The sad news continues this week with word that Ranking Roger, singer for The Beat (or English Beat outside the UK) and founding member of General Public passed away earlier today at 56. The cause of death wasn’t immediately disclosed, but it’s assumed to be complications from his battle with lung Cancer.
Ranking Roger, along with bandmates The Beat, were pivotal figures in the resurgence of interest in Ska and were closely associated with Two-Tone Records, the label practically synonymous with the Ska revival of the 70s.
Notable singles from the first Beat album included “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”, “Mirror In the Bathroom”, “Hands Off She’s Mine” and “Best Friend”. The second Beat album, Wha’ppen? was supported by extensive touring, including a United States tour with The Pretenders and Talking Heads. The album yielded more UK hits, with “All Out to Get You,” “Drowning” and “Doors of Your Heart”, all of which broke into the Top 40 of the UK Singles Chart. The Beat received support from modern rock radio stations such as KROQ-FM in Los Angeles, the now defunct KQAK The Quake 99FM (98.9) in San Francisco and KYYX in Seattle.
Although The Beat’s main fan base was in the UK, the band was also popular in Australia, partly due to exposure on the radio station Triple J and the TV show Countdown. The Beat had a sizable following in the US and Canada, where the band was known as The English Beat for legal reasons (to avoid confusion with the American band The Beat). The Beat toured the world with well-known artists such as David Bowie, The Clash, The Police, The Pretenders, R.E.M., The Specials and Talking Heads. Members of the band often collaborated on stage with The Specials.
After The Beat’s 1983 break-up, Roger bandmate Dave Wakeling formed General Public with Mickey Billingham and Andy “Stoker” Growcott of Dexys Midnight Runners and Horace Panter of The Specials. They released the album All the Rage, aided by the single “Tenderness”. In 1986, they released Hand to Mouth which was less successful, and the band soon split up.
In 1995, Roger and Wakeling reformed General Public with a new supporting band, and released the album Rub It Better. Roger and Wakeling also worked on various projects and reunited for the 1994 Threesome soundtrack, recording a cover of “I’ll Take You There”.
Roger released Radical Departure, his first solo album, in 1988 which included band members Horace Panter and Fuzz Townshend.
On 2001’s Inside My Head, Roger pursued a more dance/electronic sound, including the song “Muscle Ska” that was co-written with Neville Staple of The Specials.
For a reminder of the halcyon days of The Beat, here is their first session for John Peel at BBC Radio 1 from November 5, 1979.
With heavy hearts and overflowing gratitude. Rest In Peace, Ranking Roger (1963-2019).