Death of Ranking Roger prompts recall of English Beat early days

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Roger Charlery’s passing this week was sad for fans of new wave. Charlery, also known as Ranking Roger, was a member of the English Beat. The group was a multicultural ska and new wave band that formed in England. Known for their bouncy, ska beats and sometimes dark or political lyrics, the English Beat had a distinctive sound that fans loved for decades.

Even after the English Beat broke up in the early 1980s, Charlery and fellow lead singer Dave Wakeling, formed other groups and continued to perform together.

English Beat videos are characterized by what seems to be genuine goodwill among the band’s members.

The sound of the English Beat

There is no denying the high-energy rhythms of the English. The band’s heavy use of ska, the 1960s precursor to reggae, was the first introduction thousands of North American listeners had to the genre.

The bouncing, nuanced beat created by the English Beat sounded like a good time, regardless of a song’s lyrical content. In addition to the percussion, there is also a danceable bassline that is part of the band’s sound.

The English Beat had a few hits that made them famous among US listeners. On college radio stations and Music Television, the group had hits with “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Save It For Later,” and ” Too Nice to Talk To” to name a few.

“Mirror in the Bathroom” has a beautiful and strange quality. The elements of ska permeate the ode to narcissism, and like with “Too Nice to Talk To” a saxophone blares atop the soundscape, giving the music an almost dizzying effect.

For its part, “Too Nice to Talk To” is more universally understood. The opening lyrics give the temporal setting. It is the small hours of the morning and the narrator has spent all night watching the object of his affection dance. Yet, he has not managed to talk to her. The song is funny in that it accurately depicts a  classic case of lost nerves.

These two songs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the original English Beat had to offer. For those who lost touch with the members’ activities since the breakup of the English Beat and General Public, Charlery was still active as a performer at the time of his death.

The English Beat was a unique band in terms of its composition and approach to making songs. As a part of the English Beat and in his own right, Charlery will be sorely missed. As reported by Billboard.com and other outlets, he died of brain tumors and other cancers at the age of 56.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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