On This Day – The Specials Release ‘Ghost Town’, 1981

On This Day – a new regular series dedicated to great moments in music history

30 years ago this week, ‘Ghost Town’ was released and struck a chord. The Specials‘ masterpiece was released on June 12, 1981 and hit Number One a week later – at a time when the country was caught in the grip of a seemingly never-ending recession, racial tension, rising unemployment and a general atmosphere of societal fear, anger and ennui.

Sound familiar?


The track was written by Jerry Dammers in part about Coventry. Drummer John Bradbury said: “When I think about Ghost Town I think about Coventry. I saw it develop from a boom town, my family doing very well, through to the collapse of the industry and the bottom falling out of family life. Your economy is destroyed and, to me, that’s what Ghost Town is about.”

But Dammers was also inspired by the scenes he saw unfolding during the band’s UK tour: “In Liverpool, all the shops were shuttered up, everything was closing down. In Glasgow there were little old ladies on the streets selling their household goods.”

A multi-racial band, the sound of ‘Ghost Town’ was a diverse mix of sounds and cultures. It also served as not so much a portent as a perfect slice of the civil unrest in Thatcherite Britain.

The track nevertheless has a sense of ominous prophecy about it. It’s filled with strange harmonies, unexpected minor chords and harmonies which sounded both like a greek chorus and vaguely satanic. The line “Why must the youth fight against itself?” is still haunting today.


Did You Know?
Just as ‘Ghost Town’ went to Number One, Neville Staples, Lynval Golding and Terry Hall all left to form Fun Boy Three. ‘Ghost Town’ was their last single.

Also on this day in music
*1987: Heart’s immortal power ballad ‘Alone’ hits Number One in the US.
*1970: ‘Self Portrait’ becomes Bob Dylan’s fifth UK Number One album.
*1968: David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ single released in the UK, to capitalise on publicity surrounding the moon landing.