Song Saturday: The Specials Covers

For this week’s edition of Song Saturday, we’re looking back at a batch of loved and rare covers from The Specials by No Doubt.

Its a well known fact that both Eric and Gwen Stefani grew up listening to The Specials and drew huge inspiration from them while forming No Doubt in 1987. The band has been covering The Specials since the very early days, including takes on both “Little Bitch” and “Nite Club”, which unfortunately fans have yet to get their hands on.

Paying homage to their roots and love for English ska, No Doubt incorporated The Special’s haunting and dark hit from 1981, “Ghost Town”, into their Tragic Kingdom sets in 1996-1997. Mixed into an eerie medley with “Move On”, the band broke down into the classic melody with Gwen slinking around while singing “This town is coming like a ghost town / Bands won’t play no more / Too much fighting on the dance floor”. No Doubt would then ease back into “Move On” and build up into one of the band’s best finishes. The medley became a quick hit and staple on the tour and the band performed it for the majority of the year.

While in Paris on the Tragic Kingdom tour, No Doubt invited lead singer of The Specials, and personal hero to Gwen, Terry Hall, onstage for a one-time cover of “Gangsters”. Terry took over on vocals while the band performed the song. Though no video exists of it, fans are lucky enough to have audio from the performance which is truly special. “Gangsters” was only performed once by the band live in Paris, France back on March 18, 1997 at La Cigale.

The Tragic Kingdom tour also featured another staple cover that thew back to yet another Specials classic, “A Message To You Rudy”. After Sublime lead singer and good friend to No Doubt, Bradley Nowell, passed away from an accidental drug overdose, the band gave tribute and covered “DJs”, which was heavily inspired and sampled The Specials song. No Doubt last covered the song on their summer 2009 tour and was included on their Live in the Tragic Kingdom VHS and DVD releases.

In 2004, No Doubt treated fans with an ultra special medley of UB40’s “All I Wanna Do” and The Special AKA’s “Racist Friend” on the later part of the Singles tour. Though they only performed a portion of the song, the band did a phenomenal cover which sounded almost identical to the original.


“Move On/Ghost Town” (3:08) (Live in Stockholm 1997)


“Gangsters” featuring Terry Hall (Live in Paris 1997)


“DJs” (Samples “A Message To You Rudy”) (Live in Minneapolis 1997)


“Racist Friend” (Live in Los Angeles 2004)




“Guns of Navarone” (Covered on both the 2009 and 2012 tours)
Original by The Skatalites, but also performed by The Specials regularly

And for a special (no pun intended) bonus, check out both the “Sunday Morning” video which frontman Terry Hall appeared in. No Doubt also returned the favor and made a short appearance in Terry’s solo video for “Ballad Of A Landlord”, minus Tom, in 1997.

Also check out this neat mashup of The Special’s versus No Doubt’s version of “Ghost Town”, which pretty much became a staple on the Tragic Kingdom tour in 1997.

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