If the Equals are at all remembered it is for their 1968 #1 hit “Baby Come Back”, an energetic soul/ big beat stomp which was a B-side 18 months earlier but which caught that new wave of simple catchy pop, an alternative to the post-“Sergeant Pepper’s” experiments & seriousness. The group has been on here before because their similarly indefatigable original of “Police On My Back” inspired that cover by the Clash on “Sandanista”. A rummage around the dusty recesses of long neglected memory files, reinforced by some vintage video on the Y-tube proves that the Equals deserve a little more consideration.
The 5 man band from Hornsey Rise in North London, you know just up the road from the Arsenal ground, were formed by schoolfriends Eddie Grant, a Guyanan, & the Gordon twins, Derv & Lincoln, from Jamaica. “I Get So Excited” began 1968, their gold disc year, & almost made a breakthrough. It’s a cracking steal from Sam & Dave’s “You Don’t Know Like I Know”. The very word is rambunctious & that’s enough. The band look as if they have grabbed the first items of clothing they had seen down a Holloway Road boutique, nothing seems to quite go together but they all seem to be committed to putting on the style & a show.
The Equals were a snapshot of our capital city that those of us in the provinces did not always see. Young, boisterous & multi-racial, the first generation of black & white British youth to grow up alongside & to play out with each other. They were musical magpies, mixing & matching their influences to create some classic Britpop. They were alright, even cool, but they did try a little too hard. The group were the only hitmakers for the President label & subsequent releases, chasing the success of “Baby Come Back”, tended to be a little simple & gimmicky. There were nursery rhymes, “Rub A Dub Dub”, & football chants, “Viva Bobby Joe”, which had mixed success. When they added a little substance to the novelty they could be this good.
Oh yes. “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” is a Britfunk rush of a song. multicultural pacifist pop & a Top 10 hit. Of course the talent in the band (no offence to the twins & the other boys) was Eddy Grant. Eddy was young & ambitious. There was just too much going on & he wanted to a taste of all of it. So the music could be all over the place, a little bit of soul, an attempt at acid rock. Eddy had a blonde ‘fro for a while which was at least distinctive, the long blonde wig was just silly. He even had a side deal with President for the Little Grants & Eddie to make some novelty rock steady 45s. Eddy knew he needed distinctive hooks for his songs to stand out on the radio but it took some time (like 10 years time) to strike the balance between a lack of pretension & naivety.
Of course in the early 1970s being pretentious was the thing to be in UK music. The Equals, still able to gig in Europe, were not really about at all. The Wikipedia tells us Eddy suffered a collapsed lung at the beginning of 1971, left the group & returned to Guyana. He did get ill but here from 1972 is the full on & funky “Stand Up & Be Counted”, proof that the band were listening to Sly & the psychedelic soul boys but still wanted to keep it pop. Eddy’s trousers are still not quite the thing as well.
That Equals greatest hits collection sounds pretty uplifting on the journey home from work. It’s a lot more than 4 or 5 songs too. Go for the one with at least “Stand Up & Be Counted”. When Eddy Grant got a second shot a music he owned the label, the studio & the songs. That first time round he could have, with some more imaginative encouragement, pushed the band towards the only other black guitar player around. He may not have become as great as Sly Stone but a British Chambers Brothers is a fine thing to ponder on. No matter, the Equals made more good music than most of us, including me, know about.