Mirror in the Bathroom

Album: I Just Can't Stop It (1980)
Charted: 4
Play Video


  • This was written by The English Beat singer and guitarist Dave Wakeling, who told Songfacts the story of the song: "I was working in construction at the time, and it was the winter. I had forgotten to hang my jeans up to dry overnight, so when I got into the bathroom to shower up, I noticed my jeans were still on the floor, soaking wet, covered in sand. So I hung them up thinking well, it's probably best to have them steaming hot and wet. I went to shave, and it was snowing, and I really, really didn't want to go.

    So I started talking to myself in the mirror as I was shaving up. And it was weird, because I looked deeper in the mirror, and I could see the little caption on the door behind, and I said to myself, Look, David, there's just me and you in here.

    The door's locked. We don't have to go to work. Of course we did. Got on the motorbike, and I just started pondering as I skated my way to the construction site on this motorbike. And that's how it started. 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.

    So then I just started thinking about different situations where people would ostensibly look like they were doing something, but in fact they were checking their own reflection out. And you'd see it perhaps on Saturday afternoon with people window shopping, half the time they're actually just looking at their own reflection. Then this restaurant opened, and it was a big deal at the time because it had glass tables, and I was like, oh, you can watch yourself."
  • This song is often misinterpreted to be about cocaine, which is often consumed on mirrors brought into bathrooms. The song actually has nothing to do with drugs, as Wakeling told Songfacts: "In America in the early '80s, everybody gave me knowing winks and said, 'Oh, I know what that one's about, then, Dave.' And it wasn't that mirror in the bathroom at all, it was the one on the wall, and not the one on your knee. And oddly, songs can become sort of strangely prophetic, though. But certainly at the time of writing, nobody had any money or any access to cocaine... until after the song was out."
  • Unlike Bruce Springsteen, who never had a job that wasn't related to music, Wakeling did lots of other work before becoming a full-time musician. He liked working construction because it was a "neck-down" job, enabling him to devote his mind to concerns like songwriting.
  • The same mirror played a part in another track on I Just Can't Stop It. Says Wakeling: "In the song 'Best Friend,' I'm actually singing it to myself in the same mirror that 'Mirror In The Bathroom' was written in. It was actually my sister's bathroom in Birmingham. But I kept that mirror for a long time, eventually lost it."
  • The English Beat's record label wanted to release this as their first single - and keep the publishing rights for five years. Not a good arrangement for the band, as Wakeling explains: "We said, 'We'll do 'Tears Of A Clown' then.' Because that always goes down great. And you can tell the fellows at Chrysalis they can argue with Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson about whose song it is. And so we just insisted, and as luck would have it, our song came out in October, and by December 6 it was #6 in the charts, and it was the runaway dance party hit of the Christmas of '79. It was on every jukebox and every turntable for every Christmas party. So I think it probably worked out really well, because I don't know if 'Mirror In The Bathroom' would have been that cheery as a Christmas single. A British song about isolation and narcissism that will morph into a song about cocaine in the bathroom, you know?"
  • This was one of the first big singles of the early '80s UK ska revival. This genre borrowed heavily from the reggae rhythms of Jamaica. The premier band in the movement was The Specials, and this song lifted The English Beat to that same level.
  • This sounds nothing like the group's later MTV hits in the US. The raw ska influence of the band is much more evident here than on their later singles.
  • This was the first digitally recorded single released in the UK. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Derek - Manchester, England

Comments: 11

  • KatMaybe I'm just self-projecting, but I always thought this song was about Bulimia and eating disorders in general. Staring at your own reflection is very common for people with EDs, often when eating. I think this also works with the line about 'mental illness'
  • Johnboy from UkWhy are people still insisting it's about cocaine? The actual songwriter says it isn't...
  • Short Haired Rnr from NzerI have always loved this song. Grew up in a house with a couple of shouse narcissists... guess it was nice to know someone else understood. Also loved Stand Down Maggie. Urgh, thanks for nothing, neoLibs. This band dealt with real issues; they were more than just a pretty face! LOVE and thanks to The Beat
  • Spiff from St. Paul, Minn., Usa"Wakeling did lots of real work before becoming a full time musician."

