Indeed The Specials and Special AKA were at the forefront of a whole movement (ska and New Wave in particular) which went on to challenge the gross injustices of the system before and during the Thatcher era.
From Elvis Costello's subtle and moving anti-Falklands War song 'Shipbuilding', exposing the way our whole society had been manoeuvred from creation to destruction, to the more experimental and sadly-neglected
music of Working Week, whose song 'Venceremos' (with vocals from the incredible Robert Wyatt) linked the struggles of oppressed people across the world, without ever preaching. (Their high-energy jazz finds its modern equivalent in Melt Yourself Down incidentally).
The Specials were the band which did for ska what Bob Marley did for reggae; bringing it to a mass audience who'd never really encountered it before.
Recently, they've been back on tour and it's both disturbing and revealing just how relevant their songs are to our present predicament.
Red Poet Mike Church captures this in his poem 'Ghost Town Retro', the irony being that it isn't 'retro' at all!
'The Specials' Ghost Town is back on tour
Summer rioting, middle class dieting
A massive sea change
What ska did in this country with bands like these and The Beat, was to celebrate Jamaican music, while giving it a very down-to-earth street consciousness. It was an up-tempo sound mostly matched by hard-hitting, gritty lyrics. It took the essence of Marley's reggae, but dispensed with the religious burden.
'Ghost Town' itself is an extraordinary song, from the spooky atmospheric opening to the bleak scenario, it could quite easily depict our high streets nowadays.
'Too Much Too Young' is just as apt today as it was then : the tale of a single mother tied down by her child and full of regret. Jamaica and Coventry are joined musically, with dead-pan vocals from Halls and the dub style of Staples and Golding.
Observations of gang culture in 'Gangsters', of personally encountered racism in 'Racist Friend' (from Special AKA) and, above all, of callous capitalism in 'Rat Race' speak to us equally strongly now.
I recall two things related to this vividly from my days teaching at Pen-y-dre in Merthyr. One was a supply teacher called Dom who had been a mate of Jerry Dammers ( the main songwriting force behind both bands).
Dom was from Coventry, played the guitar well and refused to take any shit from the management, which meant that they soon got rid of him. He summed up the spirit of the age.
Secondly, I remember a disco at the school where about a 100 pupils all danced to the then hit single of Special AKA 'Nelson Mandela'. I'm not sure how many appreciated this rallying cry for the great man's release, but everyone sang along to the chorus.
At this time more than ever we desperately need bands willing to write about the lives of people suffering just as they did under Thatcher, or even raise voices of dissent.
Far too many don't want to take any risks and offend. Far too many come from the same kind of background as Cameron and Osbourne. Far too many simply don't listen to the likes of Springsteen, Ry Cooder and Loudon Wainwright who, in America, are actually railing (often with telling humour) against the dire effects of the New Depression.
THATCHER'S DEAD, YET STILL ALIVE
Thatcher is dead
yet she's still alive -
that pomp and ceremony
through London streets,
leaders of all the parties
Royalty and world figures
and she can't be buried
despite the burning of her effigy
somewhere up North
where coal used to be.
Thatcher is dead
yet she still speaks
through so many,
Boris and Cameron and Osbourne,
Balls and even Milli -
the weapon of unemployment,
Royalty to worship in their luxury
like Ceausescu's palace, Hussein's opulence
our media exposed so boldly.
Thatcher is dead
yet we live by her philosophy,
a house is an investment
and not a home
and we know that everyone's to blame
except those gamblers in the City -
the scroungers and immigrants
the weak in our abandoned valleys
where nothing's changed and nobody can hide
because Thatcher lives on inside.