14 November 2006

The English Beat: I Just Can’t Stop It

With all our chat about 1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, I thought it fitting this week to feature an album I love for the best reason: because it brings me pure joy every time I listen. As we all said in the comment box, it doesn’t matter whether or not a music critic considers it an “important” album; what matters is what the songs mean to you.

I was blessed during the 1980–81 school year to snag the coolest job on campus: public relations/public affairs director of WRAS, long considered one of the best college radio stations in the nation. My job was to coordinate public affairs announcements and on-air the giveaways — concert tickets, albums, and the like.

Before I joined the radio station, I was a bit of a music luddite. I read Rolling Stone and bought albums and listened to the radio, but I rarely ventured beyond the FM rock station. I listened to the UGA campus station during my two years there — Kermit the Frog, followed by something from The Sound of Music, then Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” to a local band — and I enjoyed its freeform style. But WRAS was different; it took college radio and music seriously. I was listening to more than the standards by Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, The Clash and The Ramones. I was exposed to post-punk, new wave, singer-songwriters — a plethora of genres and some of the best (and, sadly, unheard) music of the early 1980s.

My first three album giveaways remain among my all-time favorites: The B-52’s Wild Planet, Joan Armatrading’s Me Myself I, and The English Beat’s I Just Can’t Stop It. These albums changed me; they opened me up to new genres and new sounds. I’ve already covered the first two, so today let’s obsess about The English Beat.

I could go on and on about how I Just Can’t Stop It is the perfect ska album, how its influence can still be heard today, how its members went on to found General Public and Fine Young Cannibals, and what an oversight that it’s not included on the 1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die list.

I love new wave ska, the 2 Tone era — The English Beat, The Specials, Madness, Selecter. Funny that reggae — such an important influence on ska — drives me batty. I wish I liked reggae … I’ve tried … but I can’t take more than one song at a time. Uncool of me, yes, but I must be honest.

But it’s something else for me. That English Beat album has the sound of youth and freedom, that joie de vivre of your early twenties … when “responsibility” was just a vocabulary word … when dancing all night and singing all day was the way you led your life. It’s one of those albums that makes me feel twenty-five years younger the moment I hear the first note.

I Just Can’t Stop It was released — gasp! — twenty-six years ago. But it doesn’t sound dated; it’s still fresh and alive and danceable. Back in my bookstore days, I was thrilled to find that the young Jeremy also loved The Beat (as they were known in the UK). He was a wee lad during their heyday, but he recognized their brilliance later on (Jeremy rocks, kids).

I Just Can’t Stop It includes two brilliant covers: Andy Williams’ “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” (Dave Wakeling’s vocals are sublime on the track, as buttery smooth as Andy’s) and Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” (lovely that a heartache song can be so much fun to dance to, as it is here). When you have two covers nearly as good as the originals, you know you have something.

The album’s brilliance continues to sparkle with “Whine and Grine/Stand Down Margaret,” “Hands off … She’s Mine,” “Ranking Full Stop” … the entire album, really.

“Mirror in the Bathroom” is one of the best album openers ever. Electrifying energy. I just can’t stop it when it comes to dancing to this tune. “Can I take you to a restaurant that’s got glass tables / You can watch yourself while you are eating.”

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How many times have I worn out my body dancing hard and fast to “Twist and Crawl”?

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Along with “Save It for Later” (from Special Beat Service), “Best Friend” is one of The Beat’s best pop songs. It sounds as deliriously happy as I feel about my best friends.

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At 11/14/2006 02:21:00 AM, Blogger Bubs said...

I've been really surprised and pleased lately to learn from my eldest that there's plenty of great little ska bands out there now. She came home with some black/white checked shoes a few weeks ago that looked straight out of a Specials show from 1979. I'll have to show her this!

At 11/14/2006 08:01:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

Beth, how do I know that if I ever just quit my job and decided on a cross continent road trip, you'd be the perfect person to go with?

At 11/14/2006 09:17:00 AM, Blogger haahnster said...

I can't believe you're crushing on Dale now. You're so fickle!!!

Just kidding. Maybe.

At 11/14/2006 10:01:00 AM, Blogger Tenacious S said...

Saw at least three decent ska bands at Riot Fest. Ska is alive and well. Did it ever really go away? I think that's why it still sounds fresh.

At 11/14/2006 11:10:00 AM, Blogger barista brat said...

i love the english beat.
i had no idea 'can't get used to losing you' was a cover. it has the quintessential ska guitar riff and makes me happy every time i hear it. in fact, this song, as well as 'twist and crawl', was on the bux 80's playlist.
ah, i miss the bux 80's mix!

At 11/14/2006 11:59:00 AM, Blogger Johnny Yen said...

That is one of the great albums of all time. I already loved the English Beat-- but they have a special place in my heart. They played here in Chicago at a street fair on June 3 this year. My friend Mark was at that show. The Beat got Mark to do something very few bands could get him to do-- dance! Friends who were with him that night told me what a great time he had. A few hours after the show, he died (as some of you know, he was murdered in a botched robbery). I was glad to know that most of the last night of his life, which ended so awfully, was at least filled with friendship, joy and ska.

At 11/14/2006 01:50:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

UBS: May I borrow her checkered shoes? I had a pair of cruel shoes, a la Joe Jackson's album cover, when I worked at the radio station; damn, I loved them.

DALE: Because you're a brilliant man.

HAAHNSTER: You know I'll always love you best ... but of course I'm fickle; that's how I've remained single.

