Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Electric Avenue Lights Up The Charts

When Eddy Grant scored the second British chart topper of his career with 1983’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’, it was his first solo number one. The man from Guyana, in the Caribbean, had already notched up a #1 with his group the Equals in 1968 with ‘Baby Come Back’.

Grant had emigrated to the U.K. in 1960 and by 1965 had become the main man in one of Britain’s first multi-racial bands, the Equals. The gifted vocalist/guitarist /songwriter was joined by an ensemble of Londoners and expatriates from the Caribbean, including John Hall (drums), Pat Lloyd (guitar), Lincoln Gordon (guitar) and Dervin Gordon on lead vocals - oddly enough the group didn’t have a bass player. All of the members were still in their teens when the Equals formed, and they played a mix of pop, blues, R&B and reggae, and had a string of hits in the second half of the 60s. They earned a recording contract with President Records and had some limited success across parts of Europe. Their first minor hit was ‘I Get So Excited’, which broke into the British charts in early ‘68, eventually climbing to #44, taken from their UK#10 album ‘Unequalled Equals’. But they followed it up with one of the biggest British #1 hits of the year ‘Baby Come Back’ (US#32/OZ top 10). The song was a sleeper initially but soon got a second wind that blew it to the top of the British charts for three weeks during July 1968. It was later a 1994 UK/OZ hit for Pato Banton.

A couple of minor hits followed with ‘Laurel And Hardy’ (UK#35) and 1969’s ‘Michael And The Slipper Tree’ (UK#24), before the Equals returned to the U.K. top 10 with ‘Viva Bobby Joe’ (#6, OZ#79). The Equals then became embroiled in a long and protracted legal dispute with their label which stymied their capacity to release any new material. Though the dispute was eventually settled out of court, it had taken its toll on the group. It was also during this period that all five members of the Equals were injured in Germany when the car they were travelling in was blown off an autobahn by gale force winds.

Following the Equals last U.K. hit with ‘Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys’ (UK#9) in late 1970, Eddy Grant quit the group soon after, though the Equals continued till 1979. A major contributing factor in his decision was a bout of serious illness, including a heart infection and collapsed lung which saw him out of actions for months during 1971. He had soon set up his own label (Ice Records) and recording studios back in the West Indies on the island of Barbados.

Most of the 70s saw Grant writing and honing his sound, as well as helping develop the career of many local Caribbean artists, but 1979 saw Eddy Grant re-emerge on the world scene with his reggae-style hit single ’Living On The Front Line’ (UK#11) from the album ‘Walking On Sunshine’. The follow up album ‘Love In Exile’ couldn’t find a home on the charts, but 1981’s ‘Can’t Get Enough’ returned Grant to the UK charts (#39). The album spawned three British hits in ‘Do You Feel My Love’ (UK#8, OZ#35), ‘Can’t Get Enough Of You’ (UK#13) and ‘I Love You, Yes I Love You’ (UK#13).

The 1982 album ‘Killer On The Rampage’ (OZ#11) saw Eddy Grant’s career lifted to new heights. The album itself reached the top 10 in both the U.K. and Britain and yielded two major international hits, and featured Grant performing all instruments and vocals (as he did so on all of his solo albums). It gave Grant the second U.K. #1 of his career with the song ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’, which spent three weeks at the top in November 1982. The reggae-pop style track reaching #21 in Australia and #52 in America (where it actually charted after ‘Electric Avenue’). ‘Electric Avenue’ was an eclectic mix of contemporary electric pop, laid over a funk-rock beat, with reggae style vocals and a dash of grungy guitar thrown in. The song peaked at #2 on both sides of the Atlantic in 1983 and hit exactly the same position in Australia. The album also realised the UK#42 hit ‘War Party’.

The follow up album ‘Going For Broke‘ (US#64) wasn’t the commercial hit of its’ predecessor but still featured a couple of hits including ‘Till I Can’t Take No More’ (UK#42/OZ#94). It also featured a song that saw Eddy Grant’s first foray into soundtrack work when he contributed the title track to the hit Michael Douglas film ‘Romancing The Stone’ (OZ#50, UK#52, US#26). Grant also performed the title track to the 1985 film ‘Water’. Now the film ‘Water’ is a personal favourite of mine. It was a B-grade light hearted comedy of sorts but featured Michael Caine, Billy Connolly and some other well known talent which included George Harrison and Eric Clapton playing together in a musical number. It was one of the final films produced by Harrison’s Hand Made Films. The title track by Eddy Grant holds a special appeal for me given its association with the film (and it was a cool song too) but I’ve never been able to track it down, other than when it plays repeatedly over the film’s DVD menu. If anyone has come across it or knows of its availability and could help me in tracking down a copy I’d really appreciate it.

In between his own solo projects Eddy Grant had a steady involvement and association with other artists work, Sting recording his first solo album ‘The Dream Of The Blue Turtles’ at Grant’s Blue Wave Barbados studios during 1985, and citing Grant as a major influence on his earlier song writing, with the Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello also recording there. 1988’s ‘File Under Rock’ album was a bit misleading in its title, as Grant continued to incorporate a wide range of stylistic influences in his work. The album yielded the U.K. top 10 hit ‘Gimme Hope Jo’anna’ (#7, OZ#79) and the minor hit ‘Walking On Sunshine’ (#63), which was Grant’s last chart hit to date. Interestingly Grant had recorded his first version of ‘Walking On Sunshine’ way back in 1978 and the song had enjoyed a stint in the British top 10 during 1982 when it was covered by the band Rocker’s Revenge.

Grant had accumulated a not inconsiderable fortune over the course of his career and it was reported that he made a sizeable bid for control of the late Bob Marley’s estate in the early 90s,and successfully acquiring the catalogue rights to many reggae and calypso artist’s work. His album output remained consistent through the 90s and beyond, without reclaiming the commercial ground of earlier efforts. Eddy Grant is still going strong in 2008 performing sell out shows across Europe with the Frontline Orchestra on his Reparation Tour, performing his hit ‘Gimme Hope Jo’anna’ at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebration concert in London, and he continues to be a major driving force behind the emerging ‘Soca’ music genre.

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