Sunday, 27 January 2019

The Beat

These were my favourites from the early eighties "two tone" ska revival....

I Just Can't Stop It (1980)

The Beat slightly lagged behind Madness, The Selecter and The Specials (the other main two-tone groups) in putting out their first album. They had some singles out before, however, The Tears Of A Clown and Mirror In The Bathroom, so they had gained an audience and this was quite an anticipated album. Personally, The Beat were my favourite two-tone band. They were a six-piece and featured veteran fifty-plus (at the time) saxophonist, "Saxa". They had an ear for a melody and also for a wry, observational and culturally relevant lyric. The music was essentially ska, full of lilting guitar licks, dub infuences and that deep, gloriously tuneful saxophone wailing away beneath nearly every tune. They were great live too. I remember being up at the front at one of their gigs and singing the "Saxa oh la - good God!" bit in Jackpot to Ranking Roger as he sang it straight back to me, smiling.

This debut album was, like many debut albums from the period, was upbeat, "in your face" and following the punk feel of debuts by The Clash, The Jam and Stiff Little Fingers. The pace doesn't let up for pretty much all of what is a breackneck ride. The album kicks off with two stonking hit singles - the staccato Mirror In The Bathroom and the lively, catchy Hands Off She's MineTwo Swords is a cynical, socially aware anti-fascist "message" song done in an almost punky style and Twist And Crawl is a short, sharp frantic ska rocker, as is Click ClickBoth Rough Rider and Jackpot are pure Jamaican-influenced organ-driven, irresistibly melodious skankers.

Big Shot and Noise In This World are also upbeat rockers and Best Friend was a catchy, rhythmic single. Whine and Grind/Stand Down Margaret was superbly, rebelliously political at the time, demanding the resignation of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Yes, many people probably won't get the meaning these days. The album's one slow song, Can't Get Used To Losing You, was a cover of a sixties hit for Andy Williams, but it works exceptionally well, with an excellent vocal from the talented Dave Wakeling. The sound is good on the latest remaster and any play of this will guarantee to put a bit of a spring back into your step. They were right, they just couldn't stop it. The vibe continues from beginning to end of this excellent album. Highly recommended.

Wha'ppen (1981)

This was The Beat's second album, following on from the frantic ska rhythms of their stunning, lively debut, I Just Can't Stop It. If anything, for me, this was the better album. It was more subtle and showed a real development in the band's songwriting. There were some really impressive, often very acutely socially aware songs on here. They were not all simple good-time ska skankers. The pace is far slower than the hundred miles an hour of the debut album, concentrating more on dub rhythms, with influences from South African township music, roots reggae and also from soul. Personally, I feel this was the group's finest achievement. It is an excellent album. My own personal memories are of playing it endlessly upon release while in bed with tonsilitis.

The beautifully bassy, atmospheric opener, Doors To Your Heart is a melodious, saxophone and semi-dub reggae addictive slow burner of a song, and All Out To Get You was an insistent, singalong single. It had a completely irresistible rhythm. The drum-bass-guitar-saxophone interplay is superb throughout the whole album. This band could play, make no mistake about that. Monkey Murders saw the band explore roots reggae with some dubby bass and a wonderful, almost South African township-sounding saxophone, while the Talking Heads-esque I Am Your Flag was a wry, upbeat political rocker, criticising overt nationalism. 

French Toast (Soleil Trop Chaud) was, as its title suggests, a journey into vocal "toasting" (semi-spoken lyrics over a dub beat). It is another one with South African influence. Drowning is beautifully laid-back in its bassy rhythm and also cynical in its message, as indeed is the sombre, brooding Dream Home In New Zealand, with its dubby hints in its backing. The ubiquitous saxophone from veteran saxophonist, "Saxa", is just so damn good. Slightly different is the simply gorgeous ska ballad Walk Away which features more sumptuous saxophone. Over And Over, with its upbeat, jazzy backing and impressive brass; the bleak and wonderfully bassy and dubby Cheated; the frenetic protest of Get A Job and the dryly observational The Limits We Set all continue the quality songwriting and infectious melodies that this album overflowed with. 

** The non-album single Too Nice To Talk To was once again incredibly catchy and a worthy hit from a most worthy band. Highly recommended. The best of 1981.

Special Beat Service (1982)

This was The Beat's final album. After Wha'ppen saw the group tone down the frantic ska of their debut album in favour of a more laid-back, dubby but soulful sound they diversified even more with this, which often sounded far more like a new wave album than a two tone/ska one. There were influences from The Jam, Joe Jackson, Talking Heads, Dexy's Midnight Runners and even some of the New Romantic groups on here. There is nowhere near the amount of dub influence on this one.

It just didn't really do very well and the band called it a day soon after. Funnily enough, it was more successful in the USA, as "The English Beat". Americans wanted a mix of New Wave and New Romanticism, and the got it here. It is actually as innovative and adventurous as the previous album had been. I don't blame The Beat for trying to widen their style. After all, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, The Jam, Madness and The Specials had all done the same. Personally, I find it a refreshingly enjoyable album.

