As The Specials started to disintegrate with the world seemingly at their feet, their misfortune simultaneously reflected the increasingly polarised state of our nation. With unemployment passing two million, ‘Ghost Town’ was inspired by disturbing images of privation Dammers witnessed visiting towns and cities on the 1980 More Specials tour. Capturing the bleak post-industrial zeitgeist as well as shining a light on all those left behind, Dammers’ eerie lament charted in the Summer of 1981 as city centre flashpoints across the country started hitting the headlines.
The rotting cadaverous core of ‘Ghost Town’ reeked of urban decay, simmering violence and – more depressingly – resignation. Hitting the shelves almost a year ahead of Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Message’, ‘Ghost Town’ was absolutely of the moment yet simultaneously ahead of its time. As union-jack waving little Englanders marvelled at the seemingly perfect union of Charles and Di, ‘Ghost Town’ sat astride the hit parade leaving you wondering if there had ever been a better example of a truly divided nation.
Those same fissures were by this time all too evident in The Specials too, and with the situation apparently terminal the self-destruct button was pressed. The aforementioned trio’s bombshell was delivered to their bandmates immediately after they performed the track on Top of The Pops, the band’s classic line-up going out right at the top.
The record’s most memorable moment comes within the song’s rose-tinted retrospective two-liner, that brief flickering of warmth courtesy of the last 50p in the meter before the three-bar electric fire shut down for good.
Those seeking the ultimate ‘Ghost Town’ experience must hear the extended version. Clocking in at just over six minutes, the song’s stay of execution is granted thanks to Rico Rodriguez’s spellbinding trombone denouement, ably assisted by Dammers’ deranged haunted house Hammond organ. You can almost picture Dammers in his trademark wraparound shades and toothless grin, revving up the chainsaw as you lose consciousness.
Mean, moody and utterly magnificent.
Words by Michael Price
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