May 10

ASWAD – “Don’t Turn Around”

Popular51 comments • 4,419 views

#605, 26th March 1988, video

Listened to on an overcast Wednesday this sounded supine and dreary: on a shirtsleeve Friday it’s springy and playful. Such is the way of pop-reggae, a genre which more than any other depends on the weather. Aswad’s version of “Don’t Turn Around” is one of a throng of covers – they weren’t the first reggae act to try it, and their reading leads directly to Ace of Base’s later hit. I admit I don’t hear a lot in the song to suggest why so many wanted a tilt at it: I think I’d like it more without the chorus in fact, if the singer’s despair was simply implied, not stated outright. But Aswad do a serviceable job, mostly thanks to Brinsley Forde’s lead performance – nothing revelatory, but charismatic and he reads the song well, getting the right mix of defiance and nervous bluff on “see if I care”, “I’m gonna be alright” et al. The arrangement gets in his way a little at the climax – “Don’t Go! Don’t Go!” he sings, his urgency drowned out by a plasticky crash of drums.



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  1. 1
    edward o on 21 May 2010 #

    I maintain that the Ace of Base version of this is a fantastic record. This, not so much. And the Tina Turner original is just pants.

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 21 May 2010 #

    ‘Plasticky’is precisely right. Add ‘trebley’ and ‘underpowered’ to that, and you’re starting to explain why this one irritates me so much. I don’t mind the idea of pop-reggae, and would have no complaints about Aswad compromising their roots credibility in search of chart success if only this just sounded more organic or of emotional significance to the performers. As it is, its not a patch on ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’, the last time Popular dealt with something in this territory.

  3. 3
    JLucas on 21 May 2010 #

    I love the Ace Of Base version. It suits a pop reading better in my opinion. Reggae songs with lyrics about getting dumped are strange bedfellows.

  4. 4
    punctum on 21 May 2010 #

    “You know what live and direct means? It means…live and direct!”

    One of the greatest live performances I have ever seen was Aswad live at the 1983 Notting Hill Carnival; simultaneously welcoming and threatening, at once celebratory and insurrectionary, with a sense of dynamics seldom matched by any other group and, in Drummie Zeb, a drummer worthy of placement beside Elvin Jones and Clyde Stubblefield. The performance was recorded and issued on the mini-album Live And Direct; “African Children” alone is sufficient to put nearly all other music of its month, if not its year, to abject shame.

    Aswad had long since been established as Britain’s leading reggae band with classics like the serpentine instrumental “Warrior Charge,” the unofficial signature tune of the 1981 Brixton riots. Unfortunately the mainstream public seemed to believe that UB40 were Britain’s leading reggae band, with the result that by 1988 Aswad badly needed a hit. “Don’t Turn Around” was another product of the Warren/Hammond AoR battery farm; originally a Tina Turner B-side, and also a minor US hit for the late soul singer Luther Ingram in 1986, it was summarily given the UB40/Boris Gardner reggae-lite treatment. While Brinsley Forde provides a typically superb lead vocal, the arrangement suggests that the band were kept out of the studio at bayonet point in favour of the trivial tinsel of synths and drum machines, as though these revolutionaries had been forced to become humble mendicants. It went to number one within a month, and thus much more of the same followed, but “Don’t Turn Around” is the equivalent of former Communists being paraded before the West, compelled to recant their previous “sins” – thoroughly lifeless and indirect.

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 21 May 2010 #

    Number 2 watch: The start of a whopping four weeks for Bros’ ‘Drop The Boy’, a more distinctive and original-sounding thing than ‘Don’t Turn Around’ at the very least. “I read all the newspapers/ But my mother reads my mail”…

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 21 May 2010 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Aswad’s 1988 change of direction opened doors for them. As to whether they were doors into rooms into which people would want to go, you can be the judge…

    CANNON AND BALL: with Marti Caine, Hilary O’Neil, Aswad (1988)

    THE HIPPODROME SHOW: with Uri Geller, Spike Milligan, Sheena Easton, Aswad, Tommy Tune (1989)

    THE LAST RESORT WITH JONATHAN ROSS: with Steve Nieve & The Playboys, John Benson (Announcer), Aswad, Kathy Burke (Tina Bishop), Rowland Rivron (Dr. Martin Scrote), Simon Bates (1988)

    LATE NIGHT IN CONCERT: with Aswad (1984)

    LATER WITH JOOLS HOLLAND: with Crowded House, Aswad, The Cranberries, The Auteurs (1994)

    THE MONTREUX ROCK FESTIVAL: with Johnny Hates Jazz, Jermaine Stewart, Ziggy Marley, Aswad, Sting (1988)

    THE OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST: with Aswad, XTC (1982)

    ORS 84: with Aswad, Steve Levine (1984)

    ROUND THE BEND: with Aswad (1989)

    SIGHT AND SOUND IN CONCERT: with Aswad (1984)

    SOMETHING ELSE: with Aswad (1982)

    THE TUBE: with Jools Holland, Leslie Ash, China Crisis, Aswad, Burt Kwouk, Geoff Weston, Miquel Brown (1984)

    WHISTLE TEST–ON THE ROAD: with The Cocteau Twins, Aswad (1984)

    WIRED: with Michael Jackson, Aztec Camera, Aswad (1988)

    WOGAN: with Aswad, Doctor Melissa Fitzgerald, Peter Howitt, Natalie J. Robb, Amanda Walklett (1988)

    WOGAN: with Aswad, Fenton Bresler, Judith Craig, Willow Legge, Imogen Stubbs, Joseph Wamburg (1989)

  7. 7
    admin on 21 May 2010 #

    wot no double deckers mention?

