65. The Specials – Ghost Town (1981)

OK, back to some history and politics. If you recall, in 1979, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister. The British economy was in a dismal state, and the very conservative Thatcher adopted a wide range of social and economic policies that primarily protected the rich and left the poor to suffer through her eleven years in office. (I’m sure that, like Grindelwald, she imagined she was doing this “for the greater good.”)

This may sound melodramatic and one-sided, but it’s tough to be even remotely balanced when discussing Thatcher. There’s a new biopic about Thatcher starring Meryl Streep called The Iron Lady coming out that will open in January, and already the old wounds are re-opening; you should be prepared for some heated discussion about the film in the coming weeks.

One of Thatcher’s core beliefs was that inflation was a bigger problem than unemployment, and so she focused her economic policy on raising interest rates, cutting taxes on the rich, and cutting spending for the needy, rather than on creating jobs and maintaining a strong social safety net. As a result, the poor bore the burden of the suffering, and life in the inner cities got very tough as unemployment rose. Civil disturbances began in 1980, and Jerry Dammers of the Specials wrote “Ghost Town” to reflect the urban decay and violence that were coming to characterize inner city life.

Note the combination of reggae and middle eastern influences in the backing track — The Specials were looking to bridge cultures, creating solidarity within the working class across racial lines. When the band put the song out in 1981, tensions were reaching a boiling point, and when the riots broke out over the summer of 1981 in 35 different cities, “Ghost Town” became a soundtrack for the summer — bleak, nihilistic, trancelike. And The Guns of Brixton were lurking in the wings.

The Specials


2 thoughts on “65. The Specials – Ghost Town (1981)

  1. k- says:

    One of the greatest songs. Ever.

  2. jelmodeelmo says:

    The history behind this song sounds slightly similar to what was happening in the 80s in the US. It just seems like the 80s was a time for a lot of poverty, followed by loads of upset. (Understandably so).

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