Ghost Town is a remarkable time capsule of a song that showcases early 80;s UK turmoil and dilapidation in both Government, Unemployment, Urban Decay and the overall mood of the country through second wave Two-Tone Ska. Sad times happened in 1980 and 1981 (many riots!) and this song hit at the right moment. Band leader Jerry Dammers wrote the lyrics as a response to all the essence that was draining before him. People were losing jobs and living on the streets, the government was in shambles, recession swept through, businesses were closing with boarded up windows to show, clubs that once housed young adults on the weekends were empty, frustration, anger, doom, and so on and so on. Lyrically “Ghost Town” is so well written that it needs to be studied in creative writing courses in regards to prose and use of imagery.
It;s incredible that The Specials were actually able to record the song at all. As history now shows, inner turmoil was seeping through the group and breaking up didn;t seem far away. Their second release, 1980;s More Specials, didn;t exactly light up the charts and the reception was not as fawning as given to their excellent self-titled debut. After some lengthy time off from touring the members came together to whip out the three tracks on this ep, and after barely making it through the recording process, ending up having the #1 single in 1981 and song of the year in popular UK mags like Melody Maker and NME.
The ep was originally released on 7-inch but then given an extended edition on 12-inch. The extended edition is the one to go for. Each track is given a bit more time to breathe which added depth and insight. “Ghost Town” is the best example. The instrumentation is exceptional and when you read about the recording process the band went through with mono and 8-tracking each instrument separately, the end result is wonderful to hear. Roots reggae was an inspiration and the song's co-writer and producer John Collins stated:
“As we were recording eight-track, I did go with a track plan. I wanted the drums in mono on one track, the bass in mono on another and the rhythm ““ that shuffle organ and Lynval's DI'd guitar ““ on another. They're the backbone of a reggae song. Then there was brass on another track, lead vocals on another, backing vocals on another, and various little bits and pieces dropped in... 'Ghost Town' is basically a mono record with stereo reverb and echo that I added in the mix... The same applied to the brass: John Rivers put one mic in the middle of the room, placed Dick Cuthell and Rico Rodriguez in diagonal corners, and when we listened in the control room it sounded great. Recording simply in mono really helped the instruments balance themselves."
Truly a testament to the rugged early days of studio tinkering and doing the best with what you got, “Ghost Town” sounds enormous and lush with atmosphere. The decision to make the song sound both eerie lyrically (the chant "This town is coming like a ghost town”“ is repeated many times throughout the entirety) and instrumentally (a synthesizer was used to create the ghostly fade in and fade out) was a genius move despite some members backlashing against the style Dammers and Collins wanted.
The rest of the ep is quite good as well. Second track “Why”, written by guitarist Lynval Golding, is a song in response to a racist attack he encountered outside a club which left him hospitalized with broken ribs. Lyrically it;s also stellar and lines such as: “I know I am black / You know you are white / I'm proud of my black skin / And you are proud of your white, so / Why did you try to hurt me? / Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why”“ hits hard in the face of racism all while hiding behind a pretty fun sounding Ska pop song. Third and final track, "Friday Night, Saturday Morning", is another gem and its self-deprecating tone, with an enormous amount of irony and sarcasm in the lyrics, is very familiar to this writer here. “Out of bed at eight am / Out my head by half past ten”“ Ugh”
This little ep contained the final recordings of the original
lineup of The Specials before members Terry Hall, Neville Staple, and Lynval
Golding left to form Fun Boy Three. It would be many years until the original band
fully reunited, but what they left behind in recordings was golden. Ghost Town as both an ep and song itself
is needed listening. If you haven;t heard this already what is wrong with you?
Dig it now man!