CD CHD 702
Land Of 1,000 Dances
The Hully Gully, The Hand Jive, The Swim, The Jerk, The Watusi, The Harlem Shuffle, The Hippy Hippy Shake, The Limbo, The
Monkey, The Monster Mash, The Pony, The Duck, The Loco-Motion, The Madison, The Nitty Gritty, The Peppermint Twist, The Push
And Kick, The Stroll, The Walk, The Watusi, The Twist, The Dog, The Freeze, The Shag, The Hitch-Hike, The Mashed Potatoes
and The Continental Walk
Released in 1999
In the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, the purpose of the music was clear. It was meant for dancing. Rock was
better than Dixieland, better than Ragtime, better than Swing, Rhumba, Honky Tonk and all the popular styles that had preceded
it. When a rock ‘n’ roll tune was on the jukebox, you could really let go. You could dance the soles off your
shoes! But as decades passed, it became less and less clear that rock ‘n’ roll music was for dancing. The music
changed. Doing the Twist to a mellowed-out "soft rock" song, or an improvisational "progressive rock" song, or a melodically-challenged
"punk rock" number was all but impossible. Some rock stars even started taking offense if they spied people dancing at their
concerts. "How dare they shake their asses?" these misguided souls would bellow. "This ain’t no disco."
Thus, a music that was once hailed for its simplicity gradually became complicated. Insufferably complicated! But just
when it seemed like every drop of danceabilty had been drained out of rock ‘n’ roll, along came the folks at Britain’s
Ace Records to remind us of what good dance rock sounds like. And not a minute too soon!
Rob Finnis, Ace Records’ A & R honcho, specializes in excavating choice gems from the Golden Age of Rock ‘n’
Roll. With his 1999 compilation Land Of 1,000 Dances: The Ultimate Compilation of Hit Dances, he simply outdid himself.
The heyday of the Twist, the Monkey, the Hand Jive and the Watusi came rushing back full force when you popped this 30-track
collection in your CD player. The spirit of Chubby Checker, undisputed King of Dance Rock, looms heavily over this anthology;
unfortunately, neither his records nor those of his Cameo-Parkway labelmates were available for license. However, while you
feel his influence, you don’t really miss it. The records Finnis chose to include may be the best of the rest, but they
warm over pretty damn well for leftovers. There’s plenty of beat here to put your feet to . . . not to mention your
hands, your hips, your shoulders and your sweet honey buns.
First, let’s truck on down to Small’s Paradise in Harlem for one of the funkiest dances ever invented: "The
Harlem Shuffle!" Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones scored the biggest hit with this tune in 1986. However, their raging remake
couldn’t match the way Bob and Earl’s original 1963 waxing inspired dancers to boogie across the floor. Hear this
vintage "Shuffle" in pristine stereo for the first time . . . ain’t those crack-of-thunder handclappings the livin’
end? Let’s go to Detroit now for a legendary 1966 release by The Capitols. We know a cat who can really do the "Cool
Jerk," and he do it so good! This track also features some great handclappings, and no record ever employed them
better. Everything works, and that’s why "Cool Jerk" was such a massive across-the-board hit. When you hear songwriter
and keyboardist Donald Storball run his fingers across those 88s, you can’t help but indulge in a bit of air, thigh,
desk or dashboard piano. Mmm, mmm, mmmmmm! Can you dig it? Or to be more exact . . . can you do it, can you do it,
can you do it? Next stop is San Francisco, where producer Sylvester Stewart (better known as Sly Stone) helped dance rock
pioneer Bobby Freeman stage a comeback. In the process, they beat Mann-Appell and Chubby Checker in a race to claim the first
big hit inspired by The Swim. In 1958, Freeman had asked young America "Do You Wanna Dance"; in 1960, he’d encouraged
kids to "Shimmy, Shimmy." Capitalizing on one of the last major dance crazes of the ‘60s gave him the chance to show
he was still in the "swim" of things, commercially speaking (ouch)! So "C’mon And Swim," y’all . . . last
one in the pool is a washed-up lounge lizard!
Early rock ‘n’ roll dancing was done
to wild records like Chan Romero’s "Hippy Hippy Shake" and "The Walk" by singer, guitarist and harmonica player Jimmy
McCracklin. Manic, hiccuping vocals, wailing saxophones and twangy guitar licks galore: That’s what characterized these
discs. They were sloppy, undisciplined, primitive, repetitive and raucous, the antithesis of smooth orchestra pop . . . in
other words, exactly the kind of music that teenagers loved. Raw records like these would evolve into what’s called
"garage rock" today, and you can hear the developing style in the performance of Miami’s Steve Alaimo as he and producer
Hank Stone whip up a lumpy batch of "Mashed Potatoes." The twisted sense of humor Alaimo displays on this 1962 cover of a
Nat Kendrick hit was also a trademark of the "garage" genre. His over-the-top James Brown blustering is hilarious enough,
but his matronly-sounding background singers will crack you up with their goofy Bride-of-Funkenstein scat singing. It’s
no use trying to explain what they sound like . . . you’ve just gotta hear these ladies for yourself!
