How Happy Mondays turned a cover version crisis into a huge hit

23 August 2020, 12:00

Shaun Ryder and Bez of Happy Mondays performing at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, November 1989
Shaun Ryder and Bez of Happy Mondays performing at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, November 1989. Picture: Peter J Walsh/PYMCA/Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Step On is a banger, for sure. But it was a cover version recorded in a hurry!

You know Step On by Happy Mondays? Of course you do. You’ve probably perfected your baggy shuffle on a dancefloor at some point or other in your life. It’s a sure-fire banger.

The track was released as a single in April 1990, well before the release of the band’s acclaimed third album Pills ’N’ Thrills And Bellyaches. It made Number 5 in the UK singles chart - the band’s joint biggest hit with Kinky Afro, later that year.

But, as frontman Shaun Ryder recalls, “Step On was a fluke.”

It’s actually a cover version - of an old single by South African musician John Kongos, originally titled He’s Gonna Step On You Again. The song made Number 4 in May 1971.

The Happy Mondays singer told Radio X that the original idea was for the band to contribute a track to a compilation celebrating 40 years of their American record label, Elektra.

The concept behind Rubáiyát was that current artists on Elektra would cover OLD artists on Elektra. So, The Cure did Hello I Love You by The Doors, Pixies did a track by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Billy Bragg did a track by seminal LA psychedelic band Love. Metallica covered Queen. You get the idea.

Ryder remembers that the group were in the middle of recording Pills ’N’ Thrills And Bellyaches.

“We thought, this is the last thing we need! They sent over a tape with lots of songs from the back catalogue of Elektra. So we stuck the tape on and Step On was either first or second on the tape. We said, right - that’ll do!

“We’ll just get some drum on it and end it off to Oaky”. Producer Paul Oakenfold added his magic, Ryder overdubbed random cries such as “Call the cops!” and a baggy classic was born.

The band liked the track so much that they decided to release it as a single - for the Elektra compilation, they recorded another track by John Kongos, called Tokoloshe Man.

Kongos has kept working, and his four sons formed a band performing under their surname - you’re probably familiar with their hit Come With Me Now. It has a similar vibe to their old man’s music…