As if the month of March weren't bad enough, last week I learned that Roger Charlery, Ranking Roger of The (English) Beat, died on March 26th at the entirely too young age of 56. The Beat formed a large part of the soundtrack of my youth, and the band was a 'gateway' to the rocksteady and ska musicians I love so much. Start with the Beat, find your way to Phyllis Dillon and Toots and the Maytals.
The Beat was blessed with two handsome, charismatic frontmen, and the interplay between Ranking Roger's Caribbean-inflected tones and Dave Wakeling's deep Brummagem burr was as integral to the band's sound as their incorporation of Caribbean and Latin instrumentation into their punk-tinged ska/rocksteady blend.
On the band's fist album, 1980's I Just Can't Stop It, the song Ranking Full Stop was the perfect showcase for Roger's mile-a-minute 'toasting' style. From the US Festival, this live version of the infectiously danceable tune is a gem:
Here's a rendition from 2016, in which Roger and his son perform the song, followed by the Beat signature tune Mirror in the Bathroom. The man hadn't lost his touch at all in the intervening decades:
The Beat wasn't just about party music, they were intensely passionate about politics, and articulated a vision for a multi-racial, multi-cultural society... one of their clarion calls was 'Love and Unity, the Only Way':
The Beat's second album, 1981's Wha'ppen, slowed down the frenetic tempo of the first album and incorporated more West African influences. The standout single Doors of Your Heart, a 'unity rocker', opened the album... again, here's the version from the US Festival:
The Beat's third and final album, 1982's Special Beat Service, was their American breakthrough, anchored by the single Save it for Later. While it had the Beat's most conventional rock tunes, it also included some of the band's 'purest' Caribbean dancehall style patois-heavy songs, such as Spar Wid Me:
Special Beat Service was on constant rotation at our house, it was a large part of the soundtrack of my high school years. Due to internal conflicts in the band, it was their last album, their big breakthrough was followed by the big breakup. Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling formed General Public, whose first single was 1984's Tenderness:
Roger also collaborated with other artists, such as the Clash, with whom he sang Police and Thieves during a 1981 concert:
In the 90's Roger reunited with Pato Banton, with whom he sang Pato and Roger a Go Talk on Special Beat Service for Bubbling Hot:
In the 21st Century, Roger kept performing in various incarnations of The Beat, and performed with his son. His last tour was in 2017, as recounted in this news item:
I spent this morning binge-listening to The Beat's three albums and various singles that Ranking Roger performed on. He was a big part of my youth, and I'm grateful for the message of love, peace, and unity that he always conveyed. By all accounts, he was a lovely man and he was a fine role model, which is altogether too uncommon among celebrities.