  8. 8
    TomLane on 21 May 2010 #

    Although this peaked at #45 on the U.S. R&B charts it got no Pop chart action. This is indeed a good song, done better of course by Ace of Base. But I don’t mind this version.

  9. 9
    Erithian on 21 May 2010 #

    In 1976 they supported Eddie and the Hot Rods on tour, you know.

    Nice summery reggae, no doubt brought a warm glow to a cold March, not much more to say. But of course Brinsley Forde was the other UK Number 1 performer (other than you-know-who) to star alongside Melvyn Hayes and a double-decker bus. Anyone want to give us full information about “The Double Deckers” or is it too early in the thread for that sort of digression?!

  10. 10
    Erithian on 21 May 2010 #

    You see, Admin, everything comes to he who waits!

  11. 11
    Alan on 21 May 2010 #


    i never rated Spooks

    edit: !!! um, that IS a reference to Peter Firth. *blush*

  12. 12
    MikeMCSG on 21 May 2010 #

    This doesn’t apply to Punctum of course (whose analysis of this is spot on) but I bet 9 out of 10 of those who accused them of selling out didn’t actually own anything from their supposedly seminal earlier material. I think a more appropriate mataphor would be someone like Margaret Hodge an out-there radical who had to come in and take the Blairite shilling to get a decent pension.

    This is the second number one in a row with links to a much-loved TV programme since Brinsley Forde was Spring in “Here Come The Double Deckers ” (was he the first black child on TV anyone ?). I absolutely adored that as a kid ; what could be better than having a bus as a den for you and your mates ?

  13. 13
    Ben on 21 May 2010 #

    @Billy Smart #6
    That Hippodrome green room must have been an odd sight. Do you think Uri Geller, Spike Milligan and Sheena Easton had much to talk about?!!

  14. 14
    Erithian on 21 May 2010 #

    Mike #12 – I think we agreed on a mid-70s thread (Barbados?) that his character Spring was the first example of a black character in a sitcom whose colour was totally incidental (some time ahead of Denzil in Only Fools and Horses).

  15. 15
    thefatgit on 21 May 2010 #

    Yup the 2 “winners” from The Double Deckers were Brinsley Forde and Peter Firth.

    Aswad’s hit was a bit of harmless pop fluff, which is a shame since they were at the cutting edge of the roots/dub movement. I cottoned on to dub about 83/84 so way too late for the innovative Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby stuff. When this came around, I was hoping for something a bit edgy, but found the edge was somewhat blunted. Ho hum.

  16. 16
    Rory on 21 May 2010 #

    I’m not sure if I’d ever heard this before watching the video half an hour ago, and I’ve already forgotten how it goes. Not Diane Warren’s catchiest tune.

    One week at number 34 in the Australian charts.

  17. 17
    lonepilgrim on 21 May 2010 #

    it’s a pleasant enough tune with a better than average vocal – scuppered by mediocre 80s production values

    whenever I encountered Aswad in the press, TV or radio I immediately thought of ‘the Double Deckers’ which I loved as a kid – perhaps an even less predictable/believable career trajectory is ‘Doughnut’ becoming a theoretical physicist.

  18. 18
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 May 2010 #

    I saw Aswad at a student disco at LCP (where my sister was studying film and TV) in maybe 1985! Not the ideal venue — it was half empty — but still very memorable.

  19. 19
    Steve Mannion on 21 May 2010 #

    Baffled at idea of Ace Of Base version being better…

  20. 20
    Billy Smart on 21 May 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: Aswad performed Don’t Turn Around on Top Of The Pops on four occasions (we’ll deal with the Christmas one when we get to it);

    17 March 1988. Also in the studio that week were; Bros and Eighth Wonder. Gary Davies & Mike Read were the hosts.

    24 March 1988. Also in the studio that week were; Sinitta, A-Ha and Simon Harris. Peter Powell & Simon Bates were the hosts.

    31 March 1988. Also in the studio that week were; Eighth Wonder, Climie Fisher and Wet Wet Wet. Mike Smith & Nicky Campbell were the hosts.

  21. 21
    vinylscot on 21 May 2010 #

    I’ll really need to try and get on these threads earlier. As usual, most of what I wanted to say has already been said.

    In the 70s in UK we had Steel Pulse, Black Slate, Matumbi and Aswad, yet it was UB-bloody-40 that got the hits (albeit a few years later). I suppose the timing of the ska/2-Tone stuff had a lot to do with that.

