The Complete Beat

Pork Pie hats, checkered ‘slacks’, shiny, shiny black shoes, white t-shirt and black or white suit jacket with sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Such was the uniform of late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s ska-heads, disciples of the two-tone movement. I was such a disciple, but I never wore a pork pie hat ‘cause I couldn’t find one. The rest of the garb, well, yeah, I wore it. Just for a little while, though. It was a fad, unlike the best of the ska music from that era, which remains relevant and timeless. Although the Specials get all the kudos and critical acclaim, and Madness put out a zillion hit singles (and are still going strong!), it is The (English) Beat that top the list for me.

From their punky debut to the dub excursions of 2nd disk Wha’appen? To the smooth pop stylings of the swansong Special Beat Service, The Beat amassed a small but worthy discography that’s deserving more than the footnotes it’s so often afforded.

My favorite has always been the debut. Truth is the band lost me with Wha’ppen, it being a much more mellow affair than I Just Can’t Stop It. Although I liked the next one, Special Beat Service, I had kind of moved on by then. Revisiting these disks now I am dumbfounded by how much I’m loving those last 2, especially Wha’ppen?, which sounds like a band hitting it’s stride. And Special Beat Service sounds much more complete than I remember. The two “bonus disks” are fine; the first is a collection of extended mixes and B-sides, the second is a bunch of pretty great Peel Sessions and 4 live tracks. The Peel Sessions are interesting in that it really shows the progression of the band from the punky outfit they were to the slick pop band they became at the end.

This is a good time to revisit the albums and extended mixes that made The Beat one of the best pop bands of the ‘80’s as they’ve just released a very affordable “box-set” of their 3 proper albums that have been remastered and expanded, along with two other disks of rarities and such. 5 disks of crystalline, peerless, influential ska and pop music that everyone should have in their collection, all for under $40.

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