The Specials PhotoFORMED: 1977, Coventry, England

True innovators of the punk era, The Specials began the British ska-revival craze, combining the highly danceable ska and rocksteady beat with punk's energy and attitude, and taking on a more focused and informed political and social stance than their predecessors and peers.

The band was originally formed in Coventry in 1977 as the Coventry Automatics and later the Special A.K.A. by songwriter/keyboardist Jerry Dammers with Terry Hall (vocals), Lynval Golding (guitar, vocals), Neville Staples (vocals, percussion), Roddy Radiation (guitar), Sir Horace Gentleman (bass), and John Bradbury (drums). An opening slot for the Clash stirred up interest with the major labels, but Dammers instead opted to start his own 2-Tone label, named for its multi-racial agenda and after the two-tone tonic suits favored by the like-minded mods of the '60s. The Dammers-designed logos, based in '60s pop art with black and white checks, gave the label an instantly identifiable look. Dammers' eye for detail and authenticity also led to the band adopting '60s-period rude-boy outfits (porkpie hats, tonic and mohair suits, and loafers). The band released the "Gangsters" single which reached the U.K. Top Ten. Soon after, hordes of bands and fans followed in the same tradition and the movement was in full swing. Over the next several months, 2-Tone enjoyed hits by similar-sounding bands, such as Madness, the (English) Beat, and the Selecter. Late in 1979, the band released its landmark self-titled debut album, produced by Elvis Costello. They followed with several 2-Tone package tours and a live EP, Too Much Too Young (confusingly credited to Special A.K.A.). The title track, a pro-contraception song, was banned by the BBC but reached the number one spot in the U.K. At this time, the band switched musical directions, releasing album number two, More Specials, with a new neo-lounge persona. Signs indicated that the movement was fading and 2-Tone began to experience financial troubles. Nevertheless, a film documenting the Two Tone package tours, Dance Craze, as well as its companion album saw considerable success. The Specials released the timely "Ghost Town" single in 1981 amid race-related unemployment riots in Brixton and Liverpool. The single jumped to number one, but the band was falling apart. Hall, Staples and Golding left to form Fun Boy Three, leaving the band without its trademark voice. Dammers held on, reverting back to the old name, Special A.K.A. and enlisting a new vocalist, Stan Campbell. After several years in the studio, they returned with In the Studio in 1984. The album managed a few hits with "Racist Friend" and "Free Nelson Mandella" but the album stiffed. The band's final single, "What I Like Most About You is Your Girlfriend", failed to break the British top 50. Dammers dissolved the unit, pursuing political causes such as Artists Against Apartheid.

Shortly after the official break up, various members of the band joined up with other bandless ska-revivalists (English Beat, etc.) to form a touring unit named Special Beat. By the mid-90s, in response to a third wave of ska-revival, a Dammers-less version of the Specials reappeared with a series of shameful cash-in album, Today's Specials (1996), Guilty til Proved Innocent (1998), and Conquering Ruler (2002.) . ~ Chris Woodstra, All Music Guide