Tag Archives: The Specials

Acclaimed Albums – The Specials by The Specials

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 225/250Title: The Specials
Artist: The Specials
Year: 1979
Position: #185

As part of his own journey through the 1001 TV show list, my husband has been watching old episodes of the UK chart show Top of the Pops. For some reason, we watched one of these last night from late 1979 and had a good time watching timeless classics like ‘Luton Airport’ and ‘Iron Lady’. First out of the gate was ‘A Message to You Rudy’ by The Specials, which inspired today’s choice.

I haven’t exactly been listening to a lot of music these last two weeks because I have been trying to catch up on my four-month podcast backlog, so this album has the odd position of not having any surrounding music to be compared to. That is until I got to ‘(Dawning Of a) New Era’, whose intro gave me the overwhelming urge to listen to ‘Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me’ by The Pipettes. There must have been some kinship in the music, even if the genres are pretty different.

The Specials is a bit of an anomaly within the albums list as it is the only 2-tone entry on there. The name pretty much gives away the meaning – a band of a ska influence that is made up of members form a range of different ethnic backgrounds. This is further highlighted by the chessboard pattern on the album cover.

Ska music in general is not my cup of tea, but it was interesting to see how many of these songs I ended up knowing. I knew ‘Monkey Man’ and ‘Blank Expression’ thanks to covers by Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen respectively.

However, ‘A Message to You Rudy’ is the main one I had heard through the years, primarily from adverts and period dramas. It’s one of those pieces where the style of music is extremely evocative of a moment in time – specifically the early years of Thatcher’s premiership and the hardship felt my many around the country thanks to her social policies. The rest of the album has shades of anger because of this hardship which helps to make it a very interesting time capsule.

1001 Songs – 1979: Part Three

Usually for these posts I insert YouTube clips so you can listen along, this plugin doesn’t appear to be working anymore. Sorry about that.

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Outdoor Miner – Wire

Not sure I’ve ever heard of a label asking a band to make a song longer for a single, but with the album version clocking in at a slender 01:44 – you can see where they were coming from. This is a post-punk song that has the potential for mass commercial appeal – like I can hear this song in a lot of music I listen to that’s being made now, but also it feels like a song that could have been in a car commercial. Really like this one.

Rapper’s Delight – The Sugarhill Gang

Thanks to comedian Paul F. Tompkins, I cannot hear the name ‘Sugarhill Gang’ without thinking of his character Cal Solomon.

This is not the first rap single. I’ve heard rap before when doing this list, so I am already seeing this as a bit of a development from there. It’s also weird that I’ve heard ‘Good Times’ by Chic, which this song samples heavily.

What this is, is one of the most important singles in American history because of how it helped to raise the profile of rap. It was controversial at the time since it took an art form that is improvisational by nature and gave permanence to a single performance.

California Über Alles – Dead Kennedys

Given how quickly it appears that punk exploded in 1977 and left post-punk in its wake – it’s interesting to actually hear some purer punk that was still going on. I mean it makes complete sense that these bands would still be going, but it took a lot of songs before we got here.

Weirdly though, I cannot hear the delivery of this song without thinking of ‘Rock Lobster’ by the B-52s. Means that there must be a surf rock element here holding it all together, but the predominant genre is very much punk.

Typical Girls – The Slits

Back in the world of post-punk, but this time with a bit of a reggae influence. Also, one of the rarer instances of an all female punk group – giving a different perspective in this genre than I’ve really had before. Because of the reggae guitar breaks, this isn’t really a song for me – but it is interesting to hear a very different take of a genre that I’ve heard a lot of in these 1001 posts.

Atomic – Blondie

For me, ‘Atomic’ is one of the great songs. The lyrics mean nothing, but you cannot help but sing along to them. It’s a genre mash-up of new wave, rock and manages to fit in a disco-style dance break. The beginning guitars are a rip-off of the kid’s song ‘Three Blind Mice’. Somehow all of these elements make this brilliant feel-good song. Maybe I’m biased because I love Blondie, but it sounds like nothing else on this 1001 list.

Gangsters – The Specials

I don’t usually like ska, but wow if this song didn’t crawl into my head. I have yet to listen to the debut album by The Specials for the albums challenge, but after listening to ‘Gangsters’ I think that their take on the genre might appeal to me. After all, this is the band that gave us ‘Ghost Town’, so I should have had a bit of faith. It’ll be interesting to see how I respond to a full album of this though.

Cars – Gary Numan

The second Gary Numan song (after Tubeway Army’s ‘Are Friends Electric’) in the 1979 section of the 1001 list and it is another classic of synth music. Like, this is one of those songs that I don’t think I have ever heard all the way through before outside of playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, but it is so synonymous with this era and style of music that I feel I heard parts of it for all of my life.

I don’t think I know any of his music from after 1979, like he basically threw all his tricks into one big year and then just became irrelevant after he became iconic. Very strange.

Babylon’s Burning – The Ruts

A technically proficient song where we see another reggae-infused punk song, this time with a harder rock vocal and overall feel to it. Honestly, that’s all I have to say on it. It’s a decent enough song, but I’m not sure I find it too interesting.

Message in a Bottle – The Police

And so we close out the 1970s for the 1001 list after who knows how many years and posts. We have seen the rise and explosion of punk, the emergence and destruction of disco and the resilience of reggae to outlast so many other genres. It’s fitting therefore to end on a song that infuses two of the three big musical trends.

‘Message in a Bottle’ is no ‘Roxanne’, then again few songs are, and it’s weird for me to hear Sting put on a full reggae accent when I mostly know his voice from ‘Every Step You Take’. I’m, again, not the biggest fan of this sub-genre of music but it’s one of the better songs of this batch.

Progress: 526/1021