Song of the Day (Shocktober): The Specials “Ghost Town”
English two-tone pioneers, The Specials, set the mood for the Halloween season perfectly with their spooky 1981 single, “Ghost Town”. The song is built around a reggae beat, eerie horn and keyboard riffs and a haunted chorus of backing vocals. While the song is likely ostensibly about urban decay and the hollowing out of England’s industrial towns in the late ’70s and early ’80s, resulting in violence, riots and mass unemployment, the group do such a good job of reinforcing the “ghost” elements, that the track became a staple of Halloween parties and mixes.
The song was written and recorded in the immediate aftermath of the 1981 England riots, which saw upheaval in both the working-class parts of London (notably in Brixton) as well as throughout several of the cities of the English Midlands and North. With many of the riots amplifying already extant racial tensions within England, a key goal of the notably multiracial group, The Specials, was to try to soothe tensions and draw focus to underlying causes of economic anxiety and their linked lack of release.
“Ghost Town” had an immediate impact, winning accolades from both listeners and from the UK music press, with the song being dubbed ‘song of the year’ and an important piece of social commentary by all three of the big UK music broadsheets (The NME, Melody Maker and Sounds) of the time. It remains a classic that works both during the festive Halloween season and in explaining elements of contemporary British society and politics.