The English Beat
2-tone deserved better. Otherwise known as the second wave of ska — the first being the reggae-tinged '60s Jamaican scene that produced the Wailers, the third the rock-tinged form that ruled the mid-'90s — this late-'70s strain originated from an English label whose roster included the Specials, Madness and Bad Manners. Despite the style's rich hooks, jazzy brasswork and dancehall-driven bounce, it holds little cultural currency in contemporary America. One casualty was the English Beat, a trusty Birmingham gang that roped reggae, punk and pop into a simmering ska brew. Though not groundbreaking, these stalwarts had a knack for solid songwriting. The Beat's finest cuts sound nothing alike: 1980's "Mirror in the Bathroom" is an agitated missive that cranks with back-alley grimness, whereas 1982's "Save It for Later" sashays to a carefree summer jangle. The Beat turns 30 this year, amassing some amusing pop-cultural links along the way: "Mirror" lent its name to a Degrassi: The Next Generation episode, director John Hughes selected front man Dave Wakeling to pen a titular track for 1988's She's Having a Baby and two ex-Beaters created ephemeral, lucrative '80s pop-rockers Fine Young Cannibals.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.