The Specials: “Too Much Too Young”
The ska revival of the early ’80s that was one of the greatest of the punk offshoots wouldn’t have been what it was if not for the self-titled debut album by The Specials, released in late 1979. It was released nearly simultaneously with the first album by Madness, one of the other major instigators of the scene (The English Beat was slightly after, releasing their debut in 1980), but the Specials infused more of a political consciousness into their music, putting them more in line with bands like the Clash. It struck a deeper chord with those who might have felt that Madness was just a good-time party band, and it made fans feel more part of a true social movement, which I think helped the genre’s popularity. Don’t get me wrong, though: Madness was great as well — it was only when that party atmosphere was taken over the line into “stupid” by the more marginal ska group Bad Manners that it became a bit much. [On a side note, I feel the need to say this: most of the latter-day, 1990s-and-beyond, so-called “ska-punk” groups aren’t really ska at all — they’re generally nothing more than idiot lyrics set to a heavy, too-polished ska rhythm. Music to get drunk at a frat party by, and little more.]
The Specials (the album) was beginning-to-end greatness, combining smartly appropriated covers that fit completely into the band’s sound and outlook with great originals, primarily written by Jerry Dammers, the band’s de-facto leader. Occasionally the songs seemed mean-spirited, but you generally get the feeling that those bits were written by Dammers more out of anger at society, and were meant to make a point rather than attack the innocent. For example, “Too Much Too Young” may seem to be attacking teen girls who get pregnant out of ignorance, but if you look at the song in the context of the album and the times, I’m pretty sure that the point Dammers was trying to make was that Britain needed better sex education, less poverty, and more for bored British youth to do with themselves. But either way, it’s hard to deny that “Too Much Too Young” is a great song with a ghostly yet edgy sound, danceable yet lean and raw. You don’t need the shimmer of disco to get feet on the dance floor moving.