The Specials - The Specials (Cover Artwork)

The Specials

The Specials: The SpecialsThe Specials (1979)
Ska and Reggae

Reviewer Rating: 4.5
User Rating:

Contributed by: SumWonSumWon
(others by this writer | submit your own)

Albums like the Specials' eponymous 1979 debut are the reason music fans can justify spending large quantities of time perusing around in record shops or online holding onto hope that "that next great album" is out there just waiting to be found -- that album he or she can put on and listen to from .
iTunes StoreAmazon

Albums like the Specials' eponymous 1979 debut are the reason music fans can justify spending large quantities of time perusing around in record shops or online holding onto hope that "that next great album" is out there just waiting to be found -- that album he or she can put on and listen to from start to finish, again and again. Albums like this are capable of such motivation because of one simple rule: If it happens once, it can happen again. This album is one of those classics, plain and simple. The most sought-after moniker in all of art, a classic has to do two things: channel the past and provide inspiration for the future. The fruits of the past make available the seeds for the future in a very literal sense here. One spin through and anyone versed in late `80s / early `90s ska and punk will recognize the catalyst for later classics such as Operation Ivy's "Take Warning," Sublime's "Badfish" and the Bouncing Soul's "Fight to Live," among others (I'll let you discover which songs they're buried in). Equally, a listener knowledgeable of ska prior to 1979 will recognize the brilliantly performed covers scattered throughout.

Riding the strength of A+ quality original material like the carefree "Night Club" ("I don't have to work / There's no work to do!"), the dark, apprehensive "Concrete Jungle" ("Animals are after me / It ain't safe on the streets"), and the condemning "Little Bitch" ("The only things you want to see are kitsch / The only thing you want to be is rich"), The Specials solidified ska's relevance outside of Jamaica. Throw in some exceptional covers ("A Message to You Rudy," "Monkey Man" and "You're Wondering Now"), their first single, "Gangsters," which has been added to the album's track listing in later editions and occasional Mick Jones-inspired, angst-driven guitar riffing and you get the best ska album released to date. You get a listening experience where, at a healthy 44 minutes in length, you are surprised when you hear the low-key, a cappella farewell of "You're wondering now what to do / Now you know this is the end," because it feels like the album has just begun.

On display is a hearty balance of tongue-in-cheek laughs (see "Nite Klub"), thoughtful social statements and criticisms ("Aint he cute? No he ain't / He's just another burden on the welfare state") from "Too Much Too Young") and positive messages ("Just because you're a black boy / Just because you're a white / It doesn't mean you have to hate him / It doesn't mean you have to fight") from "It Doesn't Make it Alright" -- all accompanied by uplifting, skillfully crafted and executed music.

I'm not meaning to suggest that the Specials attained perfection here, though. "Do the Dog" and "Too Hot" are a bit weaker than the rest of the material, and a legitimate argument can be made that there is too much cover material present. The lesser songs do not stop the party, however, and the covers are played so naturally that they blend right in. These are minor qualms, but enough to demerit the overall score to a 9.

Nearly 30 years after its release, The Specials shows no indication of loosing its enchantment. As long as songwriters keep finding inspiration in these 44 minutes, this album will thrive. Oh, and for the record -- what you do when you realize it's the end is simple: Hit the play button again and grab another beer.


People who liked this also liked:
The Clash - London CallingOperation Ivy - Operation IvyBad Brains - Bad BrainsX - Los AngelesDescendents - Milo Goes To CollegeTeenage Bottlerocket - Warning DeviceRamones - Rocket to RussiaDead to Me - Cuban BallerinaBig D and the Kids Table - Strictly RudeRancid - ... And Out Come The Wolves

Please login or register to post comments.What are the benefits of having a Punknews.org account?
  • Share your opinion by posting comments on the stories that interest you
  • Rate music and bands and help shape the weekly top ten
  • Let Punknews.org use your ratings to help you find bands and albums you might like
  • Customize features on the site to get the news the way you want.
Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
jazmincasablancas (February 25, 2011)

I love these punk rockers!

recordtheory (November 29, 2007)

Unparalleled classic. Hands down 10/10.

Luzzew (November 28, 2007)

Don't get me wrong, I love this album, but most of it is either covers (Message to You, Monkey Man, Too Hot, You're Wondering Now) or based on older reggae (Too Much Too Young, Gangsters)...


Cos (November 28, 2007)

only if his name was "grafixx"

grafixx (November 28, 2007)

did anyone else think the way this was written made it seem like some commie bastard with delusions of grandeur smoked a bowl and then decided to review a specials record?

ashtraymonument (November 27, 2007)

for all the people asking about the souls, listen to the beginning of concrete jungle and the beginning of fight to live.

86themike (November 27, 2007)

Dandy Livingstone did the orginal, and i kinda like it more.

Spazner (November 27, 2007)

Wait, the Specials' "A Message to You Rudy" is a cover? Who wrote it originally?

Torgo (November 27, 2007)

Score is for The Bouncing Souls and The Slackers.

lushj (November 27, 2007)

This album's a ten, and I appreciate how tough it is to review a stone-cold classic like this.

I love "Do The Dog" too, mainly because I relate it to drug use. I have no idea if it's an accurate interpretation or not, but I always took it to mean do uppers, not downers (speed rather than heroin, for instance). Which isn't bad advice, within reason.

baseball (November 27, 2007)

i can get behind this

fallingupwards84 (November 27, 2007)

bouncing souls?
besides that, great review

StuckInBielers (November 27, 2007)

I once read horace panter described as the most underrated bassist ever. When you listen to the basslines on here you realise thats absolutely true. I'd go as far as to say he rivals John Entwistle. I agree that Do the Dog is a bit wank.

1234go (November 27, 2007)

My one problem with this record is the production. Costello ruined it. Watch Dance Craze and then listen to this record. He took all the life out of the music. I don't think a single band from that era got a decently produced record.

Cos (November 27, 2007)

I'm not sure what the Bouncing Souls' "Fight To Live" has to do with 2Tone Ska, but I do love this album.

This review would be better served with words like "zeitgeist". The Specials captured a lot of the anxieties and strife of Thatcher's Britain, touching on the issues of the welfare state and race and classism that are way too complicated to be discussed in a record review.

But if you're really into this music, check out the social and political history of the country at that time, and you'll appreciate the Specials even more.

sugarfull (November 27, 2007)

good review, but I would think that the most coveted moniker in art would be something like "perfect" or "transcendant".

Exclusive Streams

Newest Reviews

Punknews.org Team

Managing Editor

Adam White

Contributing Editors

Kira Wisniewski Brittany Strummer Armando Olivas John Flynn Chris Moran John Gentile Mark Little

Copy Editor

Adam Eisenberg Britt Reiser

Podcast Producer

Greg Simpson


Aubin Paul

ISSN 1710-5366

© Copyright 1999-2013 Punknews.org

Terms of Use Privacy Policy Contact Us About Punknews.org

Other Places to Go