One Friday night a few years ago, I was bored and poking around YouTube looking for Prince videos I hadn’t seen (this was before he started suing everyone, forcing his videos off the site).
Somehow, I wound up finding the video for Eddy Grant’s “Romancing the Stone,” which was written especially for the 1984 Michael Douglas-Kathleen Turner film of the same name but never appeared on its soundtrack (and barely made it in the film at all). As you can imagine, I, the Soundtrack Saturday girl, was completely dumbfounded that I had been unaware of this song’s existence.
I immediately started clicking on links that led to other Eddy Grant videos and it didn’t take long before I started scouring the Internets to find out more about him and his music. I bought a few songs from a greatest hits album, which I loved. Pretty soon, I found myself in possession of several of his albums. For weeks, his music was all I listened to — I had found a new obsession.
I’m going to venture a guess that the song you are most familiar with of the Guyana-born, UK-raised Grant is “Electric Avenue,” from his excellent 1982 album Killer on the Rampage. While that track is fantastic, and I think is one of the best songs to come out of the 1980s, it is nowhere near representative of the rest of his catalogue. In fact, before the synth-heavy, new-wave “Electric Avene” became a hit, Grant was mostly considered a reggae artist.
After the success of “Electric Avenue,” which peaked at #2 on both the UK and U.S. charts in 1983, and the album from which it came, Grant, who had his first #1 hit in the late ’60s as a member of the multiracial pop-reggae-rock band the Equals, went on to have another minor hit in the States with “Romancing the Stone.” After that he basically dropped off the radar. While he continued to put out great records, he didn’t have another hit single until 1988’s anti-apartheid anthem, “Gimme Hope Jo’Anna,” which would later be found on the record we’re here to talk about, 1990’s Barefoot Soldier.
When “Gimme Hope Jo’Anna” was first released, it was banned by the South African government, which, I guess, is to be expected with lyrics like these:
Well Jo’anna she runs a country
She runs in Durban and the Transvaal
She makes a few of her people happy, oh
She don’t care about the rest at all
She’s got a system they call apartheid
It keeps a brother in a subjection
But maybe pressure can make Jo’anna see
How everybody could a live as one
According to my research, “Jo’anna” refers to the city of Johannesburg and to the South African Apartheid Government. In addition, the song makes references to Soweto, a black township near Johannesburg; the notorious apartheid army; and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work opposing apartheid.
Grant’s first top 10 hit in the UK since “Electric Avenue,” “Gimme Hope Jo’Anna” would become the centerpiece of Barefoot Soldier. However, since it was released as a single a full two years prior to that album, it didn’t do much to get Barefoot Soldier any attention, so the album kind of fell by the wayside, which is a shame.
What I love most about this album is the diversity of its sound. While Grant fully embraces the reggae he’s most associated with on songs like “Welcome to La Tigre” and “Talk About Love,” he also visits guitar-heavy pop rock on several songs, such as “Wildcat” (which, incidentally, has the hilarious lyric, “she was wildcat/ a pain in the rectum/she was an emotional bind”) and “Restless World.”
The aforementioned “Gimme Hope Jo’Anna” and “You Just Found My Weakness” have an Afro-pop beat and the latter sounds like something Paul Simon might have wished were on Graceland. The title track, with its gorgeous acoustic guitar and piano accompaniment, easily sounds like something that could be covered by someone like Neil Young. Grant even gives country a try with the album’s final track, “Sweet on the World.”
While it may not be considered his best record, it is still quite strong and one of my favorites. Grant’s voice is unique and his songs are infectious, no matter if their goal is to protest social injustice or just make you shake your ass (though, he’s quite good at doing both). Sadly, this album is woefully out of print — I couldn’t even find a decent image of its cover and had to scan the artwork of my own CD, which I got at a used record store. But if you do manage to find a copy somewhere, snatch it up because it is definitely worth owning.