    Erithian at #9 – I was that Eddie and the Hot Rods tour in Glasgow, and we got Ultravox (w John Foxx obv.), instead of Aswad – I din’t know if they took it turn about, or if it was felt that Glasgow would prefer Ultravox (Young Savage was the single at the time) – both acts got half a page in the programme.

  22. 22
    Erithian on 21 May 2010 #

    Memoirs of Hot Rods bassist Paul Gray including the Aswad/Ultravox tour:

    Check out the width of the trews!

  23. 23
    anto on 21 May 2010 #

    In his post on Red Red Wine Tom mentioned that UB40 mislead him about reggae. When Don’t Turn Around was at #1 I asked my Mum what she thought of it and she said ” It’s ok but I’m not that keen on reggae songs. ” and that was the first time I ever heard the word “reggae”.
    I wasn’t so much mislead by Aswad but for a few years I just assumed reggae meant music made by black men with dreads. It wasn’t until a music Teacher at school put me right that I realised the genre had more to do with bass patterns than haircuts.
    As for Don’t Turn Around it would be pleasent rather than especially great whichever style it was played in.

  24. 24
    thefatgit on 21 May 2010 #

    Strange how a band that can be as passionate and earnest as this:
    can end up being so toothless and anodyne with DTA.

  25. 25
    swanstep on 22 May 2010 #

    Aswad’s DTA spent 2 weeks at #1 in New Zealand.

    DTA isn’t quite my sort of thing done by anyone (I find it slightly soporific), but I much prefer this version to Ace of Base’s, which feels compressed and unmelodic by comparison. For example, the middle eight, er,four – ‘I wish I could scream’ etc. – is lame-o spoken in AoB’s version, whereas Aswad’s guy shows some nice pipes there. And I think Tom is just wrong about the arrangement ‘getting in the way’ at that point.

    Anyhow, I evidently like this a bit more than most everyone else here:
    5 (and could be talked up to a 6 by the right crowd)

  26. 26
    Anders on 22 May 2010 #

    People of Earth!

    DTA was of course sung by Drummie Zeb, not Brinsley Forde. Brinsley always sung the roots reggae tracks and Drummie Zeb the lovers rock tracks. Tony Gad sings lead on a few occasions too.

    Drummie Zeb used to be the drummer and also sing lead vocals at the same time. With this song everything changed and he left the drums and took center stage. In the end Brinsley Forde left the group.

    Drummie at the drums singing lead vocals

    Brinsley Forde lead vocals (Shine)

    Tony Gad lead vocals (Feelings)

  27. 27
    MBI on 24 May 2010 #

    Yet another one that did nothing in America, and speaking as an American currently scrolling the Wikipedia page for this, I am boggled that there are so many versions of what I only know as everyone’s fourth-favorite Ace of Base song. Was it just the pedigree of Warren/Hammond that brought people on board with this, or what? Why this song? Does Diane Warren have a crew of Suge-Knight-style strong-armers dangling people out of windows if they don’t record her music?

  28. 28
    Waldo on 24 May 2010 #


    Thanks for the paging, MC.

    I’ve only now had this opportunity to access Popular having been in Italy for a few days and then suffering loss of Internet at work.

    The news about Rosie is most encouraging after what were truly alaming events. She was moved back from the Royal Preston to her local hospital in resplendant Barrow over the weekend and the last text I received mentioned something about a romance with a chocolate orange. She particularly forbade me from exchanging jokey obituaries with Erithian (whenever someone of note edges one to the keeper, he and I are on a race to get the gag in first) as she assures everyone that she doesn’t intend to check out (of life) just yet.

    I would like to thank everyone for your messages of support, which I have passed on to Rosie. Her contributions to the Popular project have been considerable and the bunfights with Marcello, in particular, entertaining for a variety of reasons. I’ll let you all know when there is an update and copy this to whatever number one we are discussing at the time.

    Cheers, everyone.

  29. 29
    Mark G on 24 May 2010 #

    #21, yeah, if you get here later than post 10, and/or Punctum’s post, it has usually all been said.

    Especially the “I thought Drummie sang this..” which I’m too late to be smartarse of the week with.

  30. 30
    Mike Atkinson on 24 May 2010 #

    Well! I’m a little taken aback by the general sniffiness, as I’ve always had a lot of affection for this single: spry and refreshing, like a cool breeze on a muggy spring afternoon, and with a spacious, distinctive sonic palette that, while far removed from Aswad’s roots-reggae origins, absolutely works for me as pop-reggae. I particularly like the ooh-ing that underpins the second verse, and the three repeating organ chords in the chorus. Sell-out? Well, I’d enjoyed “Bubbling” from 1985, which pointed towards a lighter direction for the band, so “Don’t Turn Around” didn’t come as a huge surprise. But by the time I saw them at Rock City a few months later, they had indeed tipped almost fully over into jerk-chicken-in-a-basket cabaret cheese; a cloying cover of “My Baby Just Cares For Me” sticks in the memory. But for now: a lovely pop moment, and a 7 from me.

    Oh, and thanks for the reassuring update, Waldo – welcome news!

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