This is the 110th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.

In the early 1960s, musician John Kongos had a handful of songs on the charts in his home country of South Africa as leader of Johnny Kongos & the G-Men. In 1966, Kongos moved to England, where he formed the psychedelic band, Floribunda Rose. After a failed single, Floribunda Rose became the band Scrugg. When Scrugg broke up around the end of the decade, Kongos went solo.

Kongos’s biggest hits came in 1971, when he released the album “Kongos,” which spawned the singles “Tokoloshe Man” and “He’s Gonna Step on You Again.” Both songs peaked at Number 4 in the UK, with the latter reaching Number 2 in South Africa and Australia.

In the liner notes of “Kongos,” Richie Unterberger wrote that the titular “he” in “He’s Gonna Step on You Again” came off “as a combination of roguish seducer and imperialist conqueror.” That’s not a bad way to read the song:

Hey, rainmaker come away from that man
You know he’s gonna take away our promised land
Hey good lady, he just want what you got
You know he’ll never stop until he’s taken the lot

Gonna stamp on your fire
He can change your desire
Don’t you know that he can make you forget you’re a man
Gonna stamp on your fire
He can change your desire
Don’t you know that he can make you forget you’re a man
You’re a man, he’s a man

Hey, rainmaker, he got golden plans
I tell you he make you a stranger in your land
Hey, good lady, he got God on his side
He got a double tongue, you never think that he lie

The song, which was co-written by Chris Demetriou, never specified who the man was, nor did it provide any context or story. The gist of the song seemed to be that whoever this dude was, he was a jerk, and he’d continue to be a jerk.

The Guinness Book of Records cited Kongos’s “He’s Gonna Step on You Again” as the first sample ever used on a record. According to Unterberger, that sound was a tape loop of African drums. Just as much as the lyrics, it was those drums and psychedelic guitars that helped create the vibe of the song.

Of the handful of covers that have been released in the nearly five decades since Kongos’s “He’s Gonna Step on You Again” was released, a good number of them have been by artists from Australia, where the original song peaked at Number 2.

And I mean a good number. In 1987 alone, three different bands from Australia released covers of “He’s Gonna Step on You Again.”

The version that charted the highest was by The Party Boys, a supergroup comprising alums from some of Australia’s biggest rock acts. Over several years, the lineup fluctuated, but in 1987, the band’s members were John Swan, Kevin Borich, Richard Harvey, John Brewster, and Alan Lancaster. That included two people on drums. Two. The Party Boys’ cover peaked at Number 1 in Australia and Number 10 in New Zealand.

While that version sounded like an ’80s rock update of the song, the version by Australian group The Chantoozies was dripping with the synth stylings of late ’80s pop.

You could hear elements in there that almost sounded like Bananarama, Stock Aitken Waterman, or Kim Wilde, right? Of course you could.

The third of the Australian bands to cover “He’s Gonna Step on You Again” in 1987 was Exploding White Mice, a pop punk band whose version was probably the simplest of the three. Unlike the ’80s rock version by The Party Boys or the dance pop version by The Chantoozies, the version by Exploding White Mice did not have an obvious time peg to it, which is why it sounded like the most current of the three.

A few years later and several miles away, English band the Happy Mondays released a trippy cover that ultimately had the most success and the widest audience. And I mean trippy in many senses of the word,  as Happy Mondays was responsible for pioneering the “Madchester” sound that combined acid house and psychedelia.

It was fitting that the song cited as the first sample should be covered in such a sample-heavy way. Released on the 1990 album, “Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches,” “Step On” peaked at Number 5 in the UK and Number 57 on the Billboard Hot 100. Happy Mondays’ “Kinky Afro,” a single from the same album, also peaked at Number 5. The band never had a higher single in the UK.

And there was never a version of “He’s Gonna Step on You Again” that had as high a profile as that one. Def Leppard recorded the song for “Yeah!,” a 2006 covers album that also featured “Hanging on the Telephone.” And just like the band’s version of that song, Def Leppard’s “He’s Gonna Step on You Again” was not Def Leppard enough for my taste. It was a fine version, but sounded too much like the original without any flourishes that had defined the band’s sound.

John Swan, formerly of The Party Boys, released his own version of “He’s Gonna Step on You Again” on his album, “Have A Little Faith.” It was decidedly lighter in sound than The Party Boys’ cover, as it had sort of a bluegrass vibe to it, but it was still pretty similar.

Of all of these covers, it make sense that the Happy Mondays’ version would be the best known. Or, rather, at least the best known outside of Australia. And I say that because of all the covers, it’s that version and The Chantoozies’ version that take the most creative liberties with the song. The other versions are fine, but there’s little about that truly make them their own the way the Happy Mondays and The Chantoozies did. As I’ve said many times before, why cover a song if you’re going to just recreate the original without putting your own spin on it?

In the Cover Songs Uncovered series, I’ve reviewed a wide range of songs, some of which are well-known and some of which are more obscure. This one falls a little closer toward the obscure end, at least for casual music fans who have a mainly American framing of pop culture. It’s for that reason that I appreciate “He’s Gonna Step On You Again,” because it demonstrates there’s a wide world of music and pop culture outside of the American zeitgeist. Like many songs, the version of the song you know best will depend on where you grew up, and when. I knew of the Happy Mondays’ version first, but I can imagine that Australian folks older than me have a different pick for which version is the most “iconic” or “definitive” version.

Slade’s “Cum On Feel The Noize” had a similar divide, as American audiences probably know the Quiet Riot version better. And Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” was a huge defining hit in the UK, but not nearly as recognizable in the US. Similarly, “Vamos A La Playa” was an international hit in the early ’80s, but Righeira has minimal recognition here.

And yet, all of the songs were beloved enough by people somewhere that at least a handful of artists decided to cover them and put a spin on them. The number of covers a song has is in no way an indication of how important or beloved it is, but I’ve enjoyed seeing that songs I barely know have been covered by several artists, many of whom I’ve never heard of before. And I like this because it helps push my boundaries and knowledge.

In that vein, I wouldn’t mind stumbling on more Chantoozies covers. That band could cover Rebecca Black’s “Friday” and I would still probably love it.

You can listen to these songs and previously discussed cover songs in a Spotify playlist.
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