October 28, 2009

Mod-A-Day: The Beat (English Beat)

In late 70s Britain ska bands were breaking out left and right just alongside of the mod revival. The two scenes shared a love of soul music, were influenced by punk rock, and had a tremendous amount of overlap among fans, and even within the bands.

Amidst all that came The Beat (known in The English Beat in the US) a group more two-tone than many of the Two Tone label bands. Alongside of The Specials and Madness, The Beat made ska a force to be reckoned with churning out three very sucessful albums in just five years. Their very first single, a ska version of soul classic "Tears of A Clown" was a huge success and their first two LPs went to #3 on the UK charts. Each spawned other great singles like "Mirror in the Bathroom", "Doors Of Your Heart", "I Confess" and "Twist and Crawl".

Although they were clearly a ska band, The Beat was able to connect with the public by fusing other popular styles into their music. Where The Specials were hard edged ska and punk, black and white in both their make-up and their sound, and Madness was grey and unpredictable like a foggy London morning, The Beat was bright - sunshine bright at times. Theirs was a very sunny sound, warm and island like blending ska with soul and pop. At the same time they were embracing new wave and power pop, fusing guitars with a layer of other sounds likes horns --mostly saxaphone from Jamiacan ska legend Saxa-- and organs, and overall they managed to hold on to a solid ska foundation with lots of reggae mixed throughout. Later on though their sound was new wave pop, a modern pop that had ska influences, but really wasn't ska anymore. Somehow that recipe was a mix for success.

Growing up in California it was common to hear The Beat on a variety of radio stations, especially KROQ and others that tended more to the new wave. You certainly heard The Beat more than you did either The Specials or Madness. They seemed to have a pulse on what the public wanted. By the time of their third album, Special Beat Service, two the biggest hits "I Confess" and "Save It For Later" were barely ska influenced, but rather were beautifully crafted pieces of contemporary pop -- bits of new wave power pop for the dance club set.

The band broke up in 1983, but like all great acts spawned two more big sucesses -- General Public featuring Beat front men Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger, and Fine Young Cannibals formed around the Beat's rythm section of Andy Cox and David Steele.

These days there seems to be some interpersonal issues and politics keeping a full and complete reuinion at bay. Indeed, Wakeling and Roger seem to have divided up the world between them with Ranking Roger and other former mebers calling themselves The Beat UK and touring England and Europe (More recently this line up has included such ska friends as Jerry Dammers and Pauline Black, making it more of a two-tone super group than a Beat continuation.) Meanwhile, Wakeling and some past members have taken over the North American circuit and tour extensivly hear under The English Beat name. I saw this version a couple years ago and while I was sad not to see Saxa playing saxaphone or Ranking Roger toasting up a storm, it was still a pretty great show and Wakeling was quite the showman.

The Beat -- Big Shot

The Beat -- Best Friend