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.
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