The Story and Music of The Equals

Introduction to The Equals

Deriving their name from the fact that the group was racially integrated, The Equals’ sound was, as expected, diverse as the band members themselves. One of the few “mixed” groups during that era, they played in many styles such as pop, rock, reggae, and R&B. The group, formed during the mid-60s music era, was led by vocalist Eddy Grant who was born in British Guyana and moved to London, England, with his family when he was 12. He and his family settled on a Hornsey Rise council estate, where the Equals were formed and began playing together. The group also included twin brothers Dervin and Lincoln Gordon and Pat Lloyd and John Hall. The Equals released a single containing “Hold Me Closer”/”Baby Come Back” in 1966. Although the A-side didn’t perform well in the charts, “Baby Come Back” (which is the record’s flip side) did much better when the single was re-issued over a year after. It went to #1 on the UK singles chart in 1968, and by 1969 the record hit gold status. It also entered the US Top 40 at #32 in 1968. In 1971, Grant left to pursue a solo career, and since his departure the Equals never charted again although they continued to enjoy as a live act.

The formation and early years of The Equals

The British pop/rock/r&b group The Equals were best remembered with their smash hit “Baby Come Back” in 1968. Founded by Eddy Grant (born Edmond Montague Grant on March 5, 1948), the band was formed in North London, England in 1965. Grant was a Guyanese British who was then wearing a dyed blonde hair by the time the group was established. The other members were John Hall, Pat Lloyd and the Gordon twin brothers Derv and Lincoln. As a newly-formed band, one of their early stints was performing on a Hornsey Rise council estate in 1965.

Rise to Fame 

1. Unique sound 

The music of The Equals was distinguished by its distinctive fusion of rock, pop, and soul, as well as by its memorable hooks, captivating melodies, and pulsating rhythms. Their distinctive sound helped them stand out from competing bands at the time and garner attention and recognition.

2. Hit songs

The Equals’ journey to fame was aided by a number of their hit tunes. Their biggest hit, “Baby, Come Back,” which was released in 1968 and reached the top of the charts in numerous nations, was a global hit. The Equals’ other hit songs, such as “Police on My Back,” “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys,” and “I Get So Excited,” helped to further establish their popularity.

3. Energetic live performances

The Equals were renowned for giving lively, energetic live performances. They attracted fans and followers due to their appealing stage appearance and performing style. Their live performances enabled them to engage crowds and assemble a loyal fan base.

4. Cultural impact

Audiences connected with The Equals’ music and lyrics because they frequently tackled social and cultural issues of the day, such as racial equality and civil rights. During a period of social and political upheaval, their songs had a significant impact and were viewed as anthems for social change, which aided in their ascent to fame.

5. International success

The Equals were successful in the UK as well as outside of their native United Kingdom. They enjoyed chart-topping success in nations like the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands, which aided in their international success and fan base growth.

6. Talent and artistry

The dynamic leader Eddy Grant, who was renowned for his distinctive singing and songwriting abilities, headed the outstanding band The Equals. The band’s climb to fame was aided by the praise they received for their musical prowess and artistic imagination.

The Equals releasing their singles

The Equals’ first record was released in 1966 and distributed by President UK imprint. The 45 consisted of “Hold Me Closer” b/w “Baby, Come Back.” The record was a chart-topper in  Germany and in the Netherlands but it did not sell well in the UK. However, they re-issued the song and it finally reached the #1 spot in the UK Single chart. The successful B-side made to US pop chart as well, peaking at #32. The group continued a large a number of records for President until in the mid-1970’s, but none of these made any commercial impact that would make “Baby Come Back” as their lone hit.

Music Styles

1. Pop – Fans of pop music enjoyed The Equals’ songs because they frequently included memorable hooks, catchy melodies, and energetic rhythms. Their songs frequently had catchy choruses and a refined pop sensibility, which contributed to their financial success.

2. Rock – The Equals’ music contained rock elements including electric guitars, hard rhythms, and energetic performances. They had a rock edge to their sound, which gave their music a feeling of vigor and enthusiasm.

3. Soul – The soulful vocals of Eddy Grant and the band’s tight grooves contributed to the soul influences in The Equals’ sound. They gave their music a warm and heartfelt character by incorporating expressive voices and soulful melodies into their tracks.

4. Reggae – One of the first British bands to adopt reggae influences into their music was The Equals. They were well-known for their reggae-influenced songs like “Police on My Back” and “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys,” which combined Caribbean melodies with ska-influenced guitar riffs and reggae rhythms.

5. Rhythm and blues – The Equals’ music featured bluesy guitar riffs, soulful vocals, and a strong sense of groove, as well as elements of rhythm and blues. They frequently utilized musical elements and voice timbres from R&B in their compositions.

6. Funk -Over the years, The Equals reunited on numerous occasions with various lineups for unique concerts or events. Fans had the chance to listen to the band’s music again and take in one of its live performances due to these reunions.

Commercial Success, 1966-1970

In 1966, The Equals released “I Won’t Be There” as their lead single, “Hold Me Closer” as the follow-up, and “Baby, Come Back” as the B-side. It did not perform well in the UK, but after European DJs started playing “Baby, Come Back,” it rose to the top spot in Germany and the Netherlands.

