450. ‘Too Much Too Young – The Special A.K.A. Live! EP’, by The Specials

The 1980 ‘statement of intent’ continues… Following on from The Pretenders’ cool and cocky ‘Brass in Pocket’, the decade’s second #1 is some hardcore ska. Live ska.

Too Much Too Young – The Special A.K.A. Live! (EP), by The Specials (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, 27th January – 10th February 1980

Too much too young! the band announce, to a drum-roll. You done too much too young, You’re married with a kid when you could be havin’ fun with me… The drums and organs skip and thump – ska is basically reggae on speed – as Terry Hall spits out the lyrics. Ain’t it cool, No it ain’t, He’s just another burden on the welfare state… I mean, it puts a different spin on rock music not being child-friendly

Musically this is ska, or two-tone, but really this is as punk as things have gotten at the top of the charts. Hall sneers at the girl who went and got pregnant… Ain’t you heard of contraception…? and lists all the reasons why getting married and having a kid was a terrible idea (number one being that she won’t come get jiggy with him). The ferocious guitar solo is also as raw and gritty as we’ve heard in a chart-topper for a long old while. As great as the disco/electro years have been, it has all been bit glossy. There’s nothing glossy about this nasty little record. (The album version is slightly slower, and longer; but there’s a lot to be said for the rawness that comes across live.)

The best bit comes at the abrupt end – this is a record that barely makes it over the two minute mark – with possibly the finest closing line to any #1 single: Try wearing a cap! Unsurprisingly, the BBC would not play this bit. We’re only two number ones into this bold new decade and we’ve already had aggressive references to contraceptives.  

While ‘Too Much Too Young’ was the hit, this is an EP – only the second ever to top the charts – and so we should give the rest of it a quick listen. The second track on side-‘A’ is an instrumental, ‘Guns of Navarone’. It’s a cover of a 1961 hit by the Skatalites – great band name alert! – which was in turn a cover of a film score. It’s another short, sharp blast of ska, with some unintelligible (to me at least) scatting from Neville Staple. The lead trombone on the song is played by Rico Rodriguez – a near fifty-year-old ska veteran, and not a full-time member of the band.

The flip-side is where my patience with ska wears thin. It’s fine in small doses – I think ‘Too Much Too Young’ is a wonderful kick up the arse – but stretched into a seven-minute, three-part ‘Skinhead Symphony’, the relentlessness of the genre starts to grate. You don’t get any downtime. The final part is the best, a full on wig-out called ‘Skinhead Moonstomp’. The band yeah-yeah-yeahs, as Staple calls on all the rude boys and rude girls to stomp their boots to an ever quickening beat.

Phew! Away from the music, this is an interesting record. TMTY is very short – the shortest #1 of the entire decade and the shortest since ‘It’s Not Unusual’ in 1965. It’s also… I think… only the 4th #1 single to have been recorded live, after ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’, ‘The Wonder of You’, and ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ (though I’m sure I’ve forgotten one, or two.) Interestingly, half of this disc was recorded in London, and half in Coventry… where Chuck Berry had also recorded his classic (yes, I said classic) hit in 1972. Who knew Coventry was such a hot-bed of live music. Though, to be fair, The Specials were formed in Cov, so that could explain it…

This is a fun, palate-cleanser of a record, that again proves that January is often the most interesting month for chart-toppers. The Specials will be back next year, with their masterpiece. And we’ll be back, in a couple of days, with a recap.

Catch up with everything so far, before the next recap: