One of the defining moments of the ska music revival, at least in the UK, was the release of the album Specials by the group The Specials. Formed in 1977, the band was first called The Automatics and then The Coventry Automatics and finally, after calling themselves The Special AKA The Coventry Automatics, simply became the Special AKA.
Produced by Elvis Costello, their debut album not only catches the disaffection and anger felt by many young people of the UK’s “concrete jungle” (a phrase borrowed from a Bob Marley album and used to describe the grim and violent inner cities) but also encapsulates the British ska revival that basically reworks the original 1960s Jamaican ska.
(Ska is a musical genre that originated in Jamaica in the 1950s and was a precursor to reggae. Combining elements of Caribbean mento—Jamaican folk music that uses acoustic instruments—and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues, it is characterized by a walking bass line—a style of bass accompaniment, common in jazz which creates a feeling of regular quarter note movement—accented with rhythms on the upbeat.)
While The Specials recreated the energy and humor of the original ska sound they also infused this sound with a new found anger that captured the mood of the times along with a punk sensibility. To be sure, it is not as laidback as the original ska sound and by bringing the guitar fore as well as the horns, the sound comes across grittier and more energetic.
Like much of the music from this era, the music of The Specials still holds up well. Of course when you hear it today, you might think, “wow, that’s definitely late 70s or early 80s,” but it still has the energy that it had back then.