TENACIOUS S: I love how each generation keeps it going and yet makes it their own.

BRAT: I'll send you the Andy Williams original. I miss the bux 80s mix, too!

JOHNNY YEN: I didn't know about your friend Mark, and I'm so sorry. I'm so glad he spent his last hours dancing with friends to great music.

At 11/14/2006 01:53:00 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Arrrgh God damn blogger !!!!

At 11/14/2006 01:54:00 PM, Blogger Ben said...

It's a great album.
I typed about 3 paragraphs,basically saying "it's a great album"

At 11/14/2006 02:53:00 PM, Blogger Bubs said...

Beth, the shoes are Vans. I couldn't remember the name earlier:


At 11/14/2006 03:40:00 PM, Blogger Tenacious S said...

Vans still rule!

At 11/14/2006 05:46:00 PM, Blogger barista brat said...

thanks beth! got it!

At 11/14/2006 05:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have that on vinyl. (Always love an opportunity to say that.)

At 11/14/2006 05:46:00 PM, Blogger Grant Miller said...

I wore English Beat tshirt in high school.

At 11/14/2006 07:49:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

BEN: Blogger is a b*tch these days, isn't she? I'm bummed that I lost your English Beat insight.

BUBS: Thought they might be; I may need to get a pair.

TENACIOUS S: Classics never fade.

BRAT: Do you love it?

PINKFLUFFYSLIPPERS: I still have my original vinyl from that pre-release giveaway ... and the CD ... and the MP3s, of course.

GRANT MILLER: I still have my English Beat T-shirt. We're f*cking cool, Miller.

At 11/14/2006 08:07:00 PM, Blogger barista brat said...

i really do!

i'm impressed with how the english beat managed to keep the feel of the original, but still made it their own.

is all of andy williams' songs like this? i can't believe i'd never heard of him before.

At 11/14/2006 09:13:00 PM, Blogger justacoolcat said...

oooooo Yummy English Beat thanks for another blast from the past craving.

Ska is not dead.

At 11/15/2006 06:27:00 AM, Anonymous e said...

the english beat are in my neck of the woods in a couple of weeeks. where will you be?

At 11/15/2006 05:02:00 PM, Blogger mellowlee said...

I heart ska! I really enjoyed this post Beth. It's funny how you can't take more than one Reggae song at a time hey? I get into a mood to listen to it once in a while.
There is a place down the street, a cafe which has theme nights such as poetry slam and reggae night. Reggae nights are a blast! I havent gone in a while. It's usually packed tight full of all walks of life, and everyone on their feet dancing, and drinking and smoking. Although I don't partake in the smokage, I find it all quite hilarious.

The other place I enjoy reggae is while out camping. It's fun to dance around the campfire with friends to reggae *G*

Ok, sorry about the loooong comment! So after Barb's post about seeing Frank Black, I've been on a Pixies and Frank Black binge, and now I will be on a Ska binge *G* I love it, thanks Beth! :D

At 11/15/2006 10:46:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Beth, you're second best...right after me. Slurp.

Haahnster - everyone loves you, more than Raymond even!

At 11/16/2006 07:30:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

BRAT: Andy Williams is at his best with Christmas music, if you ask me. I sent you a few MP3s; let me know what you think. Oh, and the Osmond Brothers had their one of their first TV appearances on an Andy Williams Christmas special. Man, I loved the Andy Williams Christmas specials when I was a kid ...

E: Shy little E, I might be in your neck of the woods ... if you let me know which neck that is.

MELLOWLEE: I love reading long comments, so never edit yourself. I wish I could handle more reggae, but I just can't. Keeps me out of Caribbean restaurants; it's a sad affliction.

DALE: Your modesty is what puts you over the top, dear. Oh, and Haahnster rules.

At 11/16/2006 10:41:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I can't believe you put me on your sidebar. My hair doesn't even fit on anymore from the swelling. Don't even.

At 11/16/2006 11:17:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

Ah, Dale, you had to know you were next ...

At 11/20/2006 01:26:00 AM, Blogger Jeffrey said...


Man, those tunes brought back memories. I was a baggy-panted ska punk with a fedora on my shaved head back around 1980. I preferred The Selector to the English Beat and Madness, among the rest. I definitely wore out a few pairs of brogans with my ska grooving and skittering on the dance floor.

The grumpy old man schtick is just one of my personas. Heh heh.

Just another Bed and Breakfast Man.


At 11/20/2006 08:20:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy said...

The thing about ska is that it is timeless. I thoroughly explored the 3rd Wave and the only reason it ever appears to go away is Radio. There's always little ska bands playing under the radar. However, every decade or more the radio stations will get a whiff of a good ska band and the airwaves will be flooded with copycats. Blam! Another wave is born. And I can't hate on them, because I generally like all the new bands as much as the old. thjat may be an overstatement, but you get what I'm saying. they're trying and as long as they don't flat out rape the genre, they're generally good.

Speaking of, I think we're about due, so keep your ears open.

At 11/21/2006 01:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hated them all!

At 11/25/2006 10:28:00 PM, Blogger busterp said...

I'm here via Mellow. Love the English Beat and Ranking Roger. Mirror and the others are great. Smile material.

I saw them in Chicago for a 4th of July concert(regrouped) as General Public. That's a good CD too.

Nice selection of music. I'll be back when I have more time.

If this posts twice, delete one. I upgraded and don't think it knows that.


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