Gangsters (song)

Gangsters is the first single by the Special A.K.A. (The Specials).

Cover of the single released in the Netherlands
Single by Special A.K.A.
B-sideThe Selecter[1]
ReleasedMay 4, 1979 (1979-05-04)[1]
Format7" vinyl, 45 RPM
Label2 Tone
Songwriter(s)Jerry Dammers[2]
Producer(s)Special A.K.A.
Special A.K.A. singles chronology
"A Message to You, Rudy"


After a limited 5,000 copies of the track were distributed by the fledgling 2 Tone record label in May 1979, as a double A-side along with The Selecter by label mates The Selecter, it was given a full release two months later, when it went on to reach no. 6 in the UK charts in the summer of 1979,[3] becoming both The Specials' and the 2 Tone label's first hit record. The single was first aired on John Peel's Radio 1 show on Monday May 7, where he was so pleased with it that he played the other side as well.


The song is about an incident that happened to the band while on tour in France with The Clash. They were held responsible for damage in a hotel that another English band had caused, and the hotel manager held one of their guitars as collateral. The situation escalated when the hotel called the local police, and ended with the Specials paying for the damage.

The song is a reworking of Prince Buster's 1964 ska classic "Al Capone", sampling the car sound effects that opened that song. The opening line "Al Capone's guns don't argue" was changed to "Bernie Rhodes knows, don't argue" as an insult aimed at Bernard Rhodes, who had briefly been the band's manager.[4]

Despite being a smash hit, the song has not appeared on any non-compilation album by the band, although it was chosen as track 1 on the definitive 2008 compilation The Best of The Specials.


  1. "Special AKA Vs The Selector - Gangsters/The Selector". Discogs. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  2. "Gangsters, NZ release". Discogs. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  3. "Special A K A - full official charts". Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  4. "Gangsters - song facts". Retrieved 23 May 2016.
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