A Happy New Year to all! In the real world it’s 2023; in #1s blog world it’s March 1988, and time for the year’s obligatory reggae #1. It feels as if every year of the decade has had one: Boy George, Boris Gardner, UB40…
Don’t Turn Around, by Aswad (their 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, from 20th March – 3rd April 1988
And to be honest, I’m usually all for these little reggae interludes. I’ve mentioned it many times before now, but this blog has really raised the genre in my estimations. I used to find it a bit samey, a bit plodding but, in small doses, it’s very welcome. Was very welcome, I should say. Because 1988’s obligatory reggae #1 is testing my new-found reggae tolerance.
Maybe it’s the eighties production. Maybe it’s the nasal delivery of the lead singer. Maybe I’m just not in the mood today. But something’s not working. Don’t turn around, I don’t want you seeing me cryin’… The good thing about reggae is that is often quite a rough and ready style of music: a simple beat and simple lyrics. But here, the echoey effects, and the synths, not to mention the strings, all feel like overkill.
It was the style of the time, yes. But the style of the time spoils so many of this era’s records, that otherwise might have been very good, and it gets annoying. Aswad should perhaps have known better, having been around since the mid-seventies, but who can blame them for updating their sound and going for a big hit. The biggest of hits. A number one.
Still, reggae works best when kept simple. Any attempts to dress it up, as Aswad do here, fall flat. For me, at least. But, again, there’s a reason why I’m writing about this song today, and clearly it didn’t fall flat for a lot of people. It gave Aswad their first hit after a decade of trying (none of their previous releases had breached the Top 40). They were from east London, the sons of Caribbean emigrants, while ‘Aswad’ means ‘black’ in Arabic. They’d score one further Top 10 – ‘Shine’, some six years after this – and they hung around for a long time, releasing their final album in 2009.
Like pretty much every recent reggae chart-topper, ‘Don’t Turn Around’ was a cover. But the original was not reggae – it was a thumping power ballad by Tina Turner, released as a ‘B’-side in 1986 (I must admit I far prefer that version). Soul singer Luther Ingram recorded a version the following year, which is how Aswad became aware of the song. Meanwhile it has also been covered by Neil Diamond and Bonnie Tyler (very much in the Tina Turner style), and was taken back into the Top 5 by Ace of Base in 1994. A very versatile song!