Back in 1977, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers enjoyed a very substantial hit here in the UK with Egyptian Reggae.
By substantial, I mean it reached #5 and spent an astonishing 14 weeks on the chart, entering on 29 October 1977 and leaving on 28 January 1978. Ten of those weeks were spent in the Top 30, and the other four in positions 31-50; if the chart had been a Top 75 as it would expand to a few years later, then there’s every chance it could have spent the best part of six months hanging around.
I’ve no doubt that the UK public saw it as a novelty song above all else. It was an instrumental that sounded vaguely amusing, taking a piece of reggae and giving it something of an Arabic twist. The mid-late 70s were horrendously racist in many parts of the UK and I fear that many folk bought it for the sake of poking fun at one or more cultures rather than appreciating the work of The Modern Lovers.
It came on the back of Roadrunner being a hit in July 1977, but there hasn’t been a sniff of chart success ever since. The parent album from which Egyptian Reggae was lifted, Rock’n’Roll With The Modern Lovers spent three weeks in the charts but none of the subsequent releases have sold enough copies in the UK to crack the Top 100. I would hazard a guess and say that the vast majority of those who bought Egyptian Reggae wouldn’t have given Jonathan a further thought until they came across him in the 1998 film Something About Mary.
Here’s the two sides of the single:-
The b-side is a fun listen. Almost makes for a decent short story!
The a-side came from this:-
Earl Zero (born Earl Anthony Johnson) is a Jamaican reggae singer and while he wrote this track, it remained unknown until another singer from Kingston recorded his version:-
Rather cheekily (and that’s me being polite……), the writing credit for Egyptian Reggae was given solely to Jonathan Richman.