Eddy Grant was a performer who seemingly came out of nowhere to have a huge, platinum hit with “Electric Avenue” in 1983. Of course, we didn’t know it at the time but he had a career of over 15 years already in the UK. His band The Equals, hit number one with “Baby Come Back” in 1967. Though I’ve never heard it, I cherish the Elektric Music [Karl Bartos] cover of it from 1992. I could say the same for another of The Equals songs from ’67. I’m sure most of us are familiar with “Police On My Back” as famously covered by The Clash on their “Sandinista!” album where it should have been a [hit] single. Obviously, Eddy Grant can write some great songs.
In 1982, he penned “Electric Avenue” so named after the street in Brixton where 1981 found horrible rioting taking place amid a depressed economy and hostility between the police forces and the population; largely Caribbean immigrants. Having emigrated from French Guyana to the UK where he grew up, this was disturbing enough for Grant to emigrate to Barbados, where he has been established ever since. Some of his luggage en route was lost along with some songs he had written for his next album. Needing more material, he wrote “Electric Avenue” as a reflection on the social conditions and violence that ended with him leaving England for a return to the Caribbean.
Timing, as with much in life, is everything. In the immediately post-“Thriller” era, MTV was still smarting from accusations that the channel discriminated against black artists and they discovered that – oh my goodness – white people would not change the channel when a black person was on MTV for four minutes. All eyes were on Michael Jackson by early 1983 and MTV started looking for other artists to feature because the optics weren’t good. Enter Eddy Grant with a great song that straddled funk, reggae, and rock like a pro.
I remember liking “Electric Avenue” back in the day. I must have seen the video hundreds of times that year. I never changed the channel, though it really didn’t make a big impression on me. But any song that you heard hundreds of times over a half of a year without being especially annoyed had to have the goods, right?
<flash forward 32 years>
Eddy Grant: Electric Avenue US 12″ 
- Electric Avenue [special extended dub mix]
- Time Warp [special 5:56 domestic mix]
It was a few years ago when I began hearing the song for the first time in decades on the sound system at the gym where I exercise. Time had been especially kind to the tune! In the 21st century the song really struck a chord with me and I thought to myself, “I really, really am enjoying this now. A lot. I need to do something about that.” So I bought the 12″ last summer and it’s been playing for days on my iPod touch.
The 12″ version is not radically different to the hit single version of the song. the sound was reggae performed electronically on synths with maybe a drum machine with plenty of dub style space in the mix. Bass was played on a synth. Guitars were relegated to a single slashing chord used rhythmically. The husky vocals of Grant stood out beautifully against the revving mototcycle synth hook that I never tire of. The production and arrangement worked like a charm with the lyric and it was a tough, no-nonsense hit song that found a home in the top ten around the world.
In the UK and America it hit the number two slot. But in America it was number two for five weeks straight [it couldn’t best The Police juggernaut that was “Every Breath You Take”] and that meant this it was awarded a RIAA platinum single for over 1,000,000 in sales. Hundreds of plays later and it still sound welcome to me. The 12″ maintained the same arrangement as the 7″ mix until the middle of the song where it was followed by nearly three minutes of dub coda. In spite of the intelligent use of dub aesthetics in the song, the mix on the 12″ is kind of perfunctory. It would have been more interesting to have heard a real dub pro like Groucho Smykle or Adrian Sherwood get their hands on this.
The B-side was another matter entirely! “Time Warp” existed in a completely different universe from its A-side. First of all, this was a Eddy Grant song from the B-side of a 1977 single credited to The Coach House Rhythm Section! Five years can be an eternity in pop. This was completely different to the reggae/funk mix of the A-side. This was space disco. Motorik drum machines and synth pulses laid down the unwavering rhythm while primitive drum machines kept white noise “hi-hats” popping throughout this one. The lead melody was a meandering monosynth and disco divas offered up all of the “doot-doots” needed to hold it together. The six minute electrodisco instrumental must have sounded completely out of its time when pulled into service as a B-side again, five year later, but today there are a lot of bands trying their best to emulate this sound! I call it a win showing how far a musician like Eddy Grant had traveled in the 15 years of his career at the time. Memo to self: pick up a copy of “Killer On The Rampage” the next time I see one!
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