Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
Ahh, ska music. It’s one of those strange genres that originated far away from America before rock and roll had even become a fad, and it stays tucked away in its country of origin, Jamaica, throughout the sixties before being cracked open in the late 70’s by – you guessed it – the Brits; but with the fresh sounds of punk and new wave coming off the griddle, it was hard for bands like The Beat to keep their sound streamlined in one of these genres. The short-lived, multiracial sextet’s unforgettable blend of reggae rhythms, a fierce horn section, and break-neck tempos will forever echo in the annals of the most influential sounds of the early 80’s, inspiring groups like Men at Work and Simply Red, and even some of David Bowie’s later work. Known better in the States as “The English Beat”, here are five of their greatest songs:
- “Tears of a Clown” from I Just Can’t Stop It (1980)
This was the Beat’s first single off their iconic debut, and it pitches the classic Smoky Robinson & the Miracles hit against a hyperactive reggae beat with sax that even some of the jazz greats would admire. This tune introduced a fine new sound to England and the rest of the world when it hit number six on the UK charts. This would begin to brew excitement for the rest of the debut that followed, and its ultra-mega hit…
- “Mirror in the Bathroom” from I Just Can’t Stop It (1980)
Many believe that the Beat’s most successful single is about cocaine usage, but one of the group’s singers Dave Wakeling has confirmed this to be a falsehood. “It was thinking about how self-involvement turns into narcissism and how narcissism turns into isolation, and then how isolation turns into self-involvement again, and how what a vicious cycle that can become. So then I just started thinking about different situations where people would ostensibly look like they were doing something, but in fact they were checking their own reflection out.” This is made apparent in the classic line, “Mirror in the bathroom, please talk free/The door is locked, just you and me/Can I take you to a restaurant that’s got glass tables?/You can watch yourself while you are eating.”
- “Too Nice to Talk To” from Wha’ppen? (1981)
Although not released on the original issue of the Beat’s sophomore album, this track was used as the single to promote its release and now holds the opening spot on its CD reissues. It’s one of the group’s most exotic sounding tracks, even by ska standards. Now I think quite a lot as I stare at my shoes/About all these things that I put myself through/Now there’s nothing to say and there’s nothing to do/You’re just too nice to talk to. It can be easy to miss some of the lyrical prowess amass all the crazy instrumentation.
- “I Confess” from Special Beat Service (1982)
This remains one of the Beat’s most peculiar tracks due to its amazing songcraft, but also due to a fire solo by the group’s saxophonist, Saxa – something even John Coltrane would’ve been proud to hear with its influence of bop and avant-jazz. “Night after night time time after time/Done too much of both types of w(h)ining/Still wasn’t right fight after fight/Till “Get out of my life get away from me get away from that gun”. This is one of the Beat’s most inward-looking numbers.
- “Save it for Later” from Special Beat Service (1982)
This is the song that fits right in with all the best of the 80’s. Undoubtedly the most mainstream, poppy sound to come from the group surprisingly didn’t chart as high as some of their other hits, but it has gained a following for fan favorite in recent years. Unfortunately, the group’s third studio album would be the last that their classic lineup would record together; but just last year, the groups other lead vocalist and songwriter, Ranking Roger, brought back a new version of the Beat with original drummer Everett Morton, to release a new album, Bounce.