Presenting the first part of a series featuring the singles of The Fun Boy Three. The trio who split from The Specials in the summer of 1981 might never have achieved quite the same critical or popular success as their previous band, but they did produce a solid, if small, body of work that’s worth celebrating. Hence this series.
By the way, I have to say that gathering all the tracks for this series has been a bit of a pain! FB3’s entire output could fit on two CDs, yet their multiple “best ofs” are notoriously patchy, Cherry Red’s expanded issue of their debut album is frustratingly incomplete, and there is no expanded issue of their second album at all. Some tracks are easy to find in their 12″ versions but surprisingly obscure in their 7″ mixes, or vice versa. I even had to buy a particular compilation just to get one track that doesn’t appear to have been on CD (or even available for download) anywhere else. But I think I’ve got them all now, so on with the show…
Of course, the story of The Fun Boy Three starts with The Specials, the seven-piece Coventry-based group whose politicised, post-punk take on ska brought them a string of hits starting with “Gangsters” in the summer of 1979, and culminating with the three-week chart-topper “Ghost Town” two years later. And then out of the blue, they split. Though they denied personal tensions with the other members of the group, it was no secret that vocalists Lynval Golding, Terry Hall and Neville Staple had grown dissatisfied with the musical direction and working methods of leader Jerry Dammers. It wasn’t just that they wanted more creative input – even more fundamentally, they just wanted to get on with it. Following the second album, Dammers had the band take a six-month break to write new material, but the soon-to-be Fun Boy Three didn’t have the patience for that; they preferred to hit the studio and create as they went along.
So that’s what they did – and they took Dave Jordan, who had produced the second Specials album More Specials, in with them. In view of which, one wonders at what point it became a new project rather than demos for The Specials. In any case, by the time “Ghost Town” hit the top of the charts, they had a debut single ready to go. The Fun Boy Three split from the group, and indeed from the 2 Tone label, signing directly to parent label Chrysalis. Their instincts about Jerry Dammers were right, incidentally: left to his own devices, he took so long over the next Special AKA album, In The Studio, that by the time it came out, The Fun Boy Three had already released two albums and split up!
“The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)” was released on 26 October 1981. Nobody expected the name “Fun Boy Three” to be anything other than ironic, but if anything this single was even gloomier than “Ghost Town”. This time it wasn’t just the clubs that had closed down, it was the whole world going to Hell in a handcart. Hall explained to the NME,
“Each verse is about a different lunatic. It’s written about people like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – people who take over countries they’re not capable of running.”
Add in a dose of the nuclear paranoia that had fuelled recent hits by Ultravox, OMD and Landscape, and the thunderous African-inspired percussion that had served Bow Wow Wow and Adam and The Ants so well that year, and you had a song as perfectly reflective of its era as “Ghost Town” had been. Reviews were broadly positive but not ecstatic – Sounds reckoned that “This gravelly voiced stroll through woody outback rhythms and cricketing percussion is a start but not a peak”, which summed up the general mood. Personally, I love it…
Meanwhile, the B side was a rather strange, synth-driven track which went down surprisingly well with the alternative dance crowd.
Both tracks later appeared, unaltered, on the debut album. “The Lunatics” reached a chart peak of number 20, which doesn’t sound too bad, but must have been something of a disappointment given that before the split, every one of the Specials’ seven singles had made the top ten.
Join me next Tuesday for part two of this series, in which The Fun Boy Three actually have some fun!