The eighties was a lily-white decade, like the fifties but with more keyboards and hairspray. At the dawn of the decade, just getting Michael Jackson (!) onto MTV almost required those federal troops it took to integrate Little Rock, Arkansas back in '57. So it was on my radio. My favourite station was 92 Citi-FM, whose playlist consisted of shirtless white guys, bellowing, soloing and generally rockin' out in manner in which Homer Simpson would approve. Then, Eddy Grant's Caribbean-rocker, "Electric Avenue" got added into medium rotation. I won't claim it met immediate approval but it made me stop and try to wedge this song into my perception of CLASSIC...ROCK! (imagine cheap echo effect here, please.) A couple years later, following my punk repudiation of all things Classic Rock, I puzzled over Eddy's authorship of "Police on My Back", the greatest Moment on the Clash's frequently-mystifying 198o album "Sandinista!". (Live version from the Clash's 1982 show in Jamaica here) Then, in the late eighties, following his infectious "Give Me Hope Johanna", a TV interview (here and here) showed Grant to be shrewd and multi-talented but more crucially introduced me to the Equals. The Equals, a multi-racial English band, brought Grant to fame in the late sixties with their Carib-classic "Baby Come Back". (Video here.) Later still, at the record store where I worked (in the E.T.C. room, where every genre not Rock/Pop or Classical/Jazz got stuck - previously) a play copy of the compilation, First Among Equals materialized. These two discs showed a musician in almost constant transition.From the proto-Two Tone ska of "Baby Come Back" to the garage rock of "I Won't Be There" to the bubblegum of "Viva Bobby Joe", to the soul workout "I'm a Poor Man" to the light psychedelia of "Michael and the Slipper Tree" and the Motown funk of "Black-Skinned Blue-Eyed Boys" it's an enthralling listen. Even at an overly-long two hours, this set still aptly illustrates how Grant, before his time spray painting those white eighties hitlists, once lead a band that could do damn near anything.
This collection (with it's non-punctuated, non-chronological and just plain non-sensical liner notes) is long out of print as all Equals material appears to be.
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