Ranking Roger

Ranking Full Stop: the Beat’s Ranking Roger dies, aged 56

Ranking Roger, vocalist with The Beat and General Public in the 1980s and leader of one of the two versions of The Beat still recording and performing forty years after their original formation, has died at the age of 56.

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Born in Birmingham to Saint Lucian parents, the young Roger Charlery began his musical career playing drums in punk band Dum Dum Boys, named after a song from Iggy Pop’s album The Idiot. Meeting Dave Wakeling’s fledgling ska revival band The Beat at an early Dum Dum Boys gig, Roger struck up a friendship with Wakeling and began appearing with The Beat as an unofficial member, his style of toasting complementing Wakeling’s singing to such an extent that he became a full time Beat member in 1979.

Released on Jerry Dammers’ eminent 2 Tone label, The Beat’s first single – a ska cover of Smokey Robinson’s Tears of a Clown backed with band original Ranking Full Stop which showcased Roger’s energetic vocal performance – reached number 6 in the UK chart in January 1980, after which the band moved to major label Arista, who gave them their own Go Feet label. The Beat’s first album I Just Can’t Stop It mixed catchy ska-pop hits such as Mirror in the Bathroom and Hands Off… She’s Mine with a version of the Prince Buster classic Whine and Grine and the anti-Thatcher polemic of Stand Down Margaret; it entered the UK chart at number 3 in May 1980 and made inroads into the US Billboard chart, where the band was known as The English Beat to avoid confusion with another similarly named outfit.

1981 saw the release of their second album Wha’ppen?, which also reached number 3 in the UK, although the album’s more laid back West African influences didn’t sit so well with the singles buying public – the double A-side of Drowning and All Out to Get You failed to reach the top twenty, Doors of Your Heart missed the top thirty and a foray into funk on non-album single Hit It barely scraped into the top 75. With an eye on greater American success, third album Special Beat Service introduced Latin and mainstream pop into the mix, rewarding them with a top forty album in the US but stalling outside the top twenty at home. The Beat wouldn’t return to the UK top forty singles chart until 1983 with the belated single release of Can’t Get Used to Losing You, an easy listening Andy Williams number which first saw the light of day on I Just Can’t Stop It three years previously. Reaching number 3 in the UK, their highest ever chart position, it heralded a top ten best of album What is Beat? but also proved to be the band’s last top forty single before they disbanded in the summer of 1983.

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Following the breakup of The Beat, Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling formed General Public with Horace Panter (ex-Specials), Mickey Billingham and Andy “Stoker” Growcott (both ex-Dexys Midnight Runners) and, initially, former Clash guitarist Mick Jones, although he left the band during the recording of debut album All the Rage. Although not hugely successful in the UK, General Public scored a US top thirty hit with the 1984 single Tenderness. After a less successful second album Hand to Mouth in 1986, General Public split and Ranking Roger released a solo album, 1988’s Radical Departure. In the early 1990s Roger rejoined Horace Panter plus other former Specials including John Bradbury, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple in Special Beat; he returned to the singles chart in 1995 as featured vocalist on Pato Banton’s top twenty hit Bubbling Hot and worked with Big Audio Dynamite, Sting and Sly & Robbie.

In 2003 Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling reunited with drummer Everett Morton for a one-off gig as The Beat at London’s Royal Festival Hall. The reunion was short lived before the band divided into two camps: “The Beat featuring Ranking Roger” and “The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling”. Both units continued to perform and record; Roger’s band, with members including his son Ranking Junior, released the album Bounce in 2016. The first album of new material to bear The Beat’s name since 1982, it reached the top fifty in the UK chart. Roger’s Beat toured with The Selecter in 2017 and Roger remained busy into 2018, recording another album and writing his autobiography. Sadly, in the summer of 2018, Roger was forced to cancel shows after being hospitalised with a suspected stroke. The Beat featuring Ranking Roger released their final album Public Confidential in January 2019, the same month that Roger was treated for two brain tumours. He passed away at home on 26 March 2019; his autobiography I Just Can’t Stop It: My Life in The Beat is due for publication later this year.