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"Ghost Town": a haunting protest song from 1981 that still makes sense today

"When we recorded Ghost Town, we did talk about the riots of those years. But the fact that the song gained popularity when all that horror was going on is just a coincidence. Nothing more."

We tell the story behind the legendary song about "Ghost Town" by the band The Specials

"Ghost Town." - world-famous ska song "The Specials.". It was released in June 1981 and quickly became a sensation: the song remained number one in England for three weeks, and its popularity only grew over the years. "Ghost Town." - such name Jerry Dammers gave to his creation, and for good reason: the lyric addresses the themes of urban decay. "Summer of Unrest" 1981 would go down in British history forever. During the same period, tensions between the band members were growing, which also affected the eerie mood of the track. As a result, "Ghost Town" was the last song recorded by the original line-up of The Specials together.

A true source of inspiration

Cover of the single "Ghost Town" by The Specials.
Cover of the single "Ghost Town" by The Specials.

The iconic composition was written by the keyboardist of The Specials Jerry Dammers. Inspiration visited the musician in his London flat in Tottenham. At first glance, it seems to refer to the sunset of the city of Coventry, where the band grew up, but the hidden meaning is quite different. According to Dammers, the lyric was born immediately after the three members of the band - Neville Staple, Linval Golding. и Terry Hall - left the band to form the Fun Boy Three. So, contrary to popular belief, "Ghost Town." was inspired by the split of the "musical family". In 2008, Dammers said:

"This song was about the breakup of The Specials. The situation seemed hopeless. But I just didn't want to write about my state of mind, so I tried to relate it to the country as a whole..." The hit writer continues, "In Liverpool all the shops were closed, everything was shutting down. In Glasgow, there were old ladies sitting on the streets selling household goods. It seemed like something creepy."

To write "Ghost Towns." It took Dammers a full year and he begged his bandmates to record the song to his specifications.

Spooky atmosphere

"The Specials."
"The Specials."

"Ghost Town." - is a strange and rather creepy song. It's part of Dorian Lynskey's book "33 Revolutions Per Minute"which is about protest anthems. However, a separate chapter, unlike another hit. "The Specials, Nelson Mandela.was not honoured. This can be explained by the fact that "Ghost Town" is not against any one event. The track does not encourage its listeners to adhere to any political views. It's more of a sly protest song than part of a social movement for change.

The composition begins with six rising organ notes Hammond before a wistful flute solo and paints a sombre aural and lyrical landscape. With references to cinematic soundtracks and music hall traditions, it reflects and generates anxiety. A whisper is then heard, followed by frontman Terry Hall's nonchalant vocals lamenting that "all the clubs are closed" because "there are too many fights on the dance floor".

One of the clubs mentioned in the song was. "The Locarno" from the band's hometown of Coventry.

Music video

A captivating music video for the song was filmed Barney Bubbles. The video shows the bleak scenery of British streets and buildings from a travelling car. At the end of the video we see "The Specials."standing on the banks of the Thames at low tide.

Locations shown in the clip include. Rotherhithe Tunnel and the semi-abandoned neighbourhoods of the East End. The group drives through them before ending up in the financial district of the City of London on an early Sunday morning when the streets are deserted.

About a real ghost town

In the early 1980s, there were terrible riots in Brixton,...
In the early 1980s there were terrible riots in Brixton

Coventry was a thriving industrial city in the 1960s, but hard times fell for it in the 1980s. "Ghost Town." captured the mood of the summer of 1981, when civil unrest unseen in a generation hit Britain.

People's March for Jobs, UK, 1981
People's March for Jobs, UK, 1981

Two years after the Conservative Party won the election led by the Margaret ThatcherIn addition, the aggressive economic policy of raising interest rates and taxes has reduced inflation, but has had a negative impact on the average person. At least one million people became unemployed in the period since 1980 by 1981 year, bringing the total number of people looking for work to a staggering 2.5 million, the highest in British history at the time. People from the Afro-Caribbean community were hit hardest as racially discriminatory tactics threw them onto the streets in a violent spiral of violence. What is now known as. "Summer of Unrest" 1981It symbolised the disillusionment of British youth with anything that smelt of government and authority. In the summer of 1981, riots took place in more than 35 locations across the country! Speaking about how the song relates to these events, singer Terry Hall emphasised:

"When we recorded Ghost Town, we did talk about the riots of those years. But the fact that the song gained popularity when all that horror was going on is just a coincidence. Nothing more."

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