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Remembering Ranking Roger: The Beat’s Mirror In The Bathroom

Remembering Ranking Roger, who has died aged 56.

Though Birmingham’s The Beat had come around after Madness, The Specials and The Selecter had already made their entrance into the second wave of the Eighties‘ ska revival, they were arguably writing some of the best songs of the genre.

Released in 1979, their first hit didn’t have quite the happy-go-lucky demeanour that eventually came to be identified with ska. Rather, Mirror In The Bathroom was haunting and paranoid, with lyrics apparently about cocaine addiction, though vocalist Dave Wakeling, explaining, if you’d like to believe it, that the lyrics were not actually inspired by snow white:

“It was thinking about how self-involvement turns into narcissism and how narcissism turns into isolation, and then how isolation turns into self-involvement again, and how what a vicious cycle that can become.” 

Whatever its chemical basis, the track kicks off with a much imitated Everett Morton drumroll that instantly gets subsumed into David Steele’s churning bass, Saxa’s sneaking sax and the airy guitars of Wakeling and Andy Cox, as the verses provide an almost hallucinatory foil to the dark grooves. Hypnotic and energetic, the song is tunnelling inside your head even before Dave opens his mouth to sing.

“Mirror in the bathroom, I just can’t stop it/every Saturday find me window shopping/find no interest in the racks and shelves/just a thousand reflections of my own sweet shelf.”

It’s not quite full-blown reggae or ska, though it would fit in any playlist of either genre. It’s a whole new thing. There is no real chorus to Mirror In The Bathroom. And in fact every time you expect a chorus, here comes Saxa with an extended solo, carefully choosing his notes as if he’s trying to slow the song down, but totally failing.

Though thousands of bands would come to steal the opening drum taps to this song, it’s the original that never gets tiresome, even if I got sick of hearing Mark Dobson try and sing it loudly every day at Springfield School.

It‘s a reminisce every bit as tortuous as it sounded.

Anyway, here‘s the promotional vid thing, filmed at the Rum Runner club in Birmingham that put Duran Duran on the musical map.

Steve Pafford

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