Brixton, London

Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant

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Who is to blame in one country
Never can get to the one
Dealin' in multiplication
And they still can't feed everyone Read full Lyrics
Three-point-eight miles south-southeast of Charing Cross lies the borough of Lambeth, and snuggled within that borough is the district of Brixton. Originally founded by a Saxon named Brixi, from which the area takes its name, Brixton remained undeveloped until the 19th Century when the railway line linking the district to central London was built. In the 1880s a new avenue was built and dubbed Electric Avenue because it was the first street in London to be lit with electric lamps. For one hundred years, Electric Avenue became the heart of the district, a busy shopping street lined with an assortment of wares, theaters, pubs and even a cinema, but in 1981 Electric Avenue became the site of violence and tragedy.

Electric Avenue market<br>Photo: <a href="" target="_blank">Danny Robinson</a>, Geograph Project, CC 2.0Electric Avenue market
Photo: Danny Robinson, Geograph Project, CC 2.0
During the 20th century, Brixton underwent a series of dramatic socio-economic changes, becoming a community suffering from high unemployment, high crime, and a lack of amenities for its African-Caribbean inhabitants. In 1981 Brixton became the scene of riots against Metropolitan police who, in an effort to curb street violence, swarmed the district during Operation Swamp 81. Police were allowed to stop anyone on suspicion alone. Almost one thousand people were stopped by police in less than a week of the operation. Riots ensued and almost three hundred people were injured, vehicles were burned, and 150 buildings were damaged.

Despite a government inquiry into the riots and the ascent to power by the British National Party, which sympathized with Brixton residents, more riots ensued in 1985 after police shot a black woman, Dorothy "Cherry" Groce. A general distrust of the police continued to grow into the 1990s and resulted in several more police shootings and riots. In 1999, Electric Avenue was once again the site of tragedy when a neo-Nazi, David Copeland, set off a nail bomb targeting the black members of the Brixton community. Despite its violent history, Electric Avenue today is a vibrant market place specializing in African, Caribbean and Portuguese products.

It was the initial violence in 1981 that inspired Guyanan native Eddy Grant to write his 1982 hit song titled "Electric Avenue."

Electric Avenue Sign<br>Photo: <a href="">Matus Benza</a>, <a href="">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, via Wikimedia CommonsElectric Avenue Sign
Photo: Matus Benza, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
"Electric Avenue," released on Grant's aptly titled Killer on the Rampage album, reached #2 on both UK and US singles charts. It is often considered Grant's most successful song. At its core, "Electric Avenue" is a reggae pop song, which draws influences from Grant's Caribbean heritage while still appealing to mainstream pop sensibilities. "Electric Avenue" was re-released in 2001 and managed to reach #5 on the UK singles chart.

"Electric Avenue" has been covered by artists ranging in style from grindcore to house. Notable covers include the concert-only rendition by "Weird Al" Yankovic and the album version by Powerman 5000. Although some listeners may not realize the serious side of this song with its chorus chanting "We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue, and then we'll take it higher," the single continues to resonate with audiences both old and new. "Electric Avenue" serves not only as a reminder of those who were victims of persecution and violence, but also as an anthem for those who continue to fight for their place in society today.

Suzanne van Rooyen
October 18, 2015
Thanks to Martin for the Songplace suggestion
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Comments: 2

  • Oli from IcelandI think you are referring to the 1985 Tottenham riots. There were unfounded stories that policeman killed there had been beheaded.
  • Dave from LondonWas the riot the one when the rioters beheaded a police officer and family man then placed it onto a pole to taunt his colleagues? Good song, but lets not forget the mindless animal fools it represents. Maybe someone will write a hit song excusing the latest london rioters that shamed our nation last time.
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