Philadelphia was the fountainhead
of dance rock during the early ‘60s, and the names Kal Mann and Dave Appell were attached to many if not most of those
hits. New York tunesmiths like Gerry Goffin and Carole King and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich managed to cash in on the craze,
too, coming up with chart-toppers that gave the Mann-Appell team a run for its money. Goffin and King’s "Loco-Motion"
wasn’t even a real dance! In fact, if you never got to see Little Eva perform it, you may well have been confused about
how the steps should be done. Regardless, the big band groove and stumbling rhythm of this record sure did get your toes tappin’
in a hurry. (The song hit Number One a second time in 1974 when Grand Funk Railroad retooled it with heavy metal technology.)
Barry and Greenwich’s "Hanky Panky" wasn’t technically a dance step either. We suspect it was just a good excuse
for dancing partners to inch their pelvises closer together. Hundreds of hormone-crazed couples did just that in 1966 when
Tommy James and The Shondells stormed radio airwaves with this classic garage rocker. Then as now, teenagers were always game
for a little dance floor foreplay!
"Ride Your Pony" is one of
several great records we can thank New Orleans producer Allen Toussaint for (others include Benny Spellman’s "Fortune
Teller," "Ernie K-Doe’s "Mother-In-Law" and the Chris Kenner standard "I Like It Like That"). By 1965, the Pony was
pretty much - if you’ll pardon the _expression - a dead horse as far as dance steps go. Using Lee Dorsey as a hypodermic
needle, Toussaint administered 100cc of pure funk to the patient. No sooner than you could say "hi-ho silver," a dormant dance
craze grew blazing hot again. The record’s crackling gunfire sound effects, which slyly evoke old-time Westerns, was
a crowd-pleaser that never failed to get folks kickin’ up their heels. Giddyaaaaap! Meanwhile in Chicago, songwriter
Curtis Mayfield filtered his country/soul sensibility through Leiber and Stoller-style chalypso arrangements and came up with
a string of dance floor hits for Major Lance. Without a doubt, the best of them was "Monkey Time," a platter strong enough
to lend a dumb-ass dance like The Monkey the cachet of hipness. From Memphis, the incredible Rufus Thomas crossed nursery
rhymes with an ornery blues guitar and ended up "Walkin’ The Dog." If that ain’t enough reason to love Rufus,
dig these creds: He cut a version of "Hound Dog" before Elvis Presley did; he helped pioneer rock ‘n’ roll radio
as one of the first black deejays; he made it cool for men to wear hot pants and go-go boots (at least on stage); and he gave
life to a daughter named Carla Thomas, who grew up to be the Queen of Memphis Soul. We owe his memory at least four
or five fierce wags of the tail.
There’s a dance/Called
So sang The Vibrations in 1961, and millions of teenagers agreed with them. After the Twist and The Jerk, Watusi might’ve
been the third most popular dance of the ‘60s. However, in the early ‘60s it was a very different step than the
one performed under the same name later in the decade. Before the Watusi gave go-go girls their distinctive wiggle, it was
an urban line dance that kept club floors consistently scuffed from the rhythmic sliding of heels. Then came Ray Barretto’s
"El Watusi," with its frantic charanga band swing. A stunning model of minimalist recordmaking, this surprise spoken-word
hit (in Spanish, no less) paved the way for the wiggling frenzy to come! Before it was all over, Watusi dancing was breaking
out on TV shows like "Patty Duke," "Get Smart!" and "My Favorite Martian," as well as in public. Celebrities like Candace
Bergen, Ann-Margret and President Lyndon Johnson’s daughter Lyndabird were famous for their tantalizing ‘tusi
moves. Both The Vibrations’ "uptown" and Barretto’s "downtown" versions of the Watusi appear on this compilation,
giving us the best of both worlds.
Hey, everybody! Come along,
it’s Madison Time.
Put on your Sunday best, dot your "eyes," and cross your "tees." Turn it out pretty for bandleader Al Brown, and he’ll
have his terrific Tunetoppers play you his latest release, "The Madison." Smoother than chocolate silk pie but tangy like
a plate of barbecued ribs, this record evokes the image of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen from high society slumming at
a Harlem juke joint. Rustle that taffeta, girls! In-between Cookie Brown’s foghorn-voiced dance calls (Boss Turn!
Birdland twice! Rock it back into the Madison when I say HIT IT!!!), you can almost hear the sound of stiletto heels clicking
on planked wood. Darlings, is this not the very essence of cool? Madison dancing was allegedly invented by lesbian and gay
partygoers at New York’s Fire Island resort; back in the days when just being perceived homosexual could land
you in the slammer, same-sex couples didn’t dare to dance together. They reasoned that an innocent line dance which
involved no touching was far less likely to raise the hackles of the Fuzz. So the Madison spread like wildfire in gay circles
. . . and next thing you know, kids were doing it on "American Bandstand."
Chubby Checker cut "The Continental
Walk" for his Top Twenty chart album Let’s Twist Again; his is arguably the best-remembered version of the song.
