Sunday, February 7, 2021


I actually remember this song as being a banger from the minute I first heard it. It's true, quite when that minute was I don't recall, but it must have been sometime in 1968, that being when it was a one-hit wonder in the UK charts. Or possibly in 1975, when it was re-released, but I like to think it the former. I even remember who it was by, the name Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon indelibly inked on my consciousness. And no, it wasn't that Johnny Johnson, it was another one, whose real name was actually Johnny Mathis. And no, not that one either.

So what was the 11 year old me doing, grooving to Northern Soul? Well, I wasn't, no sir, I didn't even know what that was then. And I dare say a few readers may not now. No relation to Southern Soul either, not really. In 1968 I didn't even like soul music full stop, at least not the sort on Top of the Pops, which tended all to be Tamla Motown-ers, twirling and crooning in identical suits, with lots of crimplene and carefully asynchronised dancing. But I liked a good tune, with a good beat, this having both.

Some bio. Johnny Johnson/Mathis was a Floridian, raised in New York State. With three of his chums, BDtWoH was their first record, and it was a bigger hit over here than in his home, a creditable number four. Before long he and the Bandwagon had upped sticks and relocated, coming under the wing of the McCauley-Cook-Greenaway team, responsible for so many UK pop hits of that era.I say he and the Bandwagon, but the original Bandwagon stayed put, Johnson calling whomsoever present for shows and recordings as the Bandwagon, or even his Bandwagon. I also learn he/they weren't a one hit wonder, having a fair few lesser hits, lurching on for some time.

Meanwhile, in Wigan, and surrounding towns in the north west of England, a strange dance floor phenomenon was kicking off. I read about it in the music press, bemused by tales of all-night dances, boys in very baggy pants, shirtless and sweaty, performing extravagant dance routines from the minute they left work and until they returned back to work in the morning. Or so it seemed. This was Northern Soul, with playlists culled largely from obscure records of a decade before. The tendency was for a heavy backbeat and a fast tempo. Again, not quite my cup of tea then, although I see some greater appeal now, in my dotage. BDtWoH hit that bill just fine, and it's time came around again. Rather than this becoming a treatise, and rather than my awkwardly trying to explain the appeal of a movement I didn't understand, and movements I certainly couldn't do, here's a good song by Clive Gregson (with Christine Collister), describing and entitled Northern Soul. Gregson, the erstwhile singer and leader of band, Any Trouble, featured here, grew up in that neck of the woods, aware first hand of the subculture.

But, and there's always a but, the curtain didn't come down on the song then, it earning a well deserved pirates of encores in the 80s, first of all by SMM faves, Dexys Midnight Runners, themselves often and mistakenly labelled as one hit wonders as well. Actually, they had a slew of British his, both at 45 and 33rpm. And what better to put on the b side of their debut single than this song. Full of cheesy organ, brassy parps and strangled vocals, it is a corker. As an added bonus, feel free to grab a slice of this, from a solo covers album Dexys frontman Kevin Rowland, put out between iterations of the band. Concrete and clay being common staples of wall building.

Finally, from a similar time, ex-Motor Bram Tchaikovsky put out a somewhat power pop version with his eponymous band. If it starts a little anodyne, it is purely preparing you for the glorious chorus.

Bandwagon, Dexy's, Bram.

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