The English Beat – I Just Can’t Stop It

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

We have entered the second wave ska section. In the Es, I’ve got all three English Beat albums to review; in the Ss (proceeding concurrently), I’ve got compilations for the Selecter and the Specials. As noted before, I love ska. And the English Beat are probably my favorite of the second wave bands, though they are also the least traditional sounding of them (again, just limited to the ones whose albums I possess). The Beat (as they were known in their native England) formed in Birmingham in 1978. The lineup consisted of vocalist Ranking Roger (Roger Charlery), singer/guitarist Dave Wakeling, Andy Cox on guitar, David Steele playing the bass, drummer Everett Morton, and saxophonist Saxa (born Lionel Augustus Martin). They were known as the English Beat in the US (due to Paul Collins’s existing band) and as the British Beat in Australia. Technically, they were a two-tone band:  their first single was on the 2 Tone label and they were an integrated band, and of course, ska was a significant part of their sound.

What I Think of This Album

A monster of an album, just packed with hits and great songs; as far as I’m concerned, almost all of the album cuts could have been singles. The original British release housed twelve songs, and that is what I have on CD. The US release and all CD reissues (supposedly) include the double A-side single “Tears of a Clown” and “Ranking Full Stop,” though these are inserted seemingly randomly in the track listing as opposed to being appended to the original album, as I would have recommended. 

I like to break this album down into the ska songs and the new wave songs. The new wave songs are where the band took the greatest chances, with strange sounds and difficult emotions. “Mirror In the Bathroom” is cold, nerve-prodding, and tense, which is an odd choice for a song about narcissism, as far as I am concerned. “Twist & Crawl” is in the same stark vein, with music and lyrics that capably translate psychic pain into physical discomfort. 

I consider “Best Friend” to be one of the new wave numbers, though I can see an argument for the opposite opinion. Mostly the jangly guitar is what convinces me, but whatever. The larger point is this is a tuneful and tasty bit of pop. More debatable is the cover of Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman’s “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” Obviously, neither a new wave song nor a ska one, though the band tries to shoehorn it into the ska style, and that’s the problem. Moreover, this softening of style was concerning, and a harbinger of things to come for this band.  

The songs that are truer to ska fare much better. “Hand Off . . . She’s Mine,” which is bright and bouncy even if the lyrics are retrograde (at best, and this is a stretch, it’s a satirical commentary on possessiveness, but I don’t buy it). Ranking Roger’s toasting is great and the faux steel drums are a nice touch. “Two Swords” is a skanking blast of fun, packing more pure energy into its two plus minutes than the rest of the album combined. That said, the message that one should refrain from violence even against Nazis, to the point of suggesting that anti-fascists and fascists are sometimes indistinguishable, is not something I can hop on board with. 

The excellent, airy cover of “Rough Rider” rides a rubbery bass, a skittery guitar, and Roger’s throwback toasting. This song was co-written by Eddy Grant and originally performed by Prince Buster. Incorporating the darkness of the new wave songs, “”Click Click” is a disturbing tune about suicide that nonetheless adopts the upbeat sounds of the islands.

The slower “Big Shot” relies heavily on David Steele’s bass, the beat laid down by Everett Morton, and Saxa’s fine work. Mashup “Whine& Grine/Stand Down Margaret” starts out as another Prince Buster cover but seamlessly transitions to an emphatic anti-Thatcher call. Roger does another fantastic job and the musical backing is first-rate.

“Noise In This World” is perhaps the weakest of the album tracks – it’s fast and melodic but sort of empty. On the other hand, while no one might remember the cover of “Jackpot” (originally recorded by the Pioneers), it is another excellent bit of ska, with fine work from Saxa and Roger. Notably, the Specials covered a different Pioneers song – “Long Shot Kick De Bucket.”

The producer was Bob Sargeant, who also produced XTC, the Ruts, the Monochrome Set, and the Damned.

Random fact:  Saxa was considerably older than the rest of the band. He had played with Desmond Dekker, Prince Buster, and Laurel Aitken. Just as Rico Rodriguez brought some authenticity to the Specials, so did Saxa to the English Beat.

The Best Thing About This Album

I think Ranking Roger is critical to this album’s appeal.

Release Date

May, 1980

The Cover Art

I don’t love the color scheme – it looks like a crate of Good & Plentys exploded over the artist’s table. I guess it’s supposed to be red and black, which is much more obvious on the back cover, but on the front it reads a dark pink. In any event, the design is great. I like the silhouettes of the band members (including Saxa’s sax (and glasses)), and the representation of their racial integration. I adore the font used for the band name. And perhaps most importantly, the Hunt Emerson-designed icon – known as the “Beat Girl” – is playful and distinctive. Emerson based the image off a photo of Brigitte Bond (a ska singer, as well as an actor and cabaret performer) from a 1979 edition of Melody Maker.

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