Review Summary: This 16 track best-of compilation is a good way to get into these ska pioneers
No other band had quite the direct impact on the second wave of the ska/two tone genre as much as The Specials did. These pioneers formed in 1977 in Coventry England under the name The Coventry Specials and started the ska revival movement with their ability to fuse together reggae with mod and the British punk scene around them which helped set the basis for the genre which would only get more popular with time. Politically and socially aware, the band incorporated it in their lyrics blending in with a number of their punk counterparts at the time, although they had a much more keen sense on it then many others. But despite some explicitly political lyrics and sometimes controversial issues, the band experienced a fair amount of mainstream attention in their native Britain among other places. Though they formed in 1977, they did not gain much attention until The Clash’s Joe Strummer brought them out on tour with them for their ‘No Parole’ tour in the UK later in the year. In 1979, by now called The Specials, they released one of the most influential albums within the genre simply titled ‘Specials’
, which was produced by Elvis Costello.
The action of mixing together ska and punk became known as two tone. The term deriving from the unity of multi races as well as rude boys and punks. Founder and keyboarder Jerry Dammers started his own record label called ‘2Tone Records’ in which all of the bands albums were released on. The label was also home for other early ska bands such as Madness, The Beat and The Selector. The bands follow up to their 1979 debut was their 1980 album titled ‘More Specials’
and saw the band elaborate on more sounds and influences. The band released their third and final album of the original era with a slightly altered lineup (as The Specials A.K.A.) titled ‘In The Studio’
in 1984 but was not nearly as successful commercially as the previous two. However The Specials continued to influence ska bands alike for years to follow.
The Specials – Too Much Too Young
In 1996 a compilation was issued titled from one of the bands most well known songs, though it shouldn’t be confused with the live EP of the same name. Too Much Too Young
is a best-of compilation containing sixteen tracks spanning from 1979 to 1982. The record contains a good portion of each of the bands first two albums, as well as some singles but contains none of the bands final which not coincidentally is their least known album. The album is not in chronological order as most similar albums are, and the songs from the album are placed in random order. Too Much Too Young
contains the majority of the bands best and well known songs, although such popular hits as Ghost Town
being conspicuously absent. Production is where the album seems to hurt most, although it is not that bad. While the album is not under produced, it really doesn’t capture the bands energy as great as it should. And although it is not a live album where energy is vital, some originally lively songs have been somewhat dimmed by guitars seeming toned down and overdubbing. The albums art can be easily distinguished by fans of the band. The classic back and white checkered design by Jerry Dammers has been the base of their debut album, live albums, EPs and many following compilations, including this one so this would fit right aside of those. And as a bonus, the booklet comes with a brief band bio inside.
Obviously, their sound is deeply rooted in Jamaican reggae taking cues from early artists such as Clement Dodd, The Skatalites, Toots & The Maytals and Prince Buster, the latter The Specials doing several covers of. But what spawned the new subgenre was their addition of a punk atmosphere, whether it be the intense speed on some songs to the attitude to the lyrics. The six minute album opener and title track is a good overall impression of The Specials, though it leans more to the reggae, laid back side. Lead vocalist Terry Hall’s light, higher pitched voice contrasts greatly with the backing vocals of Neville Staples’ deeper voice, which is noticeable and works well in a good portion of the bands songs.
The Specials had many group members with sometimes ranging from seven to eight people not to mention guests on albums and songs. So with the abundance of members, naturally, we get an abundance of instruments, something that The Specials use to a great extent. Consisting of the base of the average rock or punk band of vocals, guitar, bass and drums, they pushed so much more into their music by adding in different kinds of percussion, piano, keyboard, saxophone, organ, trombone and trumpet, which is commonly used in many of today’s third wave ska bands. Songs such as Rude Boys Outa Jail
and Hey Little Rich Girl
displaying this array of diversity with the latter showing exquisite use of the sax while the former uses the keyboard just as effectively. And while some songs use a variety of instruments, others such as the energetic Little Bitch
focus more and speed and ska punk fury. The song itself has a familiar structure that wouldn’t seem out of line in modern songs if its kind, but the bands uniqueness shines through.
A Message To You Rudy
, which was originally a 1967 song by David Livingston, became a signature song for the band and represents the genres subculture. With a mid-tempo much laid back feel and the dominate use of the trumpet, it is sure to be one of the bands best and is. Do The Dog
follows along the same lines as ‘Little Bitch’ with speed and the trebling bass line being the main factor. Blank Expression
, taken from their debut, is a mellow song that emphasizes Hall’s voice and a traditional ska beat but what stands out is an excellent guitar solo from Roddy Radiation. (Dawning of a) New Era
enrolls a rock ‘n’ roll beat with a ska beat for a highlight here. Terry Hall’s voice is especially high here and it features one of the best backing vocal outings here. I can’t Stand It is the only track I would say is unnecessary here. With Terry almost sounding female and the overuse of keyboards pales in comparison to the rest here. Rat Race, one of the band last singles, is an excellent reggae song with one of the best chorus’s the band has done. The last track You’re Wondering Now
, first played by The Skatalites, is a short calm, mid tempo song but leaves the album on a lasting impression.
This compilation could serve well to new fans of the band, as the usual main goal of these albums are. Sure it has its faults by leaving out a few essentials, but for the most part is has the goods. It contains eight of the fourteen songs from their debut and seven of the twelve tracks from their sophomore album, not to mention a few singles. So it in a way eliminates a necessity of getting their first two albums, unless you really want to hear a few more songs. As for diehard fans of the band, sure this can be somewhat useless, but considering it was only $7.99, it wouldn’t hurt too much. But in summary Too Much Too Young
is a solid enough compilation from one of the most influential bands of its kind, essential for fans of ska.