Mona (Ellas McDaniel) – Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2 1990
In 1957 Bo Diddley (real name Otha Ellas Bates McDaniel) who wrote songs under the pseudonym of Ellas McDaniel, penned a song called Oh Mona after he was inspired by a performance from an exotic dancer by that name who worked at the Flame Show Bar in Detroit which Bo Diddley frequented.
The song became the B-side to his 1957 record Hey! Bo Diddley, which famously revealed his much-imitated five-accent hambone rhythm which became the chugging cornerstone of many rock, pop and hip- hop songs for the next sixty years.
Thirty-three years later actor/singer/musician Craig McLachlan and his band Check 1-2 were working with their record producer, former Sherbet songwriter and keyboard player, Garth Porter, in Sydney to record an Ace Frehley (former Kiss) song called New York Groove for their first release.
As they jammed and improvised, they stumbled onto the famous Bo Diddley rhythm, and Porter realized that they were playing Diddley’s Oh Mona. At the end of the session vocals had been added, the Frehley song pigeonholed and a future international hit, Mona, was ready for release.
The song had previously been covered by some great bands – the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, the Troggs, Bruce Springsteen – so the challenge for McLachlan was to bring this 1950’s rock song up to date with a fresh treatment that would retain the chugging authenticity of the original but with a contemporary sheen and vitality that would reinvigorate but not necessarily re-invent it.
Wisely Porter and the band kept it simple, the original guitar riffs prevailed in both the acoustic guitar intro and later when electric lead guitar kicks in and is featured in a solo at the bridge, the repeated chorus of “Hey Monah (ooh-ooh)/ Ooh Mona (ooh-ooh) ” anchors the song and carries it beyond the banality of the original verses “Tell you Mona what I want to do/ I’ll build a house next door to you/ Can I see you sometime/ We can go kissing through the blind”.
The promo video features McLachlan and the band arriving in the back of a ute to perform at a country gig, girls dance around, the performance ends and the band piles into the back of the ute and departs – they kept it simple, and cheap.
Mona, the accidental hit, charted #3 in Aust, #2 UK, top 10 in Ireland and Belgium, and #16 NZ, it was awarded the ARIA for Biggest Selling Song of the Year in 1990.
Two years later McLachlan would debut his starring role as Frank N. Furter in the stage musical version of the Rocky Horror Show and reprise that role many times over the next twenty years. He also starred in the Australian TV drama series The Doctor Blake Mysteries, where more mature and dramatic performances were forthcoming from McLachlan during the four seasons of this successful series. In 2018 three actors alleged that McLachlan had acted inappropriately towards them during 2014’s performances of The Rocky Horror Show, Victorian police subsequently charged the singer with ten counts of indecent assault, he went to trial in 2020, and was ultimately found innocent of all charges.