“I Get So Excited” was released in 1968 and peaked at number 50 on the UK Singles Chart. President Records only number-one success came from the re-release of “Baby, Come Back” in early 1968, which peaked at number one in the UK. The quartet was awarded a gold disc in June 1969 for a cumulative one million sales of the album. Several singles that were released afterward made the UK charts, including “Viva Bobby Joe” (1969) and “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys,” which both reached the top 10 (1970).

Eddy Grant wrote most of their songs, with help from the Gordon brothers. A few songs, including “Stand Up and Be Counted,” “Police on My Back,” and the groovy “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys,” dealt with social and political topics even though most of them focused on typical teenage pop themes.

Seven albums were published by the band over a four-year period on President, including Unequalled Equals (1967) and Equals Explosion (1968), both of which hit the UK Albums Chart. Several of their records were repackaged for the American market by RCA, President’s distributors. The band claims that Kassner forbade them from touring the United States due to potential issues that their multiracial lineup would have caused, even though they did so in other countries around the globe, including Africa.

They frequently appeared on TV shows including Top of the Pops in the UK and Beat-Club in Germany. The band also attracted attention for its colorful attire, which anticipated the glam rock look, and for Grant’s sporadic use of blonde hair dye and the wearing of a woman’s blonde wig. The Equals were essentially code-switching between two audiences—immigrant rough boys and white pop fans—in the same song, if not the same phrase, according to author Jason Heller.

Break-up and Subsequent Activities

All five members of the group suffered injuries in a German highway collision in September 1969. Grant suffered the most serious injuries and eventually departed the Equals’ touring lineup, though he originally kept writing music for them. Grant returned to Guyana after experiencing a collapsed lung and heart infection in January 1971. He quickly began pursuing a solo career.

Concert organizer Rainer Haas got in touch with Pat Lloyd in 1982 to arrange for The Equals to resume touring in Germany in response to public demand. So, later that year, Lloyd and Eddy Grant reconstituted The Equals, and in 2017, they took over ownership of the registered brand and copyright. Ronnie Telemacque, Rob Hendry, Lincoln, Derv, and Lloyd Gordon made up The Equals at that time. David (Dzal) Martin, who had previously been a temporary member between 1973 and 1975, re-joined the band permanently as lead guitarist the same year Lincoln Gordon left it. Roots, an album by The Equals that was primarily composed by Lloyd with assistance from Martin, was released in 1996.

Derv Gordon departed The Equals in 2017, and later that year Decosta Boyce (lead vocals), formerly of the funk group Heatwave, and Mark Haley (keyboards), formerly of The Kinks, joined. After their tour of Vienna in March 2019, Keeling Lee, formerly of Groove Armada, took Martin’s position.

The Equals entered the studio to record a new album between 2020 and 2021, and in May 2022 they released the Eddy Grant-penned single “Nobody’s Got Time.” The Equals are still recording and touring today, with funk and reggae having a bigger effect than ever.

Since The Equals were founded in 1965, only Lloyd has remained as a founding member.

Influence

The music of The Equals is still popular today. The Equals’ song “Police on My Back” was covered by the Clash in 1980. On the Israeli version of their debut album, “Loud Radio,” the band T-Slam translated “I Get So Excited” into Hebrew and covered it as “Hamenaka Bemalon” (The Hotel Cleaner); outside of Israel, the album also included an English-language version of the song. Willie Nile published his rendition of “Police on My Back” in 2006 on his Streets of New York album. The Detroit Cobras covered “Green Light” by The Equals for their 2007 album Tied & True. With his rendition of “Baby Come Back,” Pato Banton achieved UK number one status. In chapter 6 of her book, Are You There, Vodka?, Chelsea Handler spoke about a meeting she had with Pat Lloyd. My name is Chelsea. The Specials, a UK 2 Tone band, performed “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” by The Equals for their 2019 album Encore.

From 1968 to 1970, The Equals continued to release lesser UK hits such as “Laurel and Hardy” (#35, 1968), “Michael and The Slipper Tree” (#24, 1969), “Viva Bobby” (#6, 1969) and “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” (#9, 1970). Apparently, the group was caught in a motorcycle accident in September 1969 in Germany.

Life after The Equals

In early 1971, Grant had to return to his home in Guyana and leave The Equals for he was suffering from lung and heart infection. After the treatment, he continued his career as a successful solo artist. Grant had Top 40 hits during in the late 1970’s and early 80’s like “Living on the Frontline,” “Romancing Avenue ,” “Electric Avenue” and  “I Don’t Wanna Dance which was a UK chart-topper. .

The Equals left a legacy through the years; Their song “Police on My Back” was later recorded in 1980 by the British punk rock band The Clash, while Willie Nile issued his own version of the song for his CD Streets of New York. In 2007, the garage rock band The Detroit Cobras redid “Green Light” and included it on the album Tied and True.

Conclusion

The Equals’ history and songs are examples of their abilities, determination, and influence on the music industry. Their distinctive sound, ground-breaking diversity, and legendary individuals have made them a vital component of the musical landscape and irreplaceable in music history.

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