Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Complete Beat = Complete Happiness

Combining ska, pop, new wave, world beats and politics, The  English Beat (known simply as The Beat in their native UK) were one of the top bands to emerge from the two tone movement of the late '70s and early '80s.  They played their first show in early 1979, in their native Birmingham, and were finished in 1982 after three successful albums.  The band was formed in 1978 by Dave Wakeling (vocals/guitar) and Andy Cox (guitar).  They attracted bassist David Steele with an advertisement referencing the Flaming Groovies.  Drummer Everett Morton was discovered through acquaintances at a hospital where Steele was employed.  Ranking Roger (Roger Charlery) joined after the The English Beat opened for his band, and showed themselves to be the better outfit.  The eventually added Saxa (Lionel Augustus Martin), whose Saxophone was an key element of the band's sound.

The English Beat's success was attributable to several factors beyond the then-popular fusion of pop and ska also also played by groups such as The Specials.  First, the group benefitted from strong songwriting from several members, including Wakeling, Ranking Roger, Steele and Cox.  Second, they enjoyed the rare advantage of two lead vocalists, the more pop-voiced Wakeling and the gifted toaster, Ranking Roger.  The final factor was the musical abilities of the members.  Cox and Wakeling provided a strong dual guitar attack.  Steele's basslines are among the best I've heard in pop music, and I believe could have held his own in Kingston as well as Birmingham.  Everett Morton was a hard hitting drummer with soul band experience and reggae knowledge, and his proficiency helped stitch together the disparate elements that made the band what it was.  Saxa, 50 years old when he joined the band, was a singular force, with deep reggae experience (playing with Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker, among others).  Eventually, Saxa retired from live performances and was replaced by Wesley Magoogan.

When the band broke up, its members went on to distinguish themselves in other projects such as Fine Young Cannibals (Steele, Cox and (briefly) Morton), and General Public (Wakeling, Ranking Roger).  Eventually, Ranking Roger and Wakeling cut the unusual deal allowing Wakeling to perform as The English Beat in the US, and Ranking Roger to perform as The English Beat in Europe.  If you check the "tour" tab on the website link below, you'll see that Dave is busy touring the rest of this year.

To the delight of fans of The English Beat, such as me, The Complete Beat box set was released this year.  It combines the band's three studio albums (in some cases, with bonus tracks) -- I Just Can't Stop It (1980), Wha'ppen? (1981), and Special Beat Service (1982) -- and includes a fourth two-disc album containing 15 dub, dubwise, extended and remixed versions of some of the hits, three sessions from John Peel's UK radios show and five tracks from their live performance in Boston in 1982.  And, of course, a booklet with historical information and photographs is included.  Since I already owned all three studio albums, what is the attraction?  Bonus tracks and the booklet certainly are part of it.  But in truth, the material on the fourth disc is worth the price on its own.  Folks, this is great stuff!

To remind you of the quality of the songs from this band, I've provided some clips from each disc below:

From I Just Can't Stop It --

And this fusion of a somewhat cleaned up version of the very blue Jamaican tune "Whine & Grine" and a political shot at Margaret Thatcher --

From Wha'ppen? --

"Monkey Murders" --

And from Special Beat Service --

"Spar Wid Me" --

From the fourth disc, the extended (12") version of "Two Nice to Talk to" --

The extended version of "Hands Off ... She's Mine" (I played this at my wedding) --

Facebook for Dave Wakeling's The English Beat

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