Wednesday, 20 April 2011

7: Gary Byrd and the GB Experience, “The Crown” (no.6, 1983)

An entire black history month squeezed into ten mouthwatering minutes, making it one of the longest records ever to chart in the UK. (No wonder there weren’t any follow-up hits: the GB Experience had worn themselves out on this one.) Self-appointed professor of ebonics Byrd here gives us not just the lowdown on the African people’s progress from mystical kingdoms and trading ships through to Roots and Jackie Robinson, but also several of my favourite couplets of all time: “You may have seen the Raiders from the Lost Ark [sic]/But you still left the theater in the dark”.

Indeed, part of “The Crown”’s project appears to be to redress an imbalance, putting in several hundred words for black history in the face of a popular culture becoming increasingly monopolised by white imagery (“It’s not Star Wars/It’s not Superman/It’s not the story of the Ku Klux Klan”). The joy is in hearing how this most serious of intentions could be framed by such a cracking tune: produced by Stevie Wonder (making this easily the best thing he ever did during the 1980s), with some very Chic basslines, it’s funky as all hell; you could put this on at the BNP disco, and Nick Griffin would get up and cut a rug. I owe my discovery of “The Crown” to Radio 2 sports newscaster Bob Ballard, which seems a terribly Caucasian sentence to write in the circumstances.

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