“Listen – Soul Groovin’ MP3″
“Listen – Police On My Back MP3″
The weekend is here at long last, and as usual I’ve been ready for it since Monday morning. This has been one of those weeks where I get the feeling that the old poster from the 60’s should be revised to read:
“Working for a living is not healthy for children and other living things.”
If you’re one of those lucky Gen-whatevers who has a job that is neither tedious nor soul destroying (and have the good taste not to gloat about it to your enslaved friends) then ‘good on you’ as the kangaroo jockeys are wont to say, but the way I see it (looking at the faces of those around me, and observing the tendency folks have to let it rip on the weekends) my situation is hardly unique.
It certainly doesn’t help that it got even colder since my last post, with the legendary Cold Miser yanking my chain even worse than before.
But enough of my griping. I think it’s safe to assume that nobody’s loitering around this streetcorner to hear anything but music, so I shall dispense with the drollery and roll right on into some sounds of a most excellent nature.
Have you heard of the Equals?
Well, sit right back and you’ll hear a tale (etc etc etc…)
No, really. If the sounds of the Equals have never slid past your lobes and on into your brain then you are in for a rare treat my friends, because if the Equals don’t already have a cult, they will when we’re done with them.
Yet another product of the English end of the West Indian diaspora (that brought you much of the great ska of the 1960’s, as well as later bands like Cymande – more on them soon) via the groups founding member (and native of British Guyana) Eddy Grant (uh huh, THAT Eddy Grant), the Equals were formed in 1966 in London. Grant, joined by the Gordon brothers (Lincoln and Derv), Pat Lloyd and John Hall, came together as one of the finest – yet doggedly unclassifiable – bands of the post British Invasion years.
Though they had one US hit, 1968’s ‘Baby Come Back’, they are barely remembered by anyone stateside (aside from aficionados of the Mod/Psyche side of the street). They were far more successful in the UK and Europe where they charted a series of hits from the mid-60’s to the mid-70’s.
When I say that the Equals were unclassifiable, it is not only a statement of fact (pick up the 1968 ‘Baby Come Back’ album and you will hear bits of pop, soul, and novelty numbers and hardcore Freakbeat cum Psyche and the occasional nod to the West Indies– but also as a compliment. A product of an era when so many bands were jumping from genre to genre in a mixture of genuine experimentation and grasping at relevancy, the Equals were always combining their influences into a satisfying and unique brew.
How much of the variety in their sound was due to the fact that they were a multi-racial band is up for argument, if only because the bands main songwriters (Grant and Derv Gordon) were both black. It’s probably better to assume that Grant and Gordon were less R&B artists working in a rock context (like say, the Chambers Brothers) , than they were products of a truly hybrid vision (much like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone). The end products of their collaboration show that they had and extraordinary facility creating records that were first and foremost “pop”, and then taking those sounds in whatever direction they saw fit, from pure novelty like ‘Laurel and Hardy’ to lysergic excursions like ‘The Skies Above’ and ‘The Guy Who Made Her a Star’.
The two tunes we bring you today show two distinct sides of the band. The first, ‘Soul Groovin’ displays their affection for contemporary soul, with only the pop production betraying their broader palate. Derv Gordon’s lead vocals, with interjections from his brother and Grant are excellent, and the band works up a nice head of steam. I dig how they take the opportunity to kind of rap amongst themselves during the breakdown.
The second number ‘Police on My Back’ may be familiar to listeners via the cover by none other than the Clash. Here the Equals rock side is on display, with a psychedelic edge to the production, but a hard edge overall. The subject matter shows the influence of Jamaican Rude Boy culture (and the countless records that dealt with it) and the vocals – Grant, backed by Gordon (I think…)– are outstanding.
The Equals sound continued to evolve, getting heavier as they entered the 70’s, resulting in quality 45s like ‘Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys’ which actually got a US release on the Shout label*.
The band was broken up by the mid-70’s and Eddy Grant went on to fame and fortune with ‘Electric Avenue’ in 1983**.
Though they haven’t been heard much in the US – outside of a rare appearance on tightly formatted Oldies radio – the Equals are remembered through covers of their songs by US artists. The first time I ever heard Equals songs (years before I had any idea who the Equals were) was via covers by the Clash (‘Police On My Back’ in 1980) and the Plimsouls (who covered probably my favorite Equals tune, the super heavy ‘My Life Ain’t Easy in 1983). There were also covers by Bonnie Raitt (‘Baby Come Back’ in 1982) and Brownsville Station (“I Get So Excited’ in 1974).
The bands 45s aren’t that hard to get ahold of at a decent price, and the RCA ‘Baby Come Back’ LP (HIGHLY recommended) turns up now again as well. As far as CD reissues go. Follow the link to the disc below, which is the only truly comprehensive compilation available.
*While the vast majority of Equals sides overseas were released on the President label, in the US their records could be found on President, RCA, Bang and Shout.
** There’s apparently a Grant-less version of the Equals playing the oldies circuit in the EU