Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Step back

I knew Step On by the Happy Mondays was a cover. I expect you did too. But I'd never heard the original, until Monday afternoon, when Simon Mayo played it on his commercial radio drivetime show. It was written and recorded by one John Kongos, and I think it's brilliant. Here it is.

Now I'm not down with the kids, but aside from the occasional proto-T-Rex glam chords, I don't think this sounds 50 years old. 50! Imagine this coming out of your radio, over crackly old Medium Wave, in 1971. Your ears would have been blown. No wonder it peaked at #4 in the singles chart.

Some (including the folk at the Guinness Book of Records) also suggest that this was the first commercial release to include a sample, but I don't think that's true, I think it's just some skilled use of a tape loop... but what do I know? The Internet loves a theory though, right, even when it's wrong. Maybe especially when it's wrong.

The Mondays cover reached #5, but over time has become a landmark track, a staple of the collective memory, a definition of the whole baggy/Madchester thing. Certainly their addition of a high, chiming piano helped, as did melon-twisting lyrical additions and a bit of whistling. It (along with Kinky Afro) was their own chart highpoint, and maybe they felt they owed Kongos some more royalties, because they also covered his only other significant hit, Tokoloshe Man, for the compilation album Rubáiyát, ostensibly to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Elektra Records. Kongos's original of Tokoloshe Man is far superior though, and it also reached #4 in the UK.

Wikipedia tells us that Kongos released two albums, and that there were other singles after Tokoloshe Man but they failed to chart. After those, he concentrated increasingly on studio and production work, supplementing that income by writing music for jingles and TV themes. Apparently he programmed the Fairlight for Def Leppard when they were recording Pyromania ... which is about as far from the Mondays as you might want to get.

Anyway, both the tracks featured here, the other singles and a selection of album tracks can be scooped up in one hit via the 1988 compilation Tokoloshe Man Plus, should you so desire. But these two are the tracks you need.


  1. It is very good, innit? - and I prefer it to the Mondays. I just tuned in to your post and played it and Mr SDS heard it from the other room, immediately piping up "Ah, John Kongos - I bought this!" So he can confirm that, yes, it was exactly as you describe for him to hear it for the first time coming out of the radio, in '71! (Aged 13.)

    1. Excellent! I can't imagine there was much else sounding like this then. For example, in the week that this hit #4, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by the appropriately named Middle of the Road was #1...