Meaning of Ghost Town by The Specials

In the early eighties, the UK economy was going through a very difficult period. The cardinal reforms initiated by Margaret Thatcher, who came to power, will give results a little later, and then there were about three million unemployed in the country. The situation in society escalated to the limit, the number of strikes went into the thousands, and then mass unrest broke out.

The main musical theme of the wave of protests was the song Ghost Town (“Ghost City”) by The Specials. The composition so successfully reflected the mood that reigned among the masses of ordinary Britons that three major music magazines in the country immediately recognized it as the single of the year.

History of the song Ghost Town

The author of the famous song is Jerry Dammers. He later recalled:

You traveled from city to city, and what was happening around was terrifying. Shop windows were boarded up in Liverpool, everything was closed… We could really see it when we were on tour. You felt that disappointment and anger from the audience. In Glasgow, on the streets, little old women were selling household items: cups and saucers. It was unbelievable. It was obvious that something was very, very wrong.

The Guardian, 2002

The meaning of Ghost Town

Jerry told how the idea to write Ghost Town came about, what idea he wanted to convey to the audience:

About a year before the record was released, there was a riot in Brixton. Partly, I wrote a song about it. Besides, Britain was just falling apart. The automobile industry was closing in Coventry. We went on tour and saw a lot of things. Liverpool and Glasgow were especially bad. The general feeling I wanted to convey is that of an impending collapse.

The Independent

… it expressed the mood of many people in the early period of Thatcher’s rule in Britain. It was clear that something was going very, very wrong.


John Bradbury, drummer for The Specials, had this to say about Ghost Town:

When I think of Ghost Town, I picture Coventry [его родной город]. I have seen its entire history, from its rapid development when my family was doing well, to industrial collapse and falling to the very bottom of family life. Your economy is ruined – I think that’s what Ghost Town is about.


Recording and release

Sound engineer John Rivers (John Rivers), who participated in the studio work on the single, recalled:

Recording three songs for the record took about ten days. I remember that producer John Collins only came up with one suggestion for the whole session, but he really did the mixing, which was great. All the torment fell on my lot – there were problems with “incompetent” people.

I distinctly remember that insane vocal section in the middle section, when Jerry started to hum to himself so that we even thought he had lost his mind. But he was a relentless man, and he was right. He is a genius. And the flute part was recorded in the hall of my house. Horace, Brad and Lynval were the greatest rhythm section I’ve ever worked with.

The Independent

Jerry’s word:

There were strange, shortened chords: some of the band members resented the song and wanted the same simple chords as on the first album. It’s hard to explain how powerful it sounded. We were almost exhausted, and then, out of nowhere, Ghost Town appeared.

The Independent

Ghost Town was released as a single on June 12, 1981 and topped the UK charts on July 11. The next day, large-scale protests swept the country.

Ghost Town was later named single of the year by NME, Melody Maker and Sounds.

The Specials vocalist Terry Hall commented on the song’s success:

When we recorded Ghost Town, we talked about the riots in Bristol and Brixton. The fact that she became popular at that time was a strange coincidence.

The Guardian

Clip Ghost Town – The Specials

The music video for Ghost Town was directed by Barney Bubbles. The video, in which the musicians drive around a deserted city in a car, was very popular.

Interesting Facts

  • Ghost Town was the last single from The Specials. The tension that reigned within the band led to the fact that shortly after the release, the paths of the musicians diverged.
  • In the Ghost Town video, the members drive around town in a Vauxhall Cresta PA.
  • The song was featured on the soundtrack of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch.

Ghost Town Lyrics

This town, is coming like a ghost town
All the clubs1 have been closed down
This place, is coming like a ghost town
Bands won’t play no more
too much fighting on the dance floor

Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?
We danced and sang, and the music played in a de boomtown

This town, is coming like a ghost town
Why must the youth fight against themselves?
Government leaving the youth on the shelf
This place, is coming like a ghost town
No job to be found in this country
Can’t go on no more
The people getting angry

This town is coming like a ghost town x4

  • This refers to the club Locarno, where the members of the group often visited. The building now houses the Coventry Central Library.
  • Song quote

    Ghost Town was a difficult period for the members of the band. To one degree or another, we were all ready to grab each other’s throats. Everyone was very tense. Of course, it forces you to play in a certain way.

    John Bradbury

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