Of all the bands to emerge on the 2Tone label in late seventies Britian, the (English) Beat took the broadest view of what it meant to be playing “ska” in their day and age. Possessed by a wide range of influences including reggae, calypso and punk, the band pushed these co-mingling flavors through a British pop sensibility that made them perhaps the most accessible band on their scene. While they sounded right at home doing Prince Buster covers like everyone else, their rejection of the limits of “authenticity” led to some of their greatest triumphs – a straightforward pop masterpiece like “Save It For Later” would have been inconceivable from the Selecter or the Specials. It gave them a universal appeal that effortlessly holds up today.
Shout Factory! is here to do what it does best, compiling an exhaustive yet affordable set, built around remasters of the band’s three equally essential albums – I Just Can’t Stop It, W’happen? and Special Beat Service – in superb sound quality, fleshed out with bonus tracks from the period. Of greatest interest to collectors, though, will be the added discs of 12-inch and dub remixes of the band’s biggest hits, and a disc of riotous live performances from three different Peel Sessions, and a live show recorded for broadcast in Boston in 1982.
I remember hearing that Boston show when it was on the radio, and thinking they sounded like the most exciting live band on the planet; my cassette copy got worn down after a year. It’s a pity only four songs are included here, as they had a more freewheeling quality in front of an audience than they did in John Peel’s studios. However, folks who order the set from the Shout! Factory website will get a bonus DVD of the band’s set from the US Festival during the same period, a strong selling point given what a force they were on the concert stage.