How a ‘Dirty Schoolboy Joke’ Bred the Beat’s ‘Save It for Later’
The Beat's most enduring song came not from a place of inspiration, but immaturity.
Dave Wakeling, the group's singer and guitarist, wrote "Save It for Later" before the band was formed.
"It started off as a dirty schoolboy joke," he explained to the AV Club in 2012. "The phrase 'save it for later' is meant to be 'save it,' comma, 'fellator.' As in, 'Leave it as it is, cocksucker.' But we didn't have the term 'cocksucker' in England at the time. We didn't really learn that one 'til we came to America. So it wasn't really a put-down, because we didn't really use that term to put down people at the time, and I don't think they do very much in England now, either. Anyways, that was the nature of the joke."
While the dirty phrase inspired the tune's chorus, its verses had a bit more depth. "It was about turning from a teenager to someone in their 20s, and realizing that the effortless promise for your teenage years was not necessarily going to show that life was so simple as you started to grow up," Wakeling explained to Songfacts. "So it was about being lost, about not really knowing your role in the world, trying to find your place in the world."
Though Wakeling had already written the song when the Beat (later known in the U.S. as the English Beat) formed in 1978, it didn't appear on the group's first two albums. The reason? Bassist David Steele, who continually vetoed the track because he believed it was "too 'rock,' too 'old wave.'"
Listen to the Beat's 'Save It for Later'
According to Wakeling, the band's record label eventually demanded the song appear on their third album. "David Steele really wanted a rest. He'd stopped writing hits on the third album — not the major ones, as it turned out," Wakening said. "And the record company sort of had a hissy fit and said, 'Well, fuck this, we've had this for long enough. This song's been a potential hit for the last three years, and you haven't written any hits this time out, David.'"
The band acquiesced to the label's request, but Steele continued to protest. According to Wakeling, the bassist refused to participate in the recording session, only dubbing his contributions after the fact. Other members of the band followed suit, leaving Wakeling and drummer Everett Morton to lay down the track's basic foundation.
The Beat released "Save It for Later" on April 2, 1982, and it appeared later that year on the band's Special Beat Service album. Initially, the song was only a modest hit, peaking at No. 47 in the U.K. and No. 106 in the U.S. But "Save It for Later" quickly became a favorite of fans, critics and other musicians. The Who's Pete Townshend covered the song in concert and released his version on 1986's Deep End Live! Pearl Jam have also regularly mixed the song into their live show, blending "Save It for Later" with their own "Better Man."