The (English) Beat Play “Too Nice To Talk To”

The BeatHere’s a clip of Birmingham second-wave ska merchants The Beat, or sometimes known as The English Beat depending on which continent you happen to be living on. It’s “Too Nice To Talk To”, a single released in 1980 between their debut record I Just Can’t Stop It and their follow-up by the next year, Wha’ppen?.

The naming convention of this band is rooted in some pretty well known lore by now. Paul Collins, formerly of the Nerves, had a band Stateside called the Beat. So, when the English Beat began to make an impact in North America, it was decided that they should put the “English” to their name, as it were, to avoid band (or was that brand?) confusion.

Collins’ band was a power pop band, as opposed to the punk and R&B-informed ska of his UK counterparts. But, on this song, that classic power pop convention is very well in place; the insecure, awkward narrator pining after a girl he can’t work up the nerve to go up and talk to. So, despite stylistic differences, The Beat knew what would resonate with popular audiences. It scored them a top ten showing on the UK singles chart.

But, despite the accessibility of the subject matter, there is a musical concoction to be found in this song that took some chances. Read more

The (English) Beat Perform “Save It For Later”

special_beat_serviceListen to this song by first-wave ska revivalists The Beat, AKA ‘The English Beat’.  It’s their 1982 track “Save It For Later” as taken from their last album together, Special Beat Service.  Even though it was written in the early 80s, it really could have been written yesterday.

By 1982, The Beat had garnered a following both at home in the UK, as well as in North America, the latter mainly through alternative college radio.  And in terms of style, they continued with a unique strain of ska, soul, dancehall, and punk. Yet on this last record of their Special Beat Service, they were beginning to embrace straight ahead guitar-pop too.  And “Save It For Later” is not only the best example of this in their own body of work, but one of the best of the genre overall.

Yet, by this point the band were running on fumes, soon to collapse completely, and to break into at least two different bands as the decade progressed – General Public, which took a lot more of a pop-rock direction, and Fine Young Cannibals who explored a Motown inspired pop and dance path.  Yet, both trajectories had been established by the Beat;  Northern soul, new wave, and other influences having percolated into the stew of their sound over their three-album career.

There are currently two different touring versions of the band.  One led by vocalist Ranking Roger and drummer Everett Morton called  and another,  ‘The English Beat’ which is ironically US based, led by vocalist/guitarist Dave Wakeling.  Both are startlingly good live acts, by all reports.  But, this song is a testament to how great these guys were together.

For more music, check The Beat official site in the UK,


The (English) Beat Perform “Mirror in the Bathroom”

Here’s a clip of British ska revivalists The Beat performing their 1980 track “Mirror in the Bathroom” from their album I Just Can’t Stop It.

The Beat were a major part of the British ska revivalist scene in the late 70s and early 80s, centred in Birmingham and Coventry. Along with The Specials, Selecter, and Madness (a London band), The Beat took many of its musical cues from Caribbean music, most notably the Jamaican ska of Desmond Dekker, Prince Buster, and others and infused it with the tense political edge that was common to the times.

The English Beat - Beat Girl

The band was comprised of both black and white members, some being immigrants from the islands, a large number of whom had emigrated to Britain at the beginning of the 60s. Their saxophonist, aptly named “Saxa”, had played with both Dekker and Prince Buster in the 1960s, adding a certain level of authenticity to the band. The group mixed the spikiness of punk with the jubilant energy of ska, and created a sound that was both aggressive and celebratory in equal measure.

The band’s sound and the thrust of the whole scene came off as a sort of musical fist in the air to Thatcherism and to the racial intolerance that existed particularly violently in urban centres of the country at the time. The band covered Prince Buster’s “Whine and Grind” and fused it to their own song, “Stand Down Margaret” which was a not-so-subtle commentary on the current Prime Minister.

The scene as a whole was short-lived, but The Beat would make the biggest impact overseas of all of the bands that were a part of it, championed mainly by anglophile fans, alternative rock radio, and supporting appearances with the Police and the Pretenders, among others. Of course, they’d have to change their name to “The English Beat” Stateside, as there was already a band called the Beat as led by Paul Collins, formerly of power pop lost legends the Nerves. But as soon as they had begun to crack the States, internal tensions led the band to split in two. Lead vocalists Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger left to form their own group, General Public who would have a smash hit in their lead single “Tenderness” as taken from their 1984 album All the Rage. Bassist David Steele and guitarist Andy Cox formed Fine Young Cannibals with vocalist Roland Gift. FYC would have hits in ” Johnny Come Home”, a version of “Suspicious Minds” in 1985, and later their ubiquitous single “She Drives Me Crazy” in 1989.

The Beat would reform as an ongoing live act in 2005, without many of its original members, and is currently led by Ranking Roger and original Beat drummer Everett Morton. They remain to be a popular live band in Britain. Meanwhile, Dave Wakeling tours in his own “The English Beat”, based in the States, and also known to be an energetic live act.

“Mirror in the Bathroom” is one of my favourite songs by anyone, with an insistent bassline, and a sort of speed-fueled edge to it thanks to the prickly rhythm guitars and Wakeling’s rapid-fire vocal. And a saxophone has never sounded so menacing. The song is eminently danceable, defying you to stand still in fact. In essence, this song is the template of the band’s whole sound – the joyousness of Jamaican ska, with the anger and darkness of punk fused to it. It gives me the same rush now to hear it as it did when it came out!