Sunday, April 06, 2014

LP of the Week - "I Just Can't Stop It," The English Beat

I failed to fully appreciate "I Just Can't Stop It" when it was released in the late spring of 1980.  Then, the song that stuck with me was the band's cover of "Tears of a Clown," which in retrospect was probably little more than a gimmick designed to grab attention and add to radio play/record sales.  Don't get me wrong; it's a great cover version of what I consider to be an iconic song - but it's hardly the best thing on the album.

Along with The Specials, The English Beat (simply "The Beat" in England, but christened "English" in the States because there was another (lesser) active band with that name at that time) was formed during a period of economic uncertainty and social unrest in the U.K., and was often aggressively political in its songs.  At the same time, they were a great dance band, and their songs have held up for more than three decades now.  Drop this album on the marketplace in 2014, and it would sound just as fresh and lively as it did way back in the dark ages.

Where it started to come together for me was when I saw them live, in October 1980 at Zellerbach Hall on the U.C. Berkeley campus.  They were opening for Talking Heads, and even though I've seen a lot of great artists play a lot of great shows since then, that show still ranks in my all-time Top 5.  You had Ranking Roger dancing around the stage, you had Saxa (still alive and presumably kicking at age 84) parked on a folding chair on the side of the stage, blowing his horn; and you had the rest of what was a great band playing like their lives depended on the outcome.  It was great, and I was sold.

Looking at the track listing now, it's amazing how many great songs are on there - songs that you still hear on the radio every now and then, or used in a film - "Mirror in the Bathroom," "Hands Off, She's Mine," "Twist and Crawl," "Click Click," "Ranking Full Stop," "Stand Down Margaret," "Best Friend" - and that's before you even notice that they've also covered "Can't Get Used to Losing You," an old Pomus/Shuman song made famous by Andy Williams, of all people.

It's all great, and all these years it makes one wonder what might have happened before the band split in two (becoming General Public and Fine Young Cannibals) before starting tours (that last to this day) under various incarnations using the word "Beat."  Before dissolving, they made three albums, and they're all great.  Could it have lasted longer?  Alas, it's questions like these that have no answers, but that's part of what makes it so much fun to be a music fan.  And who knows - in an alternate universe somewhere, the band just might be getting ready for its induction into the Hall of Fame.

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