I love the British ska revival of the late-’70 and early-’80s, led by the Specials and a group with two different names: “The Beat” in the U.K., and “The English Beat” in the U.S., where another group had prior claim to the shorter name. The movement combined groovy biracial calls to social unity with an infectious, unstoppable beat and classic melodicism. If forced tp pick, I’d probably take the (English) Beat as my favorite group of the era.
The Beat’s first single was a tightly rocking ska version of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears Of a Clown,” which shot up the charts in late-’79. An exceptional record, “Tears” features Dave Wakeling’s great dusky vocal, crisp drumming from Everett Morton, and authentic sax work from 50-year-old Jamaican, Saxa.
In mid-’80 the band recorded the outstanding I Just Can’t Stop It, which is (along with the Specials’ first album) one of the two best albums of the British ska revival, and one of the greatest albums of the ’80s, period.
Mixing killer covers (“Tears,” and a deeply soulful version of Andy Williams’ “Can’t Get Used To Losing You”), with first-rate originals (“Hands Off…She’s Mine”; an amazingly acute analysis of narcissism, “Mirror In the Bathroom”; the ambagious “Twist and Crawl”), the album yielded four hit singles and created a ranking skanking sensation.
Perhaps a bit rushed, the band’s second album, Wha-ppen?, slowed down the tempo and didn’t live up to the standards of the first, but was another huge U.K. hit in ’81.
The Beat’s third album, Special Beat Service, was a return to greatness and also a hit in the U.S. Special returned to quicker tempos than Wha’ppen?, though was less ska and more modern pop-rock than I Just Can’t Stop It. Wakeling’s singing and the band’s (including Andy Cox on guitar and David Steele on bass, who went on to form Fine Young Cannibals) writing are better than ever on the piano-driven “I Confess,” the frenetic “Sugar and Stress,” sweet calypso-flavored “Ackee 1-2-3,” and the great “Save It For Later.”