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Friday, December 28, 2007

“Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant

posted by on December 28 at 11:30 AM

Please suspend your reflexive nostalgia for this song. Please don’t think of Eddie Grant as a goofy one-hit wonder. Please listen to “Electric Avenue” with open ears, because it’s a fucking serious song, and it’s a great song, in the truest meaning of the word “great.”

“Electric Avenue” flies alongside tracks like “Paper Planes” and “Waters of Nazareth” as an electro-pop innovator, simultaneously of its time and ahead of its time. It is as black and militant as anything by Public Enemy or Peter Tosh. It is an iconic moment that most of the world took for an MTV novelty.

There may have been no traditional “instruments” used in its creation—it’s all drum machines, synths, and reverb, and brilliant, spacious production. Grant’s punkish “AYE!” that opens the track, ground down by a digital/analog motorcycle rev; the lo-fi keyboard blips that were in vogue in 1983 and still in vogue 24 years later; a group-sung patois chorus wickedly cool and minimalist: These disparate elements add up to a dub-rock banger equally appropriate for your pre-teen roller disco days, a Brazilian favela streetcorner, or a mustachioed hipster DJ at Sing Sing.

And then there’s the lyrical content and the video, both of which reveal gritty themes. Eddie Grant is originally from Guyana and grew up in London, home of the original “Electric Avenue,” the city’s first district to be illuminated by electric lights. The video takes place in a dark beachside ghetto—Grant’s homeland? Kingston? Rio? Certainly not the bright lights of London. And there he is, intense and singing from the couch in his living room, which could be anywhere. Counter that image by a pair of faceless motorcycle riders (Daft Punk was taking notes back in ‘83), cruising through the slums, down to the beach. There they find Grant struggling through the waves, away from “the dark side of town.”

Grant is a revolutionary:

Now in the street there is violence
And then there’s lots of work to be done
No place to hang out our washin’
And then they can’t blame all on the sun
Workin’ so hard like a soldier
Can’t afford a thing on T.V.
Deep in my heart I abhor ya
Can’t get food for the kid
Good God

(Name another pop song to use the term “abhor.”)

Who is to blame in one country
Never can get to the one
Dealin’ in multiplication
And they still can’t feed everyone
Oh no

The video shows the result of multiplication—the children that suddenly populate Grant’s empty bar, the children that can’t be fed. This is harsh, hardened stuff. Grant gets up from watching Shark Week on the couch and splashes into real life, landing half-dead on the beach, ready to swim out to broadcast to the masses on Electric Avenue. “Rock it in Miami!/Inna Brixton-ah!” he chants on the fadeout. The whole world must hear his song.

The video—weird, impressionist, a la MTV in the early days—is wrapped in a pixalated fog that would make Michel Gondry proud.

“Electric Avenue” is a fucking serious song, a great song, the Best Song Ever (This Week).

RSS icon Comments

1

Have you ever heard Grant's old band The Equals? Story and mp3 here:
http://ironleg.wordpress.com/2007/11/22/the-equals-my-life-aint-easy/

Can we expect a followup post on the theme from Romancing The Stone?

Posted by Jason Josephes | December 28, 2007 11:29 AM
2

awesome re-contextualization (re-re-contextualization?) of this song. i never thought of it more than a reason for mid-30's lotharios to get their groove on at a club med circa 1986.

as a side anecdote, my family was not even close to affluent when i was growing up, so we didn't have a cd player until the mid-90's (a slap in the face when you watch 'full house' and kirk cameron's sister has her OWN PERSONAL cd player - total bullshit). we bought it at montgomery ward and the stereo system came with a 2cd promo which included the song 'electric avenue' (which, not so oddly enough, was the name of their electronics department - how is that for re-contextualization?). it got played second most often (after 'everybody wants to rule the world') until i bought my first cd a few weeks later.

Posted by cosby | December 28, 2007 11:50 AM
3

nice tome and good points...but please correct the spelling of his name, Eddy.

Posted by ryko72 | December 28, 2007 11:54 AM
4

@3--whoops! nice catch. done and done.

Posted by jz | December 28, 2007 11:57 AM
5

I LOVE me some Equals, though 15 years previous, a lot it is analogous to that 1st EG solo album - totally catchy and radio ready, but really stood out musically, and also peppered they're songs with the same themes (class and race issues) in Electric Avenue.

Also, that LP came out in '82, long before MTV was in more than a just a handful of homes, which makes it pretty incredible as something that would likely just get shelved outside of the few outlets that actually showed those little artist promos. Making videos for singles was standard practice for big artist since the 60's, but most were little more than just Beatles Help-era type goofing around. This might be one of the earlier, or at least better, early, political videos made. (The Clash having and Arab and a Jew skanking together in the desert? Who fucking cares, nice try guys.)

Liked that song when I was a kid. Still holds up.

Posted by Dougsf | December 28, 2007 1:23 PM
6

It's a great song, but those are some seriously brain-dead lyrics. "They still can't feed everyone" -- wow.

It's more pertinent to note that Electric Avenue is in Brixton, the capital of black London, than just "London".

Posted by Fnarf | December 28, 2007 4:00 PM
7

For the last couple of years I've been enjoying this song more than when it first came out.

That usually doesn't happen.

Posted by PdxRitchie | December 29, 2007 1:17 AM
8

This is the best post ever.

Posted by Flossie | December 31, 2007 12:07 AM
9

he also beat More Fire Crew and Dizzee Rascal to the Oi! punch... for whatever that's worth.

Oi!

Posted by Brandon Ivers | January 7, 2008 1:41 PM

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