The imperative to dance is one of the main things about music; so much of it is meant to be part of a celebration or release of one kind or another, an escape from ordinary, everyday life. There is an almost equal imperative that the music played for said times be special, different – again, not what you would hear regularly on the radio or in the charts. People like to set up these rules and be strict about them, as any space that acts as a true escape has to be patrolled for any malign outsider influence. The party, as such, cannot be spoiled.
However, music is an oceanic experience and songs have a way of showing up, being played, of persisting until those who once didn’t want to hear them now welcome them, hopefully realizing that it was folly to try to keep the song out, that it belonged to them the entire time.
The Northern Soul movement is just what it sounds like – dancers in Northern England going to discos and clubs to dance to soul music from the 60s and 70s. While their Southern middle class hippie counterparts were getting high and listening to The Moody Blues or Led Zeppelin, the working class Northerners were dressing up and doing a few uppers in order to dance for hours and hours to 4/4 stomping songs that were open, welcoming and – quite vitally – theirs. This music didn’t make the charts, though many of the artists – particularly the Motown ones – were getting to be fairly well-known, due to Dave Godin’s (and BBC 1 DJ Tony Blackburn’s) tireless efforts to get Motown into the charts. Northern Soul dancers liked obscurity, liked rarity, appreciated the DJs who would go to the US to find ever-more-obscure songs for them to sweat and spin to, over many years – at this time the main place to go was The Twisted Wheel in Manchester, though the Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca were two other places where the DANCE DANCE DANCE (pausing to drink and towel yourself) imperative reigned supreme.
However it may surprise you to hear that this song, so obviously meant to be appreciated and danced to by the Northern Soul contingent, was rejected because…it was too popular! The original version, done by the US studio group Wind (only in the late 60s could a band even try to get away with a name like that) was the b-side to “Make Believe.” “Groovin’ With Mr. Bloe" was written by Bo Gentry, Bernard Cochrane, Paul Naumann and Kenny Laguna (whom we will get back to in a decade or so). Any semblances to “Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells are not a coincidence; bubblegum was still in vogue and this song may well have been rejected by the purists for being a ‘bubblegum’ version of their own thing. Mr. Bloe was a studio group put together by Dick James, and Elton John famously was part of it, though it is Zack Lawrence on the piano here and not Elton (though Elton is on other songs by them and appeared, according to my husband, on TOTP to perform this song). Mr. Bloe, as such, is Harry Pitch, who plays the harmonica (though some say it's Ian Duck; studio bands are shifting, mysterious things at the best of times). A UK studio creation was always going to be trumped by some obscurity found by a crate-digging DJ somewhere in Atlanta, and thus this wasn’t a Northern Soul hit at first…
Still, someone must have bought this, and now comes the oceanic part: it was kids. Kids don’t care about purist rules and regulations, kids just want to have fun and dance and feel good, and this is one of the top songs in this whole blog for just that. Cheery, warm, welcoming, utterly unpretentious, this is what kids in Dundee and Manchester* and everywhere else wanted, and what in seven years or so the dancers in Wigan and Leeds would see the light and get on the floor for – that prime imperative of dancing for the sheer love of movement finally trumping any other need…
…and at the same time, this song wasn’t exactly ignored in the South either; one singer-songwriter used it in ’77 as the basis for this song, proving that even if you move to Berlin there is still that inspiration of dance, of clapping and spinning and twisting, keeping the faith in a music that is a joyous release, a sunshine haven on a rainy night.
*This was a favourite of Morrissey’s at the time and later covered by The Associates in 1990 and The Fall in 2003, though UK soul group Humbug did a cover version with lyrics that's almost as good as the original. I cannot help but note that in two years a certain Italian will do his own stompy harmonica song which may never be accepted by Northern Soul fans as one of their own, but really should be. Look at all the stomping and dancing going on here!