Tune du Jour: “Ghost Town” – The Specials
THE CLASH of Cover Tunes: Desorden Publico vs. Elvis Costello and The Roots
Peruse, Comment and Vote (I Beseech, Implore and Urge Thee, respectively)
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1981 and England could not look more bleak. Excessive inflation, spiraling unemployment, urban decay, racial tension, Margaret Thatcher, endless recession, distrust of the police, disdain for the government and a pervasive all-encompassing perception of despair, especially among the youth.

"Free markets will not prevail without unfettered competition among cover songs." - Milton Friedbyrd

“Free markets will not prevail without unfettered competition among cover songs.” – Milton Friedbyrd

It was behind this backdrop that The Specials released the single Ghost Town. England had been suffering through an economic plunge for quite some time. During their 1980 tour of the UK, The Specials witnessed cities with endless streets of boarded-up former businesses, people on street corners selling household wares for food and a growing frequency of racially motivated fights on the dance floor.

As Jo-Ann Greene of AllMusic put it, “No song better captured the mood of the day than this June, 1981 single…The image it offers is one of pure desolation and utter barrenness, the empty streets whipped by deadly breezes, while ghostly images momentarily shimmer brightly, cruel reminders of happier days before the holocaust struck.”

Ghost Town rose quickly to number one of the UK Singles Chart and remained there for three weeks.  It spent a total of ten weeks in the Top 40. Ghost Town was named “Single of the Year” in Melody Maker, NME and Sounds, the UK’s top three weekly music magazines at the time. AllMusic’s review of the original single argued that the song was the band’s “crowning achievement”.

Ghost Town also served as somewhat of a harbinger of doom. In April 1981 the Brixton district of London erupted into two days of serious rioting with reports suggesting that up to 5,000 people were involved. Beginning in July 1981, while Ghost Town was at or near the top of the charts, major riots broke out in over 35 locations around the UK.

Ghost Town was also the last recording that The Specials would produce. During their 1980 tour, tensions ran high among members of the band. Soon after releasing Ghost Town, as cities across the UK burned, The Specials likewise disintegrated.

The Original

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The Specials:

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THE CLASH of Cover Tunes

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Desorden Publico vs. Elvis Costello & The Roots with La Marisoul

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Desorden Publico:

Pueblo Fantasma (Ghost Town):

Elvis Costello & The Roots with La Marisoul:

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Oh the disharmony! Much like Harlan County there are no neutrals here. Only one cover tune will live to play another day and it is your solemn responsibility to decide which one prevails. So tell me … Which Side Are You On?!!?

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Votes can be cast up to three months from the day and time of the original post.

Disclaimer: Votes cast from Florida may or may not be counted.

  1. Cuspid says:

    Yo pienso que me prefiero mucho el version de Desorden Publico. La music es mejor, y el voz tambien.

  2. Arnold Plotnick says:

    It’s no secret that I’m an Elvis fan, but I give this one to Desorden Publico. I think Elvis was resting on his laurels on this one. You know, I remember when this song came out in the early ’80’s. The song received a lot of acclaim for capturing, lyrically, the depressing mood of what was going on in England at the time. Riots, unemployment, violence. The Specials toured and saw destruction in every city they landed in. Some of the cities looked so different to the band. Streets were deserted, violent gangs roving the streets, that he said that some of these towns looked like ghost towns now. It inspired the song. I’ll bet Doug remembers this well, as he was a big Specials fan. I think it was their last single as a septet.

    • RDubbs says:

      Arnie, you effectively summed up what I wrote in the Intro.

      And, yes, this was the last single The Specials, at least the original members, produced.

      Here I thought I was writing a Pulitzer Prize winning piece last night and it goes unread! Sheesh…Sheesh…Sheesh,..That’s really all I can think right now. 😦 😦 😦

  3. RDubbs says:

    This could be the hardest choice thus far. (Someone did a splendid job of selecting these covers!)

    Desorden Publico’s cut is fantastic. Dead on in spirit with some subtle wondrous changes. And there’s something about hearing a great song covered in another language that really appeals to me; I have no idea why but it just does. And finally, many extra points were earned in that they obviously were having a great time covering a great band!

    But in the end I’ve got to give it to EC by the smallest of margins. Actually, to be entirely accurate, my vote goes to La Marisoul, who really stole the stage. The slow skank she maintained throughout was as lovely as it was alluring. And her vocals really added texture to the number. Fantastic backup vocals!!! Not that Elvis wasn’t in fine form himself, looking probably as cool as I’ve ever seen him. The Woody Allan-esque look obviously suits him well.

  4. Arnold Plotnick says:

    Who the hell reads your intro?

  5. Lucky H says:

    Tuff one … Publico actually gave my feet the mistaken delusion that they could simulate something approximating dance, but put a gun to my head and I gotta go with Elvis and that Sweet-boogie-earth-mama, based more on the visuals than the actual rendition … sorry I aint been on much, couple of work weeks of late nights, but keep em coming, you’re on a mission from god…

  6. Pete Black says:

    After a cursory listen to each cover I was disappointed that they both seemed too similar to The Specials. Later, I put on headphones and listened again. I really liked the extra percussion touches and better bassline and what sounded like other instruments imitating the sound of an accordion. Latin Ska? I never knew. The Elvis Costello version returned the melody with the keyboard and brass of the original but added a theremin sound(whether made by a theremin or not) which made it sound more mysterious and spooky. Very fitting. I voted for Elvis/Roots/La Marisoul but I would change that after my second listen.

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