Where’s our ‘Ghost Town’?


So there we were, a week or so ago, out on a Saturday night for a curry, Me and Mrs. 17 Seconds, and quite a few friends, including members of Aberfeldy and the Last Battle.

At one point during the meal – in relation to discussions about the Tory HQ in London being stormed at tuition fees, someone said ‘Where’s our Ghost Town?’

To which someone else replied ‘Give the bands a chance [the Colation]’s only been in for a few months!

I think if you’ve read this blog before, you probably know how I feel about the present government. It’s not to say that having a right-wing government in power automatically leads to a counter-culture of music, books and film, and as Mike Leigh pointed out on TV one night, not something that should be taken as being a good thing either.

But just watching this video nearly thirty years after the song came out…it’s never been more timely, sadly:

The Specials -‘Ghost Town.’ mp3

This was the Specials’ last single before they split; though the Special AKA worked with Rhoda Dakar to produce a record that remains truly frightening, about date rape, entitled ‘The Boiler’ and then to score a major hit with ‘Free Nelson Mandela.’ Two very different and awesome tracks.

Rhoda with the Special AKA -‘The Boiler.’ mp3 (*WARNING* – this track will freak you out. You have been warned)

The Special AKA -‘Free Nelson Mandela.’ mp3

Of course, there were other British folks* writing political music in the eighties, writing about what was happening in Britain and further afield. Elvis Costello wrote ‘Shipbuilding’ about the Falklands War, which was also performed by Robert Wyatt; and also two other classics in ‘Pills and Soap’ and ‘Tramp the Dirt Down.’ Morrissey’s solo debut Viva Hate finished with ‘Margaret On the Guillotine.’ The Jam did ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down…’ and then there was pretty much the whole career of Billy Bragg, New Model Army…yet the last twenty years have seen little to compare with these. Sure there have been a few songs; Apache Indian’s ‘Movin’ On (Special)’ about the election of the first BNP councillor in 1993; early stuff from the Levellers (Check out ‘Battle Of the beanfield’ and Gene’s 1999 single ‘As Good As It Gets’ about New Labour.

Of course, songs do need to be good and get out there. ‘Ghost Town’ was a number one. Billy Bragg’s ‘Take Down The Union Jack’ may have had admirable sentiments but the song was piss-poor, frankly.

What we need is a song that is a HIT that unites the people. Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?

Elvis Costello -‘Shipbuilding.’ mp3

Robert Wyatt -‘Shipbuilding.’ mp3

Gene -‘As Good As It Gets.’ mp3

Billy Bragg -‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards.’ mp3

* I’m not meaning to undermine how important Hip-Hop was here – Public Enemy alone deserve several posts devoted to them.

Probably the most unnerving single ever made

Music in polls can be a funny thing. Leaving aside the whole issue of bias, it’s weird what comes up. In a poll for the Guardian, this song came third, perhaps predictably behind Suicide’s ‘Frankie Teardrop’. In 1982 it was no.8 in the NME Writer’s Top 50 singles of the year, beating New Order’s Temptation, Dexy’s Midnight Runners ‘Come On Eileen’ and even ‘My Baby Just Cares For me’ by Nina Simone.

In fact, most people would feel that the definition of a great single was one that was designed to be played again and again. And I would agree.

Except here.

This single is pretty much the exception that proves the rule. Back in 1982, after the Specials had split, with the Fun Boy Three being formed. Jerry Dammers had formed the Special AKA who a couple of years later would make one of the greatest protest songs ever, in ‘Free Nelson Mandela.’ This was the first post-Specials single, and managed to make no.35 in the charts, which considering it’s content was no mean feat.

Featuring Rhoda Dakar, previously of The Bodysnatchers, it’s a track that is harrowing in the extreme. An excellent article here at Sweeping the nation sums it up best.

The song is spoken, not sung, and certainly not rapped. It deals with the story of a woman, with appalling low self-esteem who’s picked up by a guy in clothes shop, takes her clubbing and then attacks her.

In Gary Mulholland’s superlative This Is Uncool: the 500 Best Singles Since Punk and Disco, he writes that he bought it, played it once, freaked out and played it once again when writing the book. He mentions that this song about rape – which horrifies the listener even more than Tori Amos’ autobiographical ‘Me and a gun’ – had been released into an environment where a judge had accused a rape victim of ‘contributory negligence’ (sic) for hitch-hiking alone before an attack. No, your honour, nothing but nothing justifies this.

I post this, certainly not to shock, but because I was reminded of it whilst reading a post on the Specials over at Teenage Kicks and, even more importantly because everyone should hear this at least once. I’ll understand, though, if you feel you can’t face it, or feel you want to delete it afterwards.

Rhoda with the Special AKA -‘The Boiler.’ mp3