Great Britain in the late 1970s and early 1980s was an extremely polarized society. Upon its election Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party government had instituted a deliberate policy of isolating and attacking those it deemed to be its enemies. It was pretty much open season on everyone from trade unionists to minorities. While it was never official government policy to target immigrants like it was to break the coal miner’s union, when unemployment started to escalate and the poor and working class began to suffer, scapegoats were needed and visible minorities were an easy target. The National Front, a British neo-Nazi political party, took advantage of the hard times to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment. The result was increasingly violent altercations between their followers and the large South East Asian and Jamaican populations in London, which cumulated in race riots that were running battles between both sides and the police.
This was the backdrop against which a new type of music was born. Ska and reggae had come to Britain along with calypso with the post World War ll wave of Jamaican immigration, but they had never really spread beyond their native communities. That all began to change in 1970s with the emergence of reggae stars like Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff who garnered mainstream attention in England. While bands like The Clash incorporated reggae into their sound, others were attracted to the higher tempo sound of ska. Bands like The Specials, Madness, and UB40 blended ska and reggae with punk to create a high energy, somewhat politicalized, dance music. However it was a group from Birmingham, the second largest city in England after London, which had been really badly hit by Thatcher’s policies, who really caught lightning in a bottle and created a perfect marriage of ska, R&B, pop, and punk.
The Beat, or The English Beat, as they were known in North America, only released three albums. (The original band broke up in 1983 and have recently reformed as two separate bands, The Beat in England and The English Beat in the U.S., hence the two web sites) While they may have not been around for very long, they blazed through popular music like a comet. Infectious, intelligent, fun, and exciting, their music had people on both sides of the ocean dancing. A review published around the time of their first album, I Just Can’t Stop It, called them the perfect antidote to the riots plaguing England at the time. Just set The Beat down between the two factions and start them playing and people will have to stop fighting as their bodies will force them to start dancing the reviewer implied. If you didn’t have the opportunity to experience The Beat the first time around, or if you’re old vinyl has been worn out by repeated playings, you’re in luck, for on July 10, 2012, Shout Factory is releasing the box set The Complete Beat.
Not only does it contain all three original releases (I Just Can’t Stop It, Wh’appen, and Special Beat Service) remastered and with extra tracks, you’ll also receive two bonus discs. The fourth disc of the set collects together all the extended remixes, 12-inch singles, and dub versions of songs that they released during the course of their career. Dub is, of course, short for over dubbing and was a widely used technique in Jamaican dance halls for years. The original song is taken, and then overdubbed with effects usually with the intent of extending the track and giving it a funkier groove. To be honest when I had heard some of these tracks when they were originally released I found the idea of overdubbing The Beat somewhat redundant as they were already a great dance band. However, that being said, their overdubs do have the added bonus of being more than just simple remixes with a new rhythm track.