I Confess is a sort of Style Council-ish dancey, jazzy number (although they didn't exist yet) with a Kevin Rowland-influenced vocal. To be honest it doesn't sound much like The Beat at all. Even the saxophone is jazzy. Not much ska to be found here. It is pleasant enough, though, with a nice bass part near the end. At times it almost sounds like ABC or A-Ha it has to be said. Jeanette sees a welcome return to what one would expect from the Beat - an upbeat ska skanker with some South African-sounding saxophone. Sorry has a beguiling, understated backing, and a sort of melody that seems to be trying to be avant garde, with some Talking Heads-esque vocals and wailing, experimental saxophone sounds. Sole Salvation is very much a new wave number that sounds a bit like some of the stuff The Jam put out right at the end of their career, although the dubby Spar Wid Me is a step back on to familiar with some killer riddims and sumptuous saxophone. Rotating Head is a jaunty track that has real echoes of the band's debut album. Save It For Later is a thumping groover with a Byrds-style jangly guitar sound at times. It is probably the best track on the album. The group's last great one. 

She's Going is a catchy, very Joe Jackson-sounding number, with some Latin-ish guitars and appealing saxophone. Pato And Roger A Go Talk has lashing of typical Saxa saxophone and some toasting from Ranking Roger and guest vocalist Pato BantonSugar And Stress is pretty typical Beat fare, although even this has a light, acoustic guitar solo in the middle. The romantic End Of The Party has Dave Wakeling sounding like Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley, unbelievably. It goes without saying, really, that there is a sublime saxophone solo n the song. Ackee 1-2-3 sounds as if it straight out of South African township in places. Great stuff. I have to say I have really enjoyed getting into this again after overlooking it for any years, despite always being a big fan of the first two albums. It was a really good album.

Bounce (2016)

This was the first of (so far) two comeback albums from The Beat's Ranking Roger and assorted musicians. Singer Dave Wakeling also has a version of The Beat. A bit like UB40, they are now two separate bands, which is a shame, but both are worth listening to. The albums are all enjoyable and it is nice to hear the artists still doing it, but they are bit like the Bruce Foxton (of The Jam) albums. While they are good, you can't help but feel that although they are pleasingly nostalgic, nothing will ever replace the original stuff. Incidentally, this album is produced by Mick Lister, once of minor new wave bands The Stowaways and The Truth.

Walking On The Wrong Side is a soulful, mid-pace rocker with some typical Beat saxophone and Roger using a reggae-style vocal and some "toasting" passages. The saxophonist, whose identity I am not sure of, sounds a lot like Brian Travers of UB40 in tone, more so than he or she sounds like Saxa, the saxophonist on the original Beat albums. Busy Busy Doing Nothing is a catchy, new wave-sounding poppy number. Heaven Hiding is tuneful enough, again in a poppy sort of way but nothing as yet makes you think of The Beat. Until Avoid The Obvious that is. Roger's voice sounds remarkably like Dave Wakeling's and the rhythm behind the verses is a dead ringer for Too Nice To Talk To, with that rumbling bass line and swirling saxophone.

Fire Burn 
has a deep, dubby beat and a brooding, slow burning feel and a feel of Third World and The Wailing Souls in places. It is one the album's best cuts. 
On My Way has vague airs of Men At Work's Down Under, for me, in the chorus. The verses remind me of something else, but I can't put my finger on it. Some nice saxophone on it too. Work Work Work is a r'n'b commercial soul-influenced number with a bit of a simplistic lyric. Talkin' About Her has a tuneful, almost lovers' rock-style light reggae rhythm. Once again, it is a very poppy song, with none of the ascerbic political commentary or wry social observation that so characterised The Beat's original work. This sounds like the sort of stuff Chaka Demus & Pliers or Bitty MacLean released in the early nineties. Singalong and unthreatening. Side To Side is an upbeat, bassy ragga meets ska type of fast skanker with Roger's son, Ranking Junior, on breakneck speed, tongue-twisting rapping vocals. It also has a very early nineties groove to it. 

My Dream has a very new wave feel to it in its riff, despite Roger's toasting. It is almost a London Calling riff. Close The Door is a rootsy cut, featuring the melodica, as made famous by Augustus Pablo and some vocals that put me in mind of The Police's reggae numbers. It is the album's most authentic reggae track. Overall, of Ranking Roger's two contemporary albums, I prefer his 2019 one, Public Confidential over this one. This one s a perfectly enjoyable listen, but it is certainly not essential.

Here We Go Love! (2018)

Both Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling from The Beat have separate versions of the band (apparently amicable, unlike a similar situation with UB40). While Roger's two albums, particularly 2019's Public Confidential, have real echoes of The Beat's classic early eighties music, this one doesn't really. While I think it is a good album, many don't, saying it doesn't sound much like The Beat. On the last point I agree. I don't really get why Wakeling just didn't issue it as a Dave Wakeling solo album, because that is really what it is.

