The English Beat
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About The English Beat
One of the key bands of the U.K. ska revival of the late '70s and early '80s, the Beat (known as the English Beat in North America to avoid confusion with the Paul Collins-led power pop group) achieved a near-perfect balance of pop melodies and taut rhythms that made them stars in Britain and won them a substantial cult following in the United States. Fronted by vocalist and guitarist Dave Wakeling and toaster Ranking Roger, the racially integrated Beat were based in Birmingham, England and released their debut single, "Tears of a Clown" b/w "Ranking Full Stop," through the Specials' 2-Tone label in 1979. The single went Top Ten in the U.K., and they soon struck a deal with Arista to distribute their own Go Feet label. 1980's I Just Can't Stop It (released by Sire in the United States) went gold in England on the strength of the single "Mirror in the Bathroom," and the band's ferocious performances and clever blend of personal and political lyrics made them stars at home. After a disappointing sophomore effort, 1981's Wha'ppen?, the band came roaring back with 1982's Special Beat Service, a more pop-oriented set that gave them a wider U.S. audience thanks to MTV's embrace of the singles "I Confess" and "Save It for Later." The band split at the end of that year, but in the 2000s, both Wakeling and Roger were fielding touring versions of the Beat, and the Wakeling edition recorded a new album, 2018's Here We Go Love.
The Beat formed in 1978, and made their live debut in March 1979 in Birmingham, England, as several other like-minded ska-influenced bands (including the Specials, the Selecter, Madness, and Bad Manners) were beginning to make a noise on the U.K. club scene. Featuring Dave Wakeling on vocals and guitar, Andy Cox on guitar, David Steele on bass, and Everett Morton on drums, the band soon added vocalist and toaster Ranking Roger (aka Roger Charlery), and grew to a sextet with the addition of Saxa (aka Lionel Augustus Martin), a sax player who had worked with ska legends Desmond Dekker, Laurel Aitken, and Prince Buster. As the Beat's reputation as a live act grew, the were invited to tour with the Specials, who invited the Beat to make a record for their 2-Tone label. Featuring their cover of Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown" on the A-side and the original "Ranking Full Stop" on the flip, the Beat's 2-Tone single rose to number six on the U.K. singles charts, and soon the band were touring as headliners. Eager to have control over their material, they formed their own label for their future releases, Go Feet Records, and they struck an international distribution deal with Arista Records (except for the United States, where the new wave-friendly Sire imprint released their material). The Beat's debut album, 1980's excellent I Just Can't Stop It, was a Top Three hit in England and earned a Gold Record, while the American release, issued under the name the English Beat, rose to a respectable 142.
The Beat toured extensively in support of the album, adding keyboard player Dave "Blockhead" Wright for live dates in 1981, and dropped their second album, Wha'ppen?, in June 1981. However, while the album once again hit number three in the U.K. charts and managed a higher chart placement in the U.S. than the debut, reviews were lukewarm and it ultimately sold less than I Just Can't Stop It. Sire dropped the band's American deal, and while Saxa played on the sessions for 1982's Special Beat Service, sax player Wesley Magoogan joined the Beat as the 60-something Saxa had trouble with the rigors of touring. While Special Beat Service was only modestly successful in the U.K., rising to only to 21 on the album charts, I.R.S. released it in the United States, and thanks to MTV play for the tracks "I Confess" and "Save It for Later," and extensive touring with the Police, the Pretenders, and R.E.M., the disc peaked at number 39, establishing them a firm foothold in America. However, their stateside breakthrough came too late in the day, as the Beat broke up in 1983.
In the wake of the Beat, Wakeling and Ranking Roger formed a new group, General Public, while Andy Cox and David Steele formed Fine Young Cannibals; both acts enjoyed chart success in the United States. General Public broke up in 1987 (they would briefly reunite in 1994) and in 1991, Wakeling released a solo album, a pop-oriented effort called No Warning. Ranking Roger, meanwhile, made his debut as a solo act with 1988's Radical Departure, where he focused on purer reggae sounds. And Everett Morton and Saxa formed a group called the International Beat, who released the album The Hitting Line and toured the U.S. and the U.K. before dissolving in 1992. In 2003, the original line-up of the Beat, minus Cox and Steele, reunited for a successful British tour. By 2006, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger were both leading touring versions of the Beat; Wakeling's group, the English Beat featuring Dave Wakeling, primarily played in North America, while Roger's version, the Beat featuring Ranking Roger (aka the New English Beat featuring Ranking Roger) was based in the U.K. In both groups, the frontman is the only original member. In 2015, Wakeling launched a crowd-funding campaign to finance a new album from his group; the album, titled Here We Go Love and credited to the Beat Starring Dave Wakeling, arrived in June 2018. ~ Mark Deming
- Birmingham, England
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