Ranking Roger spent the last months of his life battling lung cancer and two brain tumors -- but his illness never took away his will to skank, sing and DJ for his adoring fans. “It’s the most brilliant job, as an entertainer,” he told interviewer Daniel Rachel in 2019. “That’s the most joyous thing I could have done. And I’ve done it.”
On behalf of ska and '80s alternative fans everywhere: job well done. As a vocalist for the English Beat and General Public, Ranking Roger (real name Roger Charlery) spent a 40-year career infusing Jamaican ska with new wave -- and helping to define the two-tone genre for a generation of English punks.
The style just lost one of its most crucial architects. On Tuesday (Mar. 26), Charlery lost his battle with cancer, as confirmed by a post on the English Beat’s Facebook page. “He fought and fought and fought,” the band wrote. “Roger was a fighter.” He was 56.
Watch any live video and identify the outrageous hype man: that’s Roger. In the studio, he sang singles like “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Save It for Later” and “Hands Off, She’s Mine” -- smash pop hits in the U.K. and fixtures on U.S. college radio -- with co-lead vocalist Dave Wakeling; live, he tackled them all while rapidly skanking from stage left to stage right.
True to form as '80s icons, the English Beat and General Public soundtracked a number of era cult classics, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Weird Science. And up to the 2010s, neither act’s appeal has waned in TV and film soundtracks. Sometimes a grim-as-death moment needs a ska gem for levity.
In honor of the legendary MC’s life and 40-year career, here are six brilliant film moments soundtracked by Ranking Roger.
General Public, “Tenderness” in Weird Science (1985)
A sci-fi teen gem directed by John Hughes of National Lampoon fame, Weird Science finds two nerdy high schoolers Frankensteining an ideal woman named Lisa to lure their crushes away from their boyfriends. When Lisa sends mutant bikers to stage a party-crashing, the boys seize the opportunity to stand up to them in front of all the attendees -- and the General Public new wave perennial “Tenderness” (Roger's first top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with either The Beat or General Public) cues up.
General Public, “Cry on Your Own Shoulder” in Head Office (1985)
The obscure black comedy Head Office takes aim at corporate culture; Judge Reinhold plays a dyed-in-the-wool slacker who rises to the top through power, corruption and lies. At a General Public show, Reinhold’s character falls in love with the left-wing daughter of a shady politician; “Cry on Your Own Shoulder” plays as he finds her flier to save a textile factory his bought-and-paid-for Senator father was supposed to close.
The English Beat, “March of the Swivelheads” in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
The English Beat plays a crucial role in this coming-of-age classic, in which Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller famously commits truancy under the nose of his sister, Jeanie. After a series of misadventures involving faked illness, a parade float and a stolen Ferrari, Jeanie nearly hits Ferris with her car -- and races him home. Cue up “March of the Swivelheads,” an instrumental mix of horn-driven Special Beat Service deep cut "Rotating Head," as the perfect beat to this pulse-pounding adolescent moment.
General Public, “Tenderness” in Clueless (1995)
In the 1995 teen comedy classic Clueless, Alicia Silverstone’s Cher Horowitz navigates grief, matchmaking and priorities as a student at Bronson Alcott High School. After she introduces her hardass teachers, Mr. Hall and Ms. Geist, they wed at the end -- and Cher catches the bouquet, the opening strains of “Tenderness” aptly waft into this touching teen-movie moment, the sentimental intro providing its typical emotional rush.
The English Beat, “Mirror in the Bathroom” in Grosse Point Blank (1997)
Grosse Pointe Blank finds John Cusack’s Martin Blank as a hitman attending his mid-'90s high school reunion -- replete, of course, with prime '80s soundtrack -- which escalates into a deadly hand-to-hand killing match with another in the hallway. “Mirror in the Bathroom” is the perfect lightening agent to this disturbing scene, the line “Recompense/ For all my crimes/ Of self defense” never so germane.
The English Beat, “Save it For Later” in Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
All hell breaks loose in the screwball throwback Hot Tub Time Machine, when John Cusack, Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry’s dead-end friend group accidentally travels back to 1986 -- and must reenact their pasts as to not disturb the fabric of the universe. Except when they decide to change their destinies; Cusack, for his part, meets an attractive music journalist at a Poison concert; they break into a nearby home to make out to the power-pop strains of “Save It For Later.”