359. Ken Boothe – Everything I Own (1974)

A tune that started out as a soft rock tribute to Bread singer David Gates’s dead father was repurposed as a reggae love song by Jamaican rocksteady singer Ken Boothe and became his sole number 1 in the autumn of 1974.

Gates’s father had died in 1963, long before his son’s group became successful, but he considered him his greatest influence. The title was also inspired by him, as when Gates was a struggling musician he had bought his mother an orchid, and his father wrote to him saying he could have ‘anything she owned’ in return. It’s a lovely song, and will mean a lot to anyone who has lost a parent, but despite reaching number three in the US in 1972, it stalled at 32 in the UK.

Boothe was born in Denham Town, Kingston on 22 March 1948. He developed an interest in music while at Denham Primary Elementary School, with the help of his eldest sister Hyacinth Clover, who was part of a comedy double act. One of his biggest influences was Owen Gray, considered Jamaica’s first homegrown singing star.

As a teenager, Boothe formed a singing duo with his friend Winston ‘Stranger’ Cole. They released singles together as Stranger & Ken between 1963 and 1965. He also recorded as Roy & Ken with Roy Shirley in 1966, the same year he went solo and began recording at the famed Studio One, scoring his first hit with The Train Is Coming, on which he was backed by The Wailers. Boothe toured the UK the following year, promoted as ‘Mr Rocksteady’. To the unitiated, ‘rocksteady’ came after ska and before reggae, and is basically a slowed-down version of the two. It has nothing to do with rock.

Boothe enjoyed a number of hit singles over the next few years, including Moving Away and covers of American and British soul tunes. He switched to producer Leslie Kong’s Beverley’s Records in 1970, but following his untimely death he moved around and eventually settled with UK-based Trojan Records and Lloyd Charmers in 1971.

Two albums, 1973’s Black Gold and Green and 1974’s What’s Going On followed, and then when they began another album, Charmers suggested they work on a cover of Everything I Own, which eventually became the name of the LP too. It featured the Federal Soul Givers, Lloyd Parks on bass, Paul Williams from Toots and the Maytals on drums, Willie Lindo on guitar and Charmers on organ, piano and percussion. Unlike most covers, not only was the arrangement updated, but the lyrics were changed enough to alter the meaning of the song, altering it from a son mourning his father, to a spurned lover hoping to change her mind by whatever means necessary.

Although a minor number 1 (strong enough to top the charts once more when Boy George released it in 1987, though), Boothe’s cover is a pleasant slice of light reggae-pop – the type of reggae I’d normally avoid (don’t get me started on UB40, plenty of time for that when I reach the 80s). Most of that is simply down to Boothe’s voice. Some find his delivery too exact and too tight to the music but his trademark deep timbre is unusual and makes the performance feel real to me, suggesting Boothe is wounded and broken but hopeful. However, it sounds like it was his fault, as Boothe mentions taking someone for granted.

Musically, Boothe’s version is better, but I prefer the lyrics to the original. They stand out more and after all, there are a million songs in which the singer is broken-hearted and trying to persuade their lover back. Not bad at all though.

Boothe had one more UK hit from the same album when Crying Over You reached 11. Unfortunately Trojan’s financial difficulties resulted in the label suspending operations, and Boothe’s career struggled to regain momentum when it returned in 1978. That year, he was name-checked in The Clash’s (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais.

Boothe and Trojan parted ways again, and his recording output dropped considerably from then on, with only two albums released in the 80s – Imagine (1986) and Don’t You Know (1987), but often he was reworking old Studio One material. UB40 (there they are again) covered Boothe on their Labour of Love album in 1983, and its sequel in 1992. In 1995 Boothe collaborated with Shaggy on a remake of The Train Is Coming on the soundtrack to the action film Money Train.

In 2003, Boothe was awarded the Order of Distinction from his homeland for his contribution to Jamaican music.

Written by: David Gates

Producer: Lloyd Charmers

Weeks at number 1: 3 (26 October-15 November)

Births:

Cricketer Michael Vaughan – 29 October
Hammer thrower David Smith – 2 November
Singer Louise Redknapp – 4 November

Deaths:

Poet David Jones – 28 October

Meanwhile…

28 October: The wife and son of Sports Minister Denis Howell survived a Provisional IRA bomb attack on their car.

4 November: Judith Ward was sentenced to life imprisonment for the M62 coach bombing on 4 February. It took 18 years for her to be released due to a wrongful judgement.

7 November: Richard John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan, better known as Lord Lucan, went missing after his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, was bludgeoned to death in the Lucan family home. He was never found and his death certificate was granted in 2016.
Also that day, an IRA bomb explodes at the Kings Arms, Woolwich, killing two. 

