Still sounds like the best ska album, period
K. Swanson | Austin, TX United States | 01/30/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
When I heard the first Specials singles in '79 on our local new wave radio station, I was hooked. Talk about fun! These guys were clearly having too much of it, and we wanted in.
So when they released this unbelievably great album and toured behind it, their first show in town was packed, and along with the Beat show later that year was considered the highlight of the 80s for dance bands, no contest. Everyone I know who saw that show still feels the same way, 30 years later.
Every track here is excellent, and some, like Gangsters and Dog and Rudy, define the genre. The whole band plays their butts off; rarely will you ever hear a band this totally committed---no doubt the leapers helped! As if that weren't enough, their sense of humor lifts them above all other bands in the realm and makes this not only insanely danceable but funny as hell at moments. Add some intelligent political commentary and you've got one of the most well-rounded albums of fun music by anyone, ever. Strong words? Judge for yourself. Who can touch Terry and Lynval for fun, Dammers for those sweetly cheesy farfisa riffs, and Horace for those elastic bass lines that force you to your feet? No other band ever did this much this well, while laughing at it all as they made us dance until we dropped.
Incredibly, their second album is almost as good, but not quite.
For true fans, here's something special (hoho!): a few years ago I went on a tape trading tear and got almost every show that was taped from that first North American tour. I can tell you quite confidently that one tape stands head and shoulders above the rest, both for perfect sound and the band being in tip-top form. That show is from 1/25/80, at a club called Hurrahs, in NYC.
If you love this album like I do, you will worship that tape! It is in its own way almost better than this album; everything is played tightly and with that extra zing that the best gigs produce. Look around online and you'll find a free copy; grab it and groove! The 2/1/80 show from the Showbox in Seattle is also excellent, but the sound is weak. The Pinkpop show from 5/26/80 and the London Lyceum show from 12/2/79 are other standouts, but that Hurrah show is the bomb. I'm listening to it right now and am going to have to get up and dance to this amazing version of Gangsters.
There's a telling moment between songs on the Hurrah tape where Terry says, "you folks up against the wall, if you came here to analyze us, forget it; best to just dance like these [people] here". Which kind of sums up what makes The Specials so good: they were designed to make you dance, and though music has become mostly a spectator sport by now, there are some bands who understand that music may have been created in the first place for celebration. When you dance to music this funky and grooving, troubles melt away and are replaced by a deep sense of joy and well-being. Dancing is deep, even religious, as King Sunny Ade and many others make clear. But very few bands are both as danceable and funny as The Specials, and that's why they still rule this particular roost, three decades later.
The first Specials album: it don't get no better.
Which kind of begs the question---shouldn't all music be this much fun?