100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s #46 The Specials – Ghost Town

Released : 1981

That punk had created the conditions for anything-could-happen in British pop was self-evident and one of the first half of the following decade’s most invigorating qualities. Even then a ska revival had seemed bottom of the list of likely possibilities when the Sex Pistols were appearing on Top of The Pop doing God Save The Queen.

The end of punk more or less dovetailing into Thatcherism was probably one of the reasons why Two-Tone proved so compelling to a society looking for new ways to rebel, a youth movement that shared Northern Soul’s appetite for amphetamines but had none of it’s cliquey elitism.

For a band who’d celebrated everyman hedonism on Enjoy Yourself, by the time Ghost Town arrived for The Specials the party was well and truly over. Two years further down the line, both the street repressions and national recessions caused by Westminster were in full effect, but with startling parrallels to now, communities chose to burn themselves out rather than vent their frustration on the real culprits.

In many ways Ghost Town was and remains the archetypal British protest song. It’s not overtly political lyrically and there’s no revolutionary call to arms, more a sense of creeping dread as Terry Hall and Neville Staples swap doomed pronouncements about the surrounding decay. Rising and falling to crescendos and with that wild, lunatic breakdown, the sense of tension between band members during the recording process also seeps through into the song’s tightness and menace along with the spectral keyboards and desultory brass. Hall, Staples and Lynval Golding left almost immediately after it was released. Less than a year later, Britain was at war.


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