BSE (TW) “Electric Avenue” by Eddy Grant
posted by December 28 at 11:30 AMon
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
(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
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).