11 November: The New Covent Garden Market in Nine Elms opened.

13 November: The Americanisation of the UK took a giant leap forward when the first McDonald’s restaurant opened in Woolwich, South London. 

252. The Equals – Baby, Come Back (1968)

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Number 1 for three weeks in July 1968 was Baby, Come Back by The Equals, a mixed-race pop and rock group, largely forgotten these days, featuring 80s chart-topper Eddy Grant.

Grant was born in Plaisance, British Guiana on 5 March 1948. While at school, his parents lived in the UK, sending him money for his education. His father was a trumpeter, but after emigrating to Kentish Town, London, aged 12, he became interested in guitars, and his hero was Chuck Berry.

Growing up in an interracial area, he became friends with Pat Lloyd and John Hall. In 1965, Hall suggested they form a band. Hall became the drummer, with Grant on lead guitar and Lloyd on rhythm guitar. The Gordon twins, Derv on vocals and Lincoln on bass, joined them, and with three black members and two white, they made the bold move of calling themselves The Equals.

With a diverse melting pot of cultures (the Gordons were Jamaican immigrants), their sound was a mix of pop, rock, R’n’B, with ska elements too. They quickly gained a following in London, and were soon called on to open for visiting soul and blues greats from the US such as Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke and Bo Diddley. They signed with President Records after Grant’s neighbour, singer Gene Latter, put them in touch.

The Equals released debut single I Won’t Be There in 1966. A simple, catchy tune, it got lost among the crowd and despite enthusiastic pirate radio support, it failed to chart. Their follow-up, Hold Me Closer, didn’t do great either, but Baby, Come Back was tucked away on the B-side, and it got noticed by DJs in Europe, even reaching number 1 in Germany and the Netherlands. Once I Get So Excited reached the top 50 in the UK, President Records tried again, and sure enough, Grant’s Baby, Come Back knocked Jumpin’ Jack Flash off the top spot.

Featuring thick Jamaican vocals from Derv, and interjections from Grant, Baby, Come Back is a taut, upbeat piece of pop-rock. There are hints of reggae and ska in there, particularly with the ‘sch-sch-sch’ and ‘Rudeboy!’ at the close of the track, but never enough for it to stray too far from its basic simplicity. It’s an earworm of a chorus, like many of 1968’s number 1s, and a forerunner of the ska and reggae number 1s to come, but ultimately a little too lightweight to get too much enjoyment from.

Despite this, reading about The Equals has been rather interesting. How come they’ve been forgotten? The Foundations seem to get more plaudits for their inter-raciality, but the Equals were there first, long before Sly & the Family Stone, too. Not only did this make them stand out, they also experimented with their image, long before glam, wearing bright, dramatic outfits, with Eddy Grant sometimes even donning a blonde wig. Plus, there’s also the fact that Grant was later a star in his own right.

Whatever the reason, the Equals rarely troubled the charts again, apart from Viva Bobby Joe in 1969 and Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys in 1971. The latter in particular is interesting, hinting at a more political, funky sound, and would have fitted a Blaxploitation movie well. By that point, Grant had already ceased touring with the group after they injured in a car accident in Germany in 1969. He left for good after Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys when he suffered a heart attack and collapsed lung aged only 23, despite being teetotal. The health scare saw him return to Guyana.

The Equals soldiered on, but without the songwriting talents of their guitarist, they’ve never been able to repeat their early fame. Pat Lloyd remains the only founder member. As for Eddy Grant, well, of course he returned to music, but that’s another story for another time.

Despite the relative obscurity of The Equals, their songs have been covered over the years by The Clash and Lethal Bizzle. Baby, Come Back was re-recorded several times by Grant, without success. It did reach number 1 again in 1994 though, when Brummie reggae singer Pato Banton teamed up with Robin and Ali Campbell. The Campbells gave their reggae-lite kiss of death to proceedings, but thanks to Banton’s excitable toasting, it’s fondly remembered by children of the 90s.

Written by: Eddy Grant

Producer: Ed Kassner

Weeks at number 1: 3 (3-23 July)

Births:

Actor Julian Rhind-Tutt – 20 July
Welsh actor Rhys Ifans – 22 July 

Deaths:

Humorist RJ Yeatman – 13 July
Welsh poet William Evans – 16 July 

Meanwhile…

4 July: Alec Rose made headlines by returning from a 354-day single-handed round-the-world trip in his boat Lively Lady. Rose was knighted the next day.

10 July: A rather dull, cool and wet summer led to flooding in the south west of England.

17 July: The animated film Yellow Submarine, based on some of the Beatles’ most psychedelic songs, and featuring a cameo from the Fab Four at the end, was released.