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Flashback Video: 'Electric Avenue' by Eddy Grant

Ever since the dawn of MTV and Friday Night Videos, the music video has significantly impacted musical tastes and pop culture. It might not be as extreme as when the Buggles declared that "Video Killed the Radio Star", but there is no arguing that the music video certainly could make or break a song's popularity. So this regular Flashback Video feature will serve to remember some of the music videos from the great '80s decade that made an impact on me in one way or another. This issue we will cover "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant. Released as a single in 1983, "Electric Avenue" surprisingly became an international hit and one of the highest-charting reggae-influenced pop songs ever. Grant's first band, The Equals, had three UK Top 10 hits in the '60s and he had been a solo artist since 1975 releasing five previous solo albums, but "Electric Avenue" would be the first time he had crossover success in the U.S. A lot of that had to do with the music video, but I will get to that more in a bit. As a youngster, I remember this being one of my favorite songs for a while that year even though I had absolutely no idea what it was about. There are now many streets called Electric Avenue all over the world, but this song was inspired by one in particular (and which is probably the original). Electric Avenue is an actual street in Brixton, London that got its name by being the first market street to be lit by electric lights way back in the 1880s. At the beginning of the 1980s, the area had a high population of Caribbean immigrants and saw tensions grow over unemployment, racism and poverty all made worse by racist policing. This resulted in what was known as the 1981 Brixton riots. Grant watched the Brixton riots unfold on television and this not only horrified him, but inspired him to write the song. It all started with the lyric, "Now in the street there is violence." Grant left the UK shortly after the riots to live in Barbados and that is where he completed the song. As I mentioned, "Electric Avenue" became a worldwide hit reaching the Top 10 in at least twelve countries. It made it to #2 in the UK in January 1983, but didn't reach that position in the U.S. until July. The U.S. success is due in large part to the exposure it received on MTV from the music video which was directed by Steve Barron. Barron had previously directed videos for The Human League, "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson, "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson and later a-ha's "Take On Me" and Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing" among many others. It was that other video created by Steve Barron, "Billie Jean", that opened doors for "Electric Avenue". As you might know, in those early years of MTV, the network ran music videos almost exclusively by white artists and was criticized by several famous musicians, such as David Bowie, for not having black artists represented on the network. After "Billie Jean" aired first in March of 1983 and was so successful, MTV soon scrambled to get other black artists into their rotation. The video for "Electric Avenue" was ready to go and the exposure certainly helped drive the song's popularity in the U.S. It did not take long after the music video started playing regularly for the song to climb all the way up to the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The music video was actually filmed in Barbados since Grant was living there. They filmed the scenes on the streets in the dark to make it look more like Brixton in south London. An interesting note as the video shows a hand revving a motorcycle several times, the sound in the song was actually created by looping a snare drum roll and then distorting it. Here is the music video for "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant...

I will definitely have that "We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue, and then we'll take it higher" stuck in my head the rest of the day. This was by far the biggest hit Grant ever had, but he still had a few more minor successes including "Romancing the Stone" which reached #26 in the U.S. in 1984 as well as several other singles reaching the charts in other countries. Most people remember that "Billie Jean" broke down the color barrier on MTV, but "Electric Avenue" was another song that not only benefited, but helped open up the opportunity for other black artists to join the party. Hope you enjoyed another trip back to the '80s thanks to Flashback Video!


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