"Ghost Town" By The Specials
by Mark Nobes, chief editor
"Ghost Town" became The Specials second single release to top the UK singles chart ("Too Much Too Young" reached No.1 in 1980), and was released during the summer of 1981 as a standalone (non album) single.
The song was written by Jerry Dammers in his Tottenham apartment in London. At the same time, Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staples we leaving the band to form Fun Boy Three.
The lyrics are about the high unemployment and urban decay suffered by coventry (and other inner cities) during the early 80s under Margaret Thatcher's conservative government. They were influenced by the scenes the band had witnessed during their UK tour, particularly the shuttered and boarded up shops in Liverpool.
I was 13 years old when this song was released, but unemployment was still a huge problem when I was released into the jobs market three years later (not a pleasant experience!) and there were well over 3 million people claiming the dole.
There was also rioting in several British cities while the song was in the charts, and the violence caused by young people with no jobs is touched upon in the line "Why must the youth fight against themselves, government leaving the youth on the shelf".
The song certainly captures a very depressing period for Britain's young adults.
40th Anniversary Edition Maxi 12" Single
Although the lyrics are sparse, they do address the frustration and anger of the time, and not many words were really needed with the British public already witnessing the rioting on their TV screens, or experiencing the misery of unemployment and urban decay for themselves.
There was also in-fighting amongst the band members after a heavy touring schedule took it's toll, and it was the last song to be released by the original seven band members before they split-up.
Quick Fact: Did you know that "Ghost Town" was the No.1 top-selling vinyl single of 2021? Well you do now!
Two extra tracks were included on both the 7" and 12" vinyl releases. "Why?" was penned by the band's guitarist Lynval Golding, and is about a violent, physical racist attack on him outside the Moonlight Club in London which left him with broken ribs an requiring hospital treatment.
"Friday Night, Saturday Morning" was written by frontman Terry Hall, and describes an unexciting night out in Coventry.
The single entered the UK singles chart at No.21 on 14th June 1981, while Smokey Robinson was at No.1 with "Being With You". It was also the highest new entry that week. "Ghost Town" reached No.1 on 5th July, pushing Michael Jackson's "One Day In Your Life" down to No.2. Bad Manners were at No.3 with "Can Can". The single spent three weeks at No.1 before being replaced by Shakin' Stevens "Green Door". It spent a total of 14 weeks in the UK Top 100, and also reached No.3 on the Irish Singles Chart.
Although the band are from Coventry, the video for the song features the band crammed into a 1961 Vauxhall Cresta, all with blank expressions on their faces and driving through the deserted streets of London. Directed by Barney Bubbles, the band's bassist, Panter, is at the wheel, and takes them through the semi-derelict areas of London's East End.
However, it opens in the financial district in the early hours of a Sunday morning, looking upward at the towering glass skyscrapers (making them seem even more out of reach to the working classes) while an eerie, synthesized wind opens the song. Combined with what sounds to me like an egyptian style flute solo, and those old school horror movie organ riffs, the video gives a chilling, almost apocalyptic vision of Britain's inner cities.
The band become sarcastically jovial about halfway through the song as the lyrics reminisce about the "good old days inside the ghost town" during a song break.
The video ends with the band throwing stones into the river Thames in an area of semi-derelict industrial buildings.