“gangsters” – the specials (1979)


At some point or another, we have all had a fast one pulled on us. For some people, it is not enough to find their own way in life. They feel the need to validate themselves by invalidating others. By lying, cheating, and stealing, these people will try to get what they want. However, you have two choices in life and one of them is not give in.

“Gangsters” by The Specials is a great track with a fantastic back story. I was reminded of the song this week after a conversation about Bernie Rhodes. Rhodes was the manager of The Specials as well as other great punk and new wave artists like The Clash and Dexys Midnight Runners. Rhodes was “hands-on” type of manager, and that is putting it nicely. Whenever any of his acts were getting taken advantage of, he often resorted to threats and violence to rectify the situation. When a French hotel refused to give The Specials their instruments back, Rhodes applied his unique management style to the situation. As a result, it inspired a timeless ska track.

It isn’t easy to pick one single song from The Specials’ debut album. With each track arranged by incredibly skilled musicians and the production chops of Elvis Costello, the entire album is worth listening to in one sitting. However, “Gangsters” was a non-album single that has since been included on later CD and vinyl pressings. And it would’ve been a gangster-style crime to exclude such an iconic track.

Beyond the great back story that inspired the single, “Gangsters” is a solid example of English 2 Tone. With a brooding keyboard rhythm, manic horn section, and echoed vocals, “Gangsters” creates a killer vibe seething with criminality. It is a total mood setter that creates the illusion of one getting a glimpse into the seedy underworld of 1970s London. It creates an uncomfortable backdrop, but keeps it cool and collected. Remember, Bernie Rhodes don’t argue.

Don’t be afraid to stand up for your rights against those who use law to commit crimes. A position of authority doesn’t always indicate strong morality or ethics. Most of the time it does, but corruption permeates through all classes. Remember that the next time you vote.


1 Comment

  1. When I first heard that song, it changed my world. A bevy of wonderful artists surfaced the post-punk era, which included the Specials. The two-tone groups tried to inspire a message of harmony and peace between black and white kids of that era. Skinheads made a resurgence during that time, thanks to the far right National Front and British Movement. There was always a little competition between Madness and the Specials. Madness represent fun and frolics with East London charm. The Specials however hailed from Coventry, and bought a message of declining industry, such as steel. Note, this was not unlike what was happening in the U.S. steel mills. The late 70’s, early 80’s were dark times, but they brought out wonderfully contrasting troubadours; the like of which we may not see again. It is important to remember that without the Specials, The Jam, The Selector, The Clash, we would not have had the resurgence of ‘Brit Pop’ in the 90’s. For those of us old enough to remember from the U.K., we would have been left with some very flat Bucks Fizz.


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