Blue Plate Special: The English Beat
The Beat, also known as the English Beat in North America and the British Beat in Australia, was a prominent British band founded in Birmingham in 1978. Their unique sound blended various genres like Latin, ska, pop, soul, reggae, and punk rock. The lineup comprised Dave Wakeling, Ranking Roger, Andy Cox, David Steele, Everett Morton, and saxophonist Saxa (Lionel Augustus Martin).
Back in the early era of cassette mix tapes (sometime in 1984), a friend created a mix of songs from their first 3 albums for me, which became a mainstay of my weekly music consumption. These three influential albums included “I Just Can’t Stop It,” (1980) “Wha’ppen?” (1981) and “Special Beat Service,” (1982) with hits such as “Mirror in the Bathroom” and “Save It for Later.” The band’s distinct sound was enriched by Ranking Roger’s Jamaican toasting vocals and Saxa’s ska saxophone influences, with Saxa having collaborated with ska legends like Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker.
Their debut album charted third in the UK, and they found support from radio stations globally, particularly in the US, Australia, and their home turf. Notably, their popularity soared in the US and Canada where they were termed the English Beat due to legal naming issues. Their global tours saw them sharing stages with legends like David Bowie, the Clash, and the Police. They were also recognized for their association with cartoonist Hunt Emerson, who designed their iconic ‘Beat Girl’ and contributed to their album artwork. Wakeling and Roger went on to found another iconic 80’s band, General Public, releasing 3 albums before breaking up again and touring for years as The English Beat (Wakeling) in the US and The Beat (Roger) in the UK, while Andy Cox and David Steele formed Fine Young Cannibals with vocalist Roland Gift.
Some of my favorite selections from their catalog:
Mirror in the Bathroom, from the album I Just Can’t Stop It (1980)
Rotating Heads, from the album Special Beat Service (1982)
Too Nice to Talk To, from the album Wha’ppen? (1981)
Twist & Crawl, from the album I Just Can’t Stop It (1980)
Save It For Later, from the album Special Beat Service (1982)