‘Breakin’ down the walls of heartache, baby / I’m a carpenter of love and affection / Breakin’ down the walls of heartache, baby / Got to tear down all the loneliness and tears and build you up a house of love’
Could there be any more effective tonic than this against heartache, or any other kind of sorrow? My crackly vinyl copy has never failed to put a spring in my step, that’s for sure. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it in a club, northern soul or otherwise, but if I ever did, I’d head straight for the dancefloor, no question, in just the same way that I used to when I was a boy and Dexys Midnight Runners’ number ones came on at the village disco. Dexys it was who covered the song on their first LP, Searching for the young soul rebels, and while their version is great, the original easily trumps it (predominantly through not suffering from Kevin Rowland’s somewhat histrionic singing). Though it was written by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell (who together also managed to come up with classics as diverse as ‘A lover’s concerto’, ‘Let’s hang on’, ‘Working my way back to you’ and ‘Native New Yorker’), vocalist Johnny Johnson makes the song his own. An American fated like Geno Washington to be more celebrated in Britain than in his homeland, Johnny’s voice was a perfect blend of rough and smooth, and his vocal on this is matched in its urgency by the driving combination of piano, percussion and brass – a combination which will surely energise both dance floors and mending hearts for decades to come.