The Specials: Ghost Town US 12″ 
- Ghost Town [extended version]
- Why? [extended version]
- Friday Night Saturday Morning
“Ghost Town” was a non-LP single by The Specials that made a really big impact in 1981. The song was inspired by the recessional malaise afflicting Britain as the 70s became the 80s as well as events like the beating that Lynval Golding had received the previous year from racist scum. The latter event was directly addressed in the B-side, “Why?” but it probably colored Jerry Dammer’s succinct but dark snapshot of British society ca. 1981. That the single arrived as the country had erupted in a wave of race riots was down to it having it’s finger right on the pulse of the zeitgeist.
The song was more of a venture into reggae than the upbeat ska sound that the band was known for. The track opened with the sound of desolation [was that a siren in the distance through the howling winds?] as Dammers’ rising organ crescendo served as an establishing shot of Britain at an impasse. The serpentine flute weaving through the skank was a last-minute addition to the song, but thankfully, Dammers had the idea to add it, even though all eight tracks on the master were gone by that time. It pulls the listener into the foreboding environment brilliantly.
Then the malevolent swagger of the horn section hit with great impact. It sounded like a minor key Bond theme with John Barry going bluebeat. Interestingly, the lead vocals here were from Neville Staples with nominal lead vocalist Terry Hall only offering a line in the verses with him taking full lead strictly on the middle eight over the sound of conspicuous jollity from the past that was absolutely missing everywhere else in the song.
Jerry Dammers sought out a different producer who normally worked in reggae for this song, which he had been planning for long months before the rapidly disintegrating band managed to record it in producer John Collins’ small 8-track studio. Collins normally cut reggae sides and he recorded this song in much the same way. Eight tracks in mono run through a stereo reverb for effect. When Dammers got the inspiration for the flute, it had to be overdubbed on a track with the brass already recorded. And the brass section had already left by that point. Needless, to say, it was white-knuckle time in the recording booth as this went down. One slip up and the brass track would have been ruined. I’d like to think that this further tension added to the vibe of the song.
What with the band flying apart and the sentiments of the song reflecting their environment so acutely, I cannot imagine it not being the impactful song that it clearly was. The Specials would splinter as the song was lodged in the number one spot on the British charts with Hall, Staples, and Golding leaving to form The Fun Boy Three, but not before this classic was released by the band. If you’ve never heard it… then by all means hit play!
I remember wanting the US 12″ of this song since it came out but I can’t say I’ve ever seen it in the bins. Not even the UK version. My copy of this song comes from the immaculate compilation of 2Tone singles “The 2Tone Collection – A Checkered Past” as compiled by Vinny Vero during his “tearing it up” years at EMI when he first came to my attention. This 2xCD contained every 2Tone A-side released by the Chrysalis imprint. It more than works for me thought I would not say “no” if I ran across the extended 12″ of this one!
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