The opener, How Can You Stand There? is a lively, vibrant breath of fresh ska air, with an accordion backing in place giving it an almost Cajun feel. Wakeling's voice is instantly recognisable and the saxophone has that South African sound that The Beat used so much, but this doesn't really sound like a Beat record. It just sounds like a damn good Dave Wakeling ska-rock record. The One And Only is a very catchy, poppy number with a real early eighties new wave light pop, but slightly riffy feel to it. Redemption Time is a roots reggae meets ska number with great bass and an upbeat Beat-style rhythm. It is one of the album's best cuts, one of the most Beat-like.

If Killing Worked finds Wakeling returning to his wry, observational view of the world, something he did so well, lyrically, with The Beat. Despite its important message, this is a most uplifting, infectious song. I really like it. It has a new wave riffiness to it. 
Here We Go Love has echoes of Joe Jackson's early punky material with a rapid beat and sharp guitar riffs. It is littered with expletives, for some reason that isn't entirely clear on such a musically upbeat, "fun" song. Wakeling always had an ability to make a lively song cynical, however. Never Die is a mournful, evocative rock ballad, the like of which has not appeared on any Beat album (or two tone one, for that matter). It is tracks like this that make this a Wakeling solo album. It is actually rather moving. The orchestral brass and strings ending is certainly innovative and different. The Love You Give is an appealing mid-pace new wave rock song with Wakeling sounding rather like Dexy's Midnight RunnersKevin Rowland. It has a Nick Lowe feel to it too. You Really Oughta Know is very Madness-influenced in its jauntiness. You're Stuck is another upbeat, new wave number with slight hints of New Romaticism in its ABC-style chorus. 

Every Time You Told Me is a slightly bluesy number that reminds me of Southside Johnny, funnily enough. Again, it very different from anything the original Beat ever did. Dem Call It Ska is a a rootsy ska piece of fun. Drive Her Away is another in that singalong new wave style that dominates the album. Be There For You sounds a bit like some of the stuff Bruce Foxton of The Jam now put out, vocally anyway, despite its light reggae beat. It also reminds me of something else but I just can't put my finger on it. As I said earlier this is a good Dave Wakeling album, but not really a Beat album.

Public Confidential (2019)

After an excellent 2016 comeback with Bounce, this is another highly enjoyable album from Ranking Roger and his impressive band who pretty much replicate the sound of the original 1979-83 sound The Beat to the note. It sounds so like the original group, as if they have never been away. Yes, there are lot of musical and vocal similarities to the material from the three early eighties Beat albums, but that doesn't bother me unduly, it is great to hear this sort of thing again, sounding so fresh and vibrant.
Maniac takes me right back to the debut album with its dubby rhythms, catchy vocals and swirling saxophone. Roger utilises his "toasting" vocals a lot on this album, probably slightly more than on the  originals. Public Confidential is a Madness-influenced number, with some deep, sonorous saxophone underpinning and and infectious beat/refrain. The sound quality is excellent throughout the album, it is worth saying too.

Who's Dat Looking pretty much uses the Mirror In The Bathroom backing beat but it is still an invigorating number with some great saxophone-bass interplay in the middle of the track. 

On The Road is an upbeat, rootsy toasting number, with echoes of UB40 about it, particularly in the saxophone sound. The roots feel continues on Dangerous, with its Prince Far I-style growling vocals. It confronts the issue of knife crime head on in the lyrics. Long Call Short Talk is a melodious skank and even more fitting that description is the infectious Giving It Up, which is the most singalong track on the album. A Good Day For Sunshine is another typically Beat track that sounds as if it is straight off the debut album with a Ranking Full Stop backing riff. Skank Away is, funnily enough, less of an upbeat skank and more of a ragga-style groove. Civilisation again has a saxophone riff straight out of UB40 but it has that Beat liveliness about it. Overall, this album is a bright, invigorating breath of fresh air. It ends before you know it, such is the pacy pleasure (not necessarily a bad thing in the age of 75 minute CD albums). Highly recommended.
Related posts :-
The Specials
The Selecter


  1. I also thought the second album was a better album than the first. Even though my favorite one is on the 1st. which would be Twist and Crawl. And special beat service was mostly great too. I love I Confess. And Save it for Later. My favorite TwoTone album is Celebrate the Bullet by the Selecter even though most people seem to think it's not very good but I think it's the most interesting one out of all of them. It's the only one with any variety. And the songs are just good. I think the Specials are kind of a bore though. Except for Enjoy Yourself and Ghost Town.

  2. As I think I have said somewhere in my reviews, I always preferred The Beat, The Selecter and Madness to The Specials.

  3. I have reviewed Celebrate The Bullet. I think it was a bit of a misunderstood/underrated album.