Friday, 12 August 2011
Joe Loss & His Orchestra - March Of The Mods (1964/ No. 31/ 7 weeks/ HMV)
If you're British and over thirty, you might be wondering where you know it from. I regret to inform you that it is extensively sampled in 'Let's Party' by Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers, a lazy mobile-disco medley number number one of 1989, but don't let that put you off.
This is party music, but music for a party that I might even enjoy being at, if I could travel in time. I imagine it playing at a proper dancehall , circa 1964, the age when you could go to both dances and discotheques. Its a big formal event, a works dance or New Years' Eve, and the men and women are particularly dressed up for the night, as more hangs upon having a good time this evening as would normally be the case, neat partings, new ties, colourful dresses.
Crucially, this wouldn't be a gathering of the kool kids of the day, but a collection of several generations and more unfashionable and uncertain revelers. The 'Mod' in the title is just a with-it period trapping. The only mod thing about the single is the groovy organ that adds a few jolly flourishes over the second half of the disc.
What this record really is a stomp, a chance for the dancers to let their hair down and lose a few inhibitions through an unapologetically silly tune. It's a great blaring brassy thing;
The effect of this repetition is really quite locked-on and relentless, demanding an instantaneous and non-cerebral response from the listener, rather like a hard-rockin' guitar riff does. Eventually other instruments join in and flirtatiously play off against this riff, a call and response, some of the flutey arrangements sounding like the instrumentation for a British comedy film of the fifties or sixties. If you were dancing to this, I would imagine that you and your partner would have worked out some mutual action with your feet during the riff, walking towards and away from each other, say. Then, when the new bits of instrumentation came in, you'd have to do something silly like throw your arms out together. It would also be a good tune for communal dancing like holding hands in a ring-a-roses or a conga line. It's certainly just as well that it only goes on for two minutes, because you'd reel away exhausted to the chairs at the edge of the room once it had stopped, feeling in need of a drink... but you'd feel happier and less selfconscious.
Like many pop phenomena, The March Of The Mods comes from an unlikely source, the letkajenka, a traditional Finnish linedance that revolves around bunnyhopping actions. In the early 1960s a mutant strain of this spread in Finland, incorporating steps from the Madison and the Conga. And then somehow it traveled to England, Joe Loss & His Orchestra and to provincial dancehalls and night outs such as I like to imagine.
P.S. Further internet research validates my theory that this tune led to the creation of special dance routines. YouTube listeners reminisce;
"Takes me back to my dancing days at the Pamela Chelmiah school of dancing in St.Ives near Huntingdon! Fantastic memories."
- and -
"I'd forgotten all about this music. I can vaguely remember doing the dance that went with it. Everybody went round the dance floor in a big circle. There was one bit where you jumped forward with your feet together then jumped back again then took four steps forward. I hated doing it as a kid because I wanted to be a rocker and thought that all mods were poofs. I still do."