    Hmmm. I wonder if that can be re-phrased?

    As every person trying to earn a living as a musician can tell you, being a musician is definitely "real work"! Plus, the way it's phrased feeds into the unfair stereotype that choosing an artistic career, such as music, is merely a hobby and doesn't deserve to be compensated for in real wages and somehow contributes less to society than does, say, the construction work that Wakeling did in his youth.

    Of course nothing could be further from the truth: Artistic careers add great value to society and deserve to be treated as "real work" and paid accordingly.

    Also, if the editors don't take any of my suggestions to re-phrase the quote above, at least please add a hyphen and change "full time" to "full-time" -- thanks.

    And "genré" is not a word.

    Spiff out. [Point taken. We rephrased. -editor]
  • Macy from Los Angeles CaI still think this song is about doing coke in a bathroom. He goes into the Bathroom. Locks himself in the stall. He takes out his mirror and puts lines on it. I always thought the lyrics said "Please don't freak", as in don't freak out not "please talk free." He tells himself he is safe the door is locks just himself and his mirror. He is afraid of discovery and he has to calm his nerves by telling himself its safe, don't panic before he does the lines. Then he dreams about taking a girl to a restaurant with glass tables meaning its probably a metaphor for more cocaine, maybe a glass pipe? Every Saturday he goes window shopping to look at the clothes in the store windows in London's shopping districts, but when he sees himself in the reflection he is more concerned with checking out his own appearance then any of the clothes for sale.
  • Keith from Aylesbury, UkThere's an error in the lyrics of the third verse. The line should be "Cures you WHISPER", not "wiser".
  • Robert from Chicago , IlTo me it wasnt the lyrics "mirror in the bathroom" that made me think of cocaine .
    It was the lyrics about glass tables what can you do on a glass table circa earlys 1980
  • Vince from Salisbury, MdThis song appears in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Grosse Pointe Blank". The band was known simply as "The Beat" until they learned of an American band of the same name, so they added the "English" to set themselves apart.
  • Synchpedro86 from Edinburgh, EuropeThis song has a really groovy bassline. It's by the same bass player from Fine Young Cannibals.
  • Jim from Seattle, Wai used to think the song was about narcisissm. the dude wants to take himself out. the ska beat in this song and on the whole album is awesome. reggae/ska rocks
  • Steve from Chino Hills, CaIt was the mid 80's and a fraternity at a large California campus had a problem. There was a two way mirror that was installed in the women's bathroom. Actually, it had been there for years and brothers would pass down the dirty secret to the new brothers who took over the room the following years. The mirror was hidden by hanging towels in the room. Eventually, some gal figured it out and it became a huge scandal that made headlines in the local media. This song had been out for a few months proir to the scandal and it was an ongoing gag that the song was written about the incident.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Part of Their World: The Stories and Songs of 13 Disney Princesses

Part of Their World: The Stories and Songs of 13 Disney PrincessesSong Writing

From "Some Day My Prince Will Come" to "Let It Go" - how Disney princess songs (and the women who sing them) have evolved.

Marc Campbell - "88 Lines About 44 Women"

Marc Campbell - "88 Lines About 44 Women"They're Playing My Song

The Nails lead singer Marc Campbell talks about those 44 women he sings about over a stock Casio keyboard track. He's married to one of them now - you might be surprised which.

Philip Cody

Philip CodySongwriter Interviews

A talented lyricist, Philip helped revive Neil Sedaka's career with the words to "Laughter In The Rain" and "Bad Blood."

Guy Clark

Guy ClarkSongwriter Interviews

Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett are just a few of the artists who have looked to Clark for insightful, intelligent songs.

Graham Nash

Graham NashSongwriter Interviews

Graham Nash tells the stories behind some of his famous songs and photos, and is asked about "yacht rock" for the first time.

John Lee Hooker

John Lee HookerSongwriter Interviews

Into the vaults for Bruce Pollock's 1984 conversation with the esteemed bluesman. Hooker talks about transforming a Tony Bennett classic and why you don't have to be sad and lonely to write the blues.