Breaking Down The Walls Of Heartache: The Best Of 1968-1975
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Despite being virtually unknown in their USA homeland, the upbeat pop-soul of Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon was a regular feature of the UK charts in the late 60s and early 70s.
Consistent touring and promotion of their new releases kept Johnny & Co in the spotlight from 1968 through the first half of the 1970s, and with and without the Bandwagon Johnny Johnson scored more than half a dozen UK Top 40 hits in a four year period considerably more than many of more famous soul contemporaries.
Amazingly, there has never been a legitimate CD issue of the Bandwagons best moments before. Kents compilation gathers together the best of their recordings for the two labels they are most associated with, Epic and Bell, and includes all of the hits and near-hits as well as JJs album-only versions of hits for the Foundations, the Brotherhood Of Man and the Hollies.
Guaranteed to raise a fond memory or two among anyone who ever went to a youth club in the late 60s or early 70s.
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I grew up in central Lower Michigan, in a farming community outside Lansing and a hundred miles from Detroit, so I was immersed in the soulful sounds of Motown, among other types of mainstream pop, country and easy listening music. As a matter of fact, I relied way too much on listening to music than was really healthy. I had asthma… and lived on a farm! There wasn’t a season of the year that I wasn’t fraught with concerns of having bronchial attacks, some of which were severe. I couldn’t play sports or participate in gym class. Damp, cold weather had to be avoided, so I had to forgo many outdoor activities. I became a loner from Junior High onward. Music was a primary saving factor against depression.
I remember times of cruising around in a shared family 1964 Chevy Biscayne boppin’ away to “Hello I Love You” (The Doors) and “The Hurdy Gurdy Man” (Donovan). The summer of 1968 also gave us music lovers two of the best pop instrumentals of all time: “Classical Gas” (Mason Williams) and “Grazing in the Grass” (Hugh Masekela). Of easy listening songs I gravitated to “Turn Around, Look at Me” (The Vogues) and “Light My Fire” (Jose Feliciano, who two months later sang “The Star Spangled Banner” in Game 5 of the World Series in Detroit!). But what got me really groovin’ were “Time Has Come Today” (The Chambers Brothers), “I Can’t Stop Dancin’” (Archie Bell and the Drells) and “Stay in My Corner” (The Dells). All of these were among the cream of the crops, so to speak; they filled the airways for weeks on end.
But the one song that truly defined my summer of ’68 was “Breakin’ Down the Walls of Heartache”. The pounding beat, the mix of horns and background vocals accentuated the thunderous voice of Johnny Johnston. As the lyrics profess, he’s “… the carpenter of love and affection” and he’s gonna “… build you up a house of love.” Boy did I crank up the volume! Alas, the song was anything but a hit so its airplay was short-lived. On the Joel Whitburn’s Bubbling Under The Hot 100 chart, the song reached a dismal 115! It was truly Number One to my music pleasure; I bought the 45 and snatched up a copy of this CD as I would frequently check Amazon for music that has proven to be hard-to-find; surprisingly, to the best of my knowledge, this song has not appeared on any various artist collections.
“Breakin’ Down the Walls of Heartache” was composed by Denny Randell/Sandy Linzer, the same team that wrote “Keep the Ball Rollin’” and “Baby Make Your Own Sweet Music” (Jay and the Techniques). “Baby Make Your Own Sweet Music” appears on this CD; although it didn’t make the charts, The Bandwagon version was a “Breakout Hit” in Detroit. Released simultaneously, The Jay and the Techniques version reached #68 on Billboard.
“Breakin’ Down the Walls of Heartache” is an exceptional song by The Bandwagon. It was produced, recorded and mixed with perfection, at least to my auditory sensibilities. None of the rest of the songs on this CD come even remotely close to its quality of sound and level of vocal performance. It took a few listenings for me to appreciate the rest of this CD. “When Love Has Gone Away”, “I Ain’t Lyin’”, “Dancing Master”, “Music to My Heart” and “Baby Make Your Own Sweet Music” are the best of the lot.
[Footnote: Dexys Midnight Riders (of “Come On Eileen” fame) recorded this song on the 2010 CD “It Was Like This”. It is horrendously performed.]