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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Labels: My Soundtrack