing across Europe in mid-September 1998 and premiered on North American music stations on December 6, 1998.[46] A remastered version of the full-length video was included on Garbage's 2007 greatest hits DVD Absolute Garbage,[7] and the original shorter edit made available as a digital download via online music services later the same year.[47] The full length video was made available to North American online music stores in 2010.[48]

Official mixes[edit]

Track title Length Remixer/Producer Commercial release
"Special (pop mix)" 3:35 Garbage No
"Special (Brothers In Rhythm club mix (radio edit))" 4:11 Brothers in Rhythm No
"Special (Brothers In Rhythm club mix)" 7:24 Yes
"Special (Brothers In Rhythm club mix)" 12" mix 9:58 No
"Special (Brothers In Rhythm club mix (Instrumental))" 10:00 No
"Special (Rickidy Raw R+B remix)" 3:25 Rickidy Raw Yes
"Special (Rickidy Raw late night mix)" 3:58 No

For the initial release of "Special", Brothers in Rhythm's remix was included. Several early press releases for the single also included a remix by Nellee Hooper, but this version remains unreleased. Rickidy Raw's remixes were commissioned to service to North American urban radio stations, and his "R + B remix" saw a commercial release in the UK on formats of "When I Grow Up" and in Europe on "The Trick Is to Keep Breathing"

In 2007, Brothers in Rhythm's remix was remastered and included on the Absolute Garbage bonus disc Garbage Mixes.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

"Special" end-of-year poll results:

1998 Polls

  • 42 in WHFS's "Top 99.1 Songs of 1998"
  • 51 in WFNX's "Top 101.7 of 1998"
  • 64 in KROQ's "Top 106.7 of 1998"
  • 65 in Live 105's "Top 105.3 of 1998"
  • 89 in Triple J's "Hottest 100 of 1998"
  • 102 in Radio & Records "Top 103 of 1998"

1999 Polls

  • 11 in KROQ's "Top 106.7 of 1999"
  • 16 in 89X's "Top 89 Songs of 1999"
  • 36 in Radio & Records "Top 103 of 1998"
  • 37 in Live 105's "Top 105.3 of 1999"
  • 51 in WHFS's "Top 99.1 Songs of 1999"
  • 54 in Q101's "Top 101 of 1999"
  • 57 in WFNX's "Top 99 of 1999"
  • 66 in The End's "Top 107 of 1999"

Credits and personnel[edit]

Release history[edit]

Release Date Territory Record Label Format(s)
September 21, 1998 United Kingdom Mushroom Records UK Airplay
October 5, 1998 2×CD single set, cassette single
Europe BMG CD maxi, CD single
October 12, 1998 United Kingdom Mushroom Records UK 3" CD single
United States Almo Sounds Airplay: Modern Rock
October 28, 1998 Australia Mushroom Records CD maxi
January 4, 1999 United States Almo Sounds Airplay: CHR/Top 40


Chart (1998) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[21][49] 54
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[50] 62
Canada Rock/Alternative (RPM)[51] 24
Europe (European Hot 100)[52] 38
Spain (AFYVE)[53] 25
Scotland (Official Charts Company)[54] 8
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[19] 15
UK Airplay (Official Charts Company)[55] 19
UK Indie (Official Charts Company)[56] 2
Chart (1999) Peak
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[57] 42
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[37] 52
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Airplay[38] 42
U.S. Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles (Billboard)[A][32] 101
U.S. Hot Modern Rock Tracks (Billboard)[58] 11
U.S. Hot Dance Music/Club Play (Billboard)[59] 10
U.S. Adult Top 40 (Billboard)[36] 16
U.S. Top 40 Mainstream (Billboard)[32] 18
U.S. Top 40 Tracks (Billboard)[32] 22

^ A Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles lists the top twenty-five singles which had not, at the time of publishing, charted on the Hot 100 chart. "Special" technically topped this chart.


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External links[edit]