• “10 Commandments” original music video. TheSpecialsOfficVEVO.
“All-time classic Reggae from England”
From their album “Encore” released in February, 2019.
The post-Dammers Specials badly lost their way in the 90s and the 00s with a seemingly never-ending string of sub-par, occasionally horrendous, releases which, for me, hugely tarnished their reputation.
I’m somewhat relieved to discover, therefore, that 2019’s “Encore” has went some way to reversing that negative trend; today’s featured track is worthy of the name and is fit to be bracketed with the glorious “Specials” / “More Specials” / “In The Studio” triptych of ’79 to ’84.
“10 Commandments”, featuring guest vocalist Saffiyah Khan singing her own lyrics, can be seen as another answer record of sorts to Prince Buster’s “Ten Commandments” which first saw the light of day in 1963 – 56 years ago!
Buster’s piece was largely tongue-in-cheek but, as Horace Panter pointed out lately, “it hasn’t travelled well” and some of it looks decidedly dodgy on paper:
Thou shall not provoke me to anger,
Or my wrath will descend upon you heavily.
Thou shall not shout my name in the streets,
If I’m walking with another woman,
But wait intelligently until I come home,
Then we both can have it out decently,
For I am your man, a funny man,
And detest a scandal in public places.
To be fair to the man, in 1967, he gave Princess Buster (his wife Blossom Campbell?) the platform to make her superb answer-record “Ten Commandments (From Woman To Man)”. Whoever she was, she hit back hard:
If you want to stay alive thou shall not stop me searching your pockets at night coz I am not a thief,
Only searching for love letters you forgot to dispose of, and addresses for the undertaker.
Thou shall not kiss, nor slap, nor tear my dress or pull my hair,
Or do anything to scare me or live in fear, coz I am your woman,
A perfect woman, and detest being mistreated in any way.
The Specials core three these days are: Terry Hall (vocals), Lynval Golding (vocals, guitar) and Horace Panter (bass guitar). Horace is the only member to have appeared on all nine of the A-list albums, 1979 to date. A couple of years back, Hall and Panter had been toying with the idea of revisiting “Ten Commandments” with a view to giving Buster’s lyrically dubious cut a 21st century upgrade. When an image went viral of an 18-year-old Saffiyah Khan in a Specials t-shirt smiling down a man who was racially harassing a woman at an EDL demo, the group made an imaginative decision to reach out to her with an invitation to come and see them play. This later progressed to an invitation to write and sing the lyrics for the “10 Commandments” upgrade! Horace and the boys laid down a mean version of the old Jamaican No No No rocksteady riddim from 1967, giving Saffiyah an excellent platform to work on. A Specials fan, she was over the moon at being offered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity:
I only got the lyrics written finally the night before we recorded it. For ages I’d been telling them I was sorted, ‘but, I’m not near my computer at the moment, so I can’t send them to you’. I had a lot of ideas but it was trying to get it to work in a song. It’s not a man-hating track. It’s not saying to women, ‘Throw away your make-up and become a militant feminist’. What it’s about is common sense with how we treat each other. If there are people finding it too radical, too feminist, too liberal, there are a lot of people who are saying it’s not radical enough!
She runs riot with her kick-ass riposte, blasting all-sorts from unrealistic body expectations to “pseudo-intellectuals on the Internet”. The killer verse:
Thou shall not tell a girl she deserved it
Because her skirt was too short
She walked home, streets lights illuminating her as a target
But she started it, because she looked at him
And he finished it ’cause he wanted to
And they’ll bring out her skirt as “exhibit A” before the judge
And she should have the right to say:
“Thou shall not tell me what to wear, nor how to wear it”
The crazy story has developed with Saffiyah currently hard at it all over Europe, on the Specials 40th anniversary tour. Has she got any more like this in her locker? If so, get her in the band!
As a wee bonus, here’s a live performance at London’s famous 100 Club, performed on 1st February, 2019…
Battle of the Sexes full-time result:
Saffiyah Khan 4 Prince Buster 2 (after extra-time)
She who dares wins : – )
(picture sourced from an excellent Specials / Khan article in the NME.)