Updated: May 26, 2020
The recent death of Hamilton Bohannon reminded me of an unfinished article on the gestation of The Smiths' swampy, disco stomper How Soon is Now. Lockdown is giving me a chance to spring clean the dusty blog cupboard, so what better incentive to finish it off.
What? I hear you cry. Manchester's favourite miserabilists (lazy media stereotype alert) produced a disco classic? Well it was certainly a big club track (and of course is now very 'meta' with Morrissey's lyrics stating 'there's a club if you want to go') but the interesting thing about the song is where its defining rhythm comes from.
The Melody Maker review at the time stated "Morrissey and co have once again delved into their Sixties treasure-trove, and produced a visceral power capable of blowing the dust off Eighties inertia...."
Visceral power - yes. Sixties - no. Johnny Marr couldn't be clearer about where the song came from and it wasn't from any hip Sixties reference. Of course he wasn't averse to that - compare the intro to There is a Light .. to The Stones' cover of Mavin Gaye's Hitch Hike
However in this case it was the largely forgotten 1975 hit 'Disco Stomp' from Bohannon which kick started the behemoth-of-tremolo which is How Soon is Now.
Like so much of the music from that era, it was dismissed as nightclub fluff, not worthy of attention from the over-serious rock journalists and disco-hating guitar fascists of the time. It's unlikely that there is still much influence wielded on current music by the so-called 'real bands' of the time. Yet as this article makes clear, Hamilton Bohannon was not only an amazing musician who played with Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye (and had to play the bass drum with his hi-hat foot due to an accident); he also laid the foundations for house music; was lauded by Frankie Knuckles; has been sampled by Public Enemy, Mary J Blige and Jay Z; and was memorably name-checked in Tom Tom Club's Genius of love (3.08 on):
It's unlikely that a 12 year old Marr was aware of all this as he eagerly waited for the next play of Disco Stomp on the radio. But through those car-sick summer journeys of '75 it sank into his audio sub-conscious. And nine years later, because he is a creative genius he was able to tap into that memory, mix it with some Bo Diddley, Can, a fistful of weed and a night of ferocious knob-twiddling to produce exactly what he wanted - an instantly recognisable masterpiece. If you're in any doubt as to its relevance, modernity or complexity listen to the synth line from hip hop pioneer Lovebug Starski's You've Gotta Believe (0.52) which Marr replicated in the track by playing harmonics on re-tuned guitar strings.
And so in 1984, How Soon is Now dropped on an unsuspecting world. A world which has never been the same since as indie kids from small towns all over the world are able to proclaim 'we have a dance anthem too'.