Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Long Out-Of-Print Book Detailing The Origins Of The Beat Now Online
Long before the advent of the Internet and social media, obsessive music fans had to rely on their wits and determination to find out about the bands and music they loved. If you lived in the U.S. during the heyday of 2-Tone, then you were at serious disadvantage. Thirty years ago, unless you lived near a large city like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, or had a new wave radio station you could dial in, chances were you would have make due with listening to records and holding your breath that you would hear that The Specials, The Selecter or The Beat were embarking on U.S. tours. Even then, you had to hope you could get tickets and somehow get to and from the show on a school night. It seems pretty quaint and old fashioned now.
Count me as one of those obsessives. As a teen, I haunted record stores across New Jersey and New York City in search of anything that would satisfy my never ending hunger for ska, reggae and new wave records, buttons, magazines and later bootleg vinyl of live shows. One Saturday in the early 80's while scouring the racks and aisles of Tower Records in New York City, I came across the mother lode of all treasures. There, sitting quite non-chalantly on a rack with other imported rock books was a colorful copy of "The Beat: Twist & Crawl" -- I stood as if in a trance. By this time I was hooked on 2-Tone and The Beat in particular. I had studied the band's albums and cassette tapes for clues and insight. Listened to their songs and dissected their lyrics. But here before me was the definitive bible -- the Dead Sea Scrolls -- of everything I wanted and needed to know about the band. Though it cost me a king's ransom in the exchange rate between pounds to dollars at the time, I happily paid.
I must have read the book from cover to cover many times in the days and years that followed. It became a valued friend (in the way that inanimate objects have a way of finding a special place in your heart). The book meant so much to me, and influenced me as a musician and writer, that I still have the original copy I purchased nearly 30 years ago. Though the pages are loose and the binding is shot, it still recounts the Cinderella tale of the unlikely group of Midlanders who cooked up a irresistible mix of bubblegum pop, jaunty ska and dark dub. I lugged it along with me when my band toured with The Special Beat years later. I pulled it out to show Ranking Roger in a dingy dressing room when he came to chat with us. He looked through it before signing it for me (see above), chuckling and remarking at the many pictures in the book that he hadn't seen in years. And that is saying something. Though likely rushed to market in 1981 to capitalize on the band's then fleeting popularity in the U.K., it was put together with care.
Despite my biased affection for the book, it remains one of the best of its kind. It is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at The Beat from their roots through to the recording of their second album "Whappen" and everything else that happened in between -- their early days, first shows, recording and first tour of the U.S. Written by Malu Halasa (who later became the wife of guitarist Andy Cox) with an insiders eye, it features rare photos and even rarer illustrations by artist Hunt Emerson (the designer of the famous 'Beat-Girl' logo).
Amazingly, for those of you that cannot get hold of the long out-of-print tome, or don't want to pay one hundred dollars or more for the originals that periodically pop up on eBay or Amazon, the full text of the book including pictures and illustrations is available to read online at the excellent Beat UK website. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have.