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Monday, April 17, 2023

Songs of '83: "Electric Avenue"

Eddy Grant actually encapsulates so much of what my whole thesis regarding 1983 is all about, except that what he encapsulates--the racially mixed bands and dance beats of British and European clubs--happened decades before New Wave finally woke up American radio to it all. In the mid- to late-1960s, Grant played lead guitar and wrote songs for The Equals, a mixed-race English R&B, pop, ska, and soul band that had major hits across the UK and western Europe--though not America (their label didn't want to risk the safety of the band whose hits included "Black Skin Blue-Eyed Boys" by sending them to tour there). If it hadn't been for a traffic accident followed by a health scare that sent Grant in the direction of producing rather than recording for most of the 1970s, who knows what his history might have been. 

As it was, by the early 1980s the Guyana-born Grant had relocated to Barbados, established Blue Wave Studios, and was cutting politically conscious solo records--the most famous in America being, of course, "Electric Avenue," a song partly about a street in Brixton, London, partly about the poverty and frustration that led to the race riots which broke out along that street in 1981, but also about the way technology was changing the meaning of funk in the UK elsewhere. It might have remained a British and European hit if it hadn't been for Michael Jackson's massive success (and, of course, David Bowie's criticism) forcing MTV to start playing more videos by Black artists--and Grant just happened to have a banger, as the kids say today, waiting and ready to throw into rotation. Premiering on the Billboard charts 40 years ago this week, the song bangs still.

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