Ghost Town

Album: The Singles Collection (1981)
Charted: 1
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Songfacts®:

  • The Specials keyboardist Jerry Dammers wrote and recorded this in a Tottenham, London apartment. On the surface, it is about the decline of Coventry, where the band grew up, but the latent meaning is quite different.

    The song was written just as three band members - Neville Staples, Lynval Golding and Terry Hall - were leaving The Specials to form Fun Boy Three. According to Dammers, the song was inspired by the band's split. He said in 2008: "'Ghost Town' was about the breakup of the Specials. It just appeared hopeless. But I just didn't want to write about my state of mind so I tried to relate it to the country as a whole."

    Many in the UK could relate. Coventry was a thriving industrial town in 1960s, but fell on hard times in the 1980s. "Ghost Town" caught the mood of Summer 1981 as levels of civil unrest not seen in a generation hit the UK.
  • The song was influenced by scenes noted during the band's UK tour. Dammers recalled in an interview in the music magazine Mojo, "In Liverpool, all the shops were shuttered up, everything was closing down. In Glasgow there were little old ladies on the streets selling their household goods."
  • "Ghost Town" was the seventh UK Top 10 for The Specials and their second #1, following "Too Much Too Young." The song wasn't even released as a single in America, where the band tried and failed to break through in 1980 with a tour and an appearance on Saturday Night Live. They learned that getting on the radio and placed in record stores there was nearly impossible because there was no classification for ska or two-tone, and they didn't fit under the aegis of pop, punk, reggae or rock. It wasn't until the '90s that America warmed to the sound they helped create.
  • Dammers took a year to write "Ghost Town" and "begged" his bandmates to record it to his specifications.
  • The lyric, "All the clubs have been closed down," refers to the Locarno in Coventry. The site is now the city library. (above two from Q magazine, March 2008)
  • This was featured in the 2000 Guy Ritchie-directed film Snatch.

Comments: 6

  • Sarah from UkThis is a protest song about the consequences of Thatchers Britain. Later when a black member of the Specials was attacked, it also became an anti racist anthem. The song is still relevant today in both respects
  • Thomas from Coventry, EnglandHave to say that while I'm too young to relate to the early 80s, the city is still quite empty, with LEVC being the largest employer other than the hospital I believe. The state of the town centre has only degraded, as now 'clubs' are just shisha bars full of 14-17 year olds. If it became a ghost town with everybody moving from the violence and lack of jobs, it's now a hideous Frankestein's monster of relics from a bygone age mixed with attempts at rejuvenation (masses of new houses).
  • Ross from Leicester, United KingdomI think it was a bit more confusing than that. The Specials set out to appeal to a skinhead audience, as they recognised that skinheads weren't necessarily racist, but that the National Front were having an influence on the scene. There were racist and anti-racist skinheads, and some of the racist skinheads were into ska! This was on top of a very violent live music scene which included fighting between different subcultures (punks,mods,skins,teds,metalheads,etc) as well as local rivalries. This effected a lot of gigs, not just the Specials - as the song says "too much fighting on the dancefloor"!
  • Richard from London, United KingdomI heard this song was about white racists adopting ska as part of their culture. This lead to fighting at gigs and clubs, and places being closed down and people not wanting to go out. I might be wrong.

    I also know John Collins who mixed and produced it. He told me he got a call out of the blue one day, he hadn't really done much work like this but took it on anyway. He said he didn't really fit in with the band. They were all smoking drugs and he wasn't into that. John went onto make the music for the 80's TV show 'Desmonds'. I've met quite a few people who have said this is their favourite ever record.
  • Kayla from N. Lauderdale, FlSeriously, my favorite ska song ever. I vibe to it when I can.
    Btw, this song is even featured in the movie "Garage Days."
  • Gary from Chester, EnglandThis song epitomises mine (and 1,000's others) youth. Remember the riots, even had few here !!
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