As part of our music month, I am posting about a song which very much not only paints a picture of the political scene at the time, but showed a new movement arising in the urban hubs. The song I am talking about of course, is Too Much Too Young by the Specials, a band based in the Midlands and was one of the many taking advantage of the changing political landscape and the views of the time. As a band, they were one of the few to have both black and white members, which at the time in the late 70’s/early 80’s of Britain, this was a very weird thing to happen. Here is the song:
Too Much Too Young Lyrics by the Specials
Music and youth culture went hand in hand like bread and butter, and with the generation coming through containing a lot of the common wealth nations such as Jamaicans and more Asians mixing with the white children; it was a mixed society where the rules were broken and the club scene was somewhere you could not only let your thoughts be known but also to let your hair down. The club scene itself was often playing what was known as Ska music, which had its roots from Jamaica. The Specials used the Ska beat to vent their frustrations and the dissatisfactions of the British underclass growing up out of sight and mind on bleak and soulless inner-city council estates.
Image of the Specials
In this song in particular, we are hearing the dissatisfaction with the welfare state, how far too many young girls are getting children too early and missing out on the fun that could be had at the time. The title itself, Too Much Too Young, further illustrates that the society at this age were doing far much more than was perhaps expected of them, and in a way throwing their lives away before they had lived their lives to the way that they should have done. But the effect the lyrics had on the society which listened to them created an obvious message that this was the generation that were going to enjoy their lives; they weren’t going to live by the norms of getting a job, having a family. Instead they would party until the sun rose and not have any regrets about doing so. Even the build up of the band, with 2 Jamaicans and the bands colour scheme of black and white made the racist society look outdated. The Specials helped to create a new idea which many generations since have followed.
Image of some of the National Front activities in 1980’s England
The fact that at the time, the current political climate was full of massive demonstrations about putting a cap on the amount of migrants allowed to come into the country doesn’t sound too dissimilar to today. However it was an awful lot more violent, with groups such as the National Front regularly demonstrating against anybody that wasn’t a white Briton. The fact that groups such as The Specials so openly promoted integration amongst races would have angered a lot of the Front’s members. However it wasn’t just The Specials that were making big moves to integrate the blacks amongst the white community. Further down the road in the West Midlands, football club West Bromwich Albion had their own idea on how to integrate the races.
Image of the band- The Three Degrees on their tour of the UK, with West Brom players Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis.
West Brom was a normal football club like many other: managed by a good manager in Ron Atkinson, they were playing competitive football at the highest level in England. However what made them different from most other teams was the fact that they were the first team to play more than one black player at a time, and they were regularly integrating with the squad. The amount of pressure that must have been on Cyrille Regis, (a brilliant striker who had a hunger for goals he regularly tended to), Laurie Cunningham, (a pacey midfielder who flew whilst on the ball and who was taken from us too early), and Brendon Batson, (a solid defender and who would later become an important member of the Players Football Association), is hard to imagine. These were the men that led the football of the late 1970’s early 1980’s forward, showing not just the fans but the players and the manager themselves that it could be done, and not only that but that they can play football.
Laurie Cunningham floating over the pitch
After reading the Three Degrees- The Men Who Changed British Football Forever by Paul Rees, I was struck by just how much not only these 3 men but the music of the time had on the society around them. Cunningham himself helped destroy the racial stereotypes in society around him but having a white girlfriend with whom he regularly went out with every weekend on the Birmingham club scene. He also became such a good footballer that he played for Real Madrid, one of the biggest teams in the World. Both Cunningham and Regis further emphasised that a mixed community worked by representing England on a number of occasions, letting their feet do the talking. In Rees book he regularly talks of the fact that Cunningham would let his feet do the talking, and although he was subject to an awful lot of racist abuse, he would consistently silence his doubters with his skill.
Video showing the skill and grace of Laurie Cunningham
The trio at West Brom and the music acts like The Specials all helped to change a period of racial prejudice and create a new period rebelling against the system and acceptance of certain aspects at the same time. Too Much Too Young made not only people dance but think about their own lives and make them think of themselves. The fact it is convincing them not to get held down too early by family, marriage and life illustrates a changing shift at the time. It was songs like Too Much Too Young which really did help to shape a generation. With the music and the way that football was changing, it has helped improve both society and the outlook on race within this country. If you have time, I would suggest reading the Three Degrees, it is an excellent book, talking not just about the football but the cultural significance of these 3 great football players and the spirit of the Midlands music scene.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog, and I hope you enjoy the rest of WUHstry’s music month.