When the guitar drenched smash hit "Electric Avenue" raced to the top of the Billboard charts and dazzled Top 40 radio and dance clubs in the U.S. it earned Eddy Grant the distinction of being one of VH1's 100 all-time "one-hit wonders." This limited perspective of Grant's work is not one shared by the rest of the world, especially in the U.K., Caribbean and Africa. Internationally, the award winning, multi-gifted wonder is viewed as having continually pushed pop, soul and world music boundaries ever since he first picked up a guitar.
Now sixty years young, the musician/entrepreneur is about to embark on a two-year worldwide tour to show off his international hits. The tour coincides with the Caribbean Hall of Famer's recent signing to Universal Music Group to distribute his extensive catalog for easier fan access and to elevate awareness of Grant's achievements beyond "Electric Avenue." The new release of The Very Best of Eddy Grant...The Road To Reparation is a first move toward that effort, but not a particularly comprehensive one. This latest compilation primarily concentrates on Grant's most prolific hits from the eighties with themes ranging from romance to social commentary.
The compilation only somewhat reflects a man whose musical influences span several eras and genres.
As a pre-teen, Grant was exposed to the pop music culture of the fifties and rock music groundbreaker Chuck Berry. At a young age, Grant was also listening to the melodic rhythms of the Caribbean, Africa and his birthplace, Guyana in South America. His first band, The Equals, formed in North London in 1965, blended upbeat British pop and soulful punches, scattered with pinches of the breezy Calypso sound of his youth.
For almost two years, The Equals, a multi-racial quartet, produced a string of hits that balanced lightweight love songs ("Baby Come Back") with social commentary on racial tensions ("Black Skin Blue-Eyed Boys."). Pressures behind touring took its toll on the group and Grant eventually bowed out due to serious health concerns.
Ironically, those issues may have worked in his favor. After Grant's departure in 1971, the Equals never charted a hit record again, instead remaining a popular live act. Meanwhile, the overflow of unrealized creative juices remaining inside Grant ultimately led him to work with several reggae acts and craft a new sound he coined "kaisoul" (kaiso and soul), one distinctly different-and decidedly darker-than his work with The Equals. With the 1977 release of the Message Man, a creatively successful solo career as a recording artist was clearly eminent. Message Man and the launch of Grant's second record label, Ice Records (his first, Torpedo, closed by 1972) also highlighted Grant's interest in advancing public awareness of Caribbean music.
"Hello Africa" from Message Man best personifies this new chapter in Grant's sound. It was one of the first tracks in the Soca era that updated the Calypso sound with a heavier soul music base. As on "Hello Africa," much of his lyrical philosophy continued to center on the striving and struggles facing the black community. As evident on The Very Best of Eddy Grant, these socio-political themes would be repeatedly revisited throughout Grant's career.
More than a talker of racial uplift, Grant in the seventies and eighties was active in supporting the careers of several reggae artists and promoting West Indian music. It was during this period that Grant's pride and joy, Ice Records, was highlighting talent that best represented the soca and classic calypso genres. A staunch supporter of Caribbean's complex music history, Grant purchased many classic calypso artists' catalogs including that of the legendary Lord Kitchener and his female counterpart, Calypso Rose. Artists such as Calypso Rose, who was famous for delivering a mix of topical subjects and tantalizing sexual ditties with improvisational wit, received much wider attention because of Grant's efforts and celebrity.
Into the eighties and nineties, Grant went on to develop the careers of protÃ©gÃ©s Gabby and Indra, artists representing a new age of calypso sound called "ringbang." This cultural phenomenon and music styling is best described on the Ice Records website: "All things have a natural swing-don't suppress it. At a certain point all rhythms meet-don't deny it." The art of ringbang lifts the calypso tradition to a new plateau that cross-pollinates world beats, usually fueled by high-tech beats and keyboards. As part of his own contribution to the genre, Grant decided to take his "one-hit wonder," "Electric Avenue," on a remixed ringbang ride to winning praise at the 2001 Miami Winter Music Conference in Florida.
Unfortunately, on Universal's The Very Best of Eddy Grant there are only traces of the soca & ringbang that Grant preaches about on behalf of his own record label. The few strong tracks on this project mostly focus on Grant's social commentary regarding black history. "Gimme Hope Jo'Anna," with its floating soca rhythms, denounces Africa's previous apartheid situation. The protest anthem, "War Party," is an underappreciated reggae classic. Grant's calling card, "Electric Avenue," is an observation of the impact of violence on society. Grant also knows how to channel Cameo's Larry Blackmon in a delectable manner with the sizzling disco funk of "Walking On Sunshine," Grant's first hit to garner attention on U.S. shores.
Besides these hits and political treasures, the listeners are subjected to several ordinary pop ditties. The title track from the movie "Romancing The Stone" never made it on the actual soundtrack, and "Boys In The Street" merely copycats the German vocal band Boney M's glittery dance pop hits from the 80s. Oddly, these selections were hand picked by Grant for The Very Best Of Eddy Grant.
Luckily, there are other Eddy Grant compilations available like The Hit Collection (1999) that better represent his overall devotion to the evolving Caribbean music scene. Those compilations cover all the bases of Grant's work in soca, ringbang, reggae and everything in between. When Grant's two-year tour rolls around, his worldwide fans will have plenty of opportunity to hear the whole package deal, topped off with the obligatory "Electric Avenue" encore, of course.