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The Beat (known in North America as The English Beat and Australia as The British Beat) are a 2 Tone ska revival band founded in England in 1978. Their songs fuse ska, pop, soul, reggae and punk rock, and their lyrics deal with themes of love, unity and sociopolitical topics.
The Beat, consisting of Dave Wakeling (vocals, guitar), Ranking Roger (vocals), Andy Cox (guitar), David Steele (bass), Everett Morton (drums), and Saxa (saxophone), released three studio albums in the early 1980s: I Just Can't Stop It (1980), Wha'ppen? (1981) and Special Beat Service (1982), and a string of singles, including "Mirror in the Bathroom", "Too Nice To Talk To", "Can't Get Used To Losing You", "Hands off She's Mine" and "All Out To Get You".
1978 – 1983
The Beat were formed in Birmingham, England, in 1978, during a period of high unemployment and social upheaval in the United Kingdom. Ranking Roger, one of the band's vocalists, added a Jamaican vocal flavour to the band's sound with his toasting style. Jamaican saxophonist Saxa added a Jamaican ska instrumental sound. Saxa had played saxophone with Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, and Desmond Dekker in the first wave of ska (as well as with The Beatles in their Liverpool days). He joined The Beat to record their first single, "Tears of a Clown," a cover version of the Motown hit by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
Notable singles from the first album included "Can't Get Used to Losing You," "Mirror In the Bathroom," "Hands Off She's Mine" and "Best Friend." The second Beat album, Wha'ppen? was supported by extensive touring, including a US tour with The Pretenders and Talking Heads. The album yielded more UK hits, with "All Out to Get You" and "Too Nice To Talk To," both of which broke into the Top 40 of the UK Singles Chart. The Beat received support from modern rock radio stations such as KROQ-FM in Los Angeles and KYYX in Seattle.
Although The Beat's main fan base was in the United Kingdom, the band was also popular in Australia, partly due to exposure on the radio station Triple J and the TV show Countdown. The Beat had a sizable following in North America, where the band was known as The English Beat for legal reasons (to avoid confusion with the American band The Beat). The Beat toured the world with well-known artists such as David Bowie, The Clash, The Police, The Pretenders, R.E.M., The Specials and Talking Heads. Members of the band often collaborated on stage with The Specials.
After the break-up of The Beat in 1983, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger went on to form General Public and had a couple of hit singles in North America, while Andy Cox and David Steele formed Fine Young Cannibals with vocalist Roland Gift from the ska band Akrylykz. Drummer Everett Morton and Saxa formed The International Beat along with the Birmingham based singer, Tony Beet, and the band released an album titled The Hitting Line on Blue Beat Records in 1990 (BBSLP 009). The album was produced by Ranking Roger and he often guested with the band at some of their shows. The International Beat toured the United Kingdom and USA before calling it a day in 1992. Ranking Roger also briefly joined Mick Jones' post-Clash band Big Audio Dynamite and performed at several live shows with the band. However, the band broke up shortly after he joined when its last album was shelved by the record company. Meanwhile, "March of the Swivelheads," an instrumental version of the Beat's song "Rotating Head," was used in the climactic chase scene of 1986's Ferris Bueller's Day Off; the band was listed in the end credits as "The (English) Beat." "Save It for Later" was featured on the soundtrack album to 1996's Kingpin and 2010's Hot Tub Time Machine.
In the early 1990s, Roger joined members of The Specials to form Special Beat, which toured and released two live albums. They supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Roger recorded his solo debut, a reggae-oriented album entitled Radical Departure. In 2001, Roger released another solo album, Inside My Head, which included traditional reggae and ska with influences of electronica, jungle and dub. Ranking Roger's son, Ranking Junior, has followed in his father's footsteps. In 2005, he appeared on The Ordinary Boys' single "Boys Will Be Boys" and is a current member of The Beat in the UK.
Pete Townshend covered the song "Save It For Later" numerous times between 1985 and 1998. The Who performed the song twice on their 1989 Reunion Tour.
Pearl Jam also began covering the song in 1996 blending it in to the end of "Better Man", and it remained in the set list for their 2011 tour.
In 2003, The Beat's original line-up, minus Cox and Steele, played a sold-out one-off gig at the Royal Festival Hall. In 2004, the VH1 show Bands Reunited tried unsuccessfully to reunite the original line-up.
In 2006, the UK version of The Beat, featuring Ranking Roger and Morton, recorded a new album that was mixed by Adrian Sherwood, but it remains unreleased. The band also features Mickey Billingham on keyboards, formerly a member of Dexys Midnight Runners and General Public.
Dave Wakeling fronts the US version of the group as The English Beat. The singer and his band flew over to the UK in April 2011, to perform at the London International Ska Festival at the Clapham Grand music venue. They played the Dorset Steam Fair Show 2011 on 31 August 2011.
For Record Store Day, "Mirror in the Bathroom" and "Too Nice to Talk To" are getting re-released as a limited edition 7".
Both the UK and US versions of the band still continue to tour frequently.