For sure, it’s easier to find that album than the hit R & B single by The Rollers. Rob Finnis was kind enough to
include that single here, giving us the chance to answer a truly burning question: Who’s Walk was more Continental?
Depends on how you define Continental. While Chubby’s energetic way of walkin’ was definitely a hot ticket, The
Rollers preferred to stroll it slow. Call it the difference between East Coast and West Coast style, Chubby hailing from Philly
and The Rollers operating out of Hollywood. We think the original has the edge; it’s got a streetwise flair that’s
cooler than a frozen blue cocktail (ice, ice, baby)! Both versions of "The Continental Walk" were decidedly more street classy
than "The Stroll," the record and dance that was the CW’s direct ancestor. Despite its Clyde Otis pedigree, this 1958
hit sounds more than a little forced when heard today. The Diamonds, a comedic vocal ensemble from Canada, didn’t exactly
move in rhythm and blues circles, and man, did it ever show in their singing! Stiff vocals notwithstanding, this platter had
a clear pathway as it strolled up both the R & B and pop charts. Its nasty stripper club groove made it a required spin
at sock hops and house parties, so of course, this collection wouldn’t be complete without it.
As a step, the Hully Gully was one of the original Dirty Dances (see it performed in all its scandalousness in the movie
Hairspray, danced to the tune of The Ikettes’ "Gong Gong Song")! As a record, it was something of a running
joke. Its chopstick piano rhythm and whining melody was recycled on at least three other dance discs, "The Slop" by Noble
Watts, "Popeye" by Huey "Piano" Smith (featured on Volume Two of this series), and "Peanut Butter" by The Marathons. Similar-sounding
songs hitting the charts isn’t hard to understand, but an unseemly air like "Baby Hully Gully" ever got played on pop
radio is quite beyond our ken! Could it be that nobody in 1959 was sophisticated enough to realize that, as taught by The
Olympics, this dance step parroted the spastic movements of junkies in advanced stages of drug addiction? "The Duck" was sung
by Earl Nelson of "Harlem Shuffle" fame, but recorded under the name Jackie Lee. It’s one of those vaguely Motownish
tracks without much fire but just enough hook to get you out on the floor. Still, without those soul-searchin’ femme
background voices cutting through the mundane mix, this lame Duck probably wouldn’t even have gotten its tailfeathers
wet. If there’s an outright stinker on Land Of 1,000 Dances, it’s Mark Valentine’s inane "Push And
Kick!" A boisterous bit of nothing-painted-blue set to a cha-cha rhythm, it owes its fleeting moment of success entirely to
the marketing wiles of Bob Marcucci. A prime purveyor of pretty boy pop, Marcucci managed Frankie Avalon, Lou Christie, and
Fabian in addition to young Mr. Valentine. He and everyone else connected to this overblown release deserved a "push"- right
out of the engineer’s booth - and a "kick" - right in seat of their pants! On his worst day in the studio (and he did
have them on occasion), Chubby Checker made far better records than this one.
Joey Dee and The Starliters’ fruit-juicy "Peppermint
Twist - Part One" was the theme song of New York’s trendy Peppermint Lounge. It topped the charts, and naturally is
included here. However, we wouldn’t be surprised if a song other than "Peppermint Twist" got more spirited Twisting
out of Lounge patrons. Which song? "Twist And Shout!" This has to be the best Twist hit Chubby Checker never had (but knowing
a stone groove when he heard one, Chubby did cut it for an album). Songwriter Bert Berns infused the rhythm of this number
with an irresistible Latin kick; judging by other hit compositions of his like "Hang On, Sloopy," "I Want Candy" and "If I
Didn’t Have Dime," Latinizing rock ‘n’ roll was his specialty. "Twist And Shout" was made for packing dance
floors, and whatever excitement Berns’ tune doesn’t provide is more than made up for by The Isley Brothers’
bodacious and bluesy treatment. A producer and the CEO of Bang Records as well as a composer, Berns was himself no slouch
as a bluesman. We reached that conclusion on the strength of his solo recording of "Hitch Hike - Part One." A swingin’
little organ and guitar workout, it owes both its style and structure to "The Madison." Ah, but the Bertman’s whiskey-voiced
swagger and sly sense of humor were all his own.
Don’t move that limbo
bar! You’ll be a limbo star! How low can you go? Just as low as you want with The Champs’ boss rendition of "Limbo Rock." Chubby Checker’s
successful remake is a keeper, and rightfully thought of as definitive; but if you really want to understand what Limbo dancing
was all about, you need the original record’s perfect blend of tequila and tropical spices. The Champs’ version
is sans lyrics, but their infectious hand percussion with cowbell accents is impossible to resist. You’ll have a ball
slipping under that limbo bar, even if you land flat on your ass! White musicians imitating black culture could sometimes
result in great tracks like "Limbo Rock" . . . and sometimes not. Have you heard "The Shag Is Totally Cool?" If you haven’t,
you will here, and believe us, it totally ain’t! The Shag is a jitterbug-derived step that predates rock ‘n’
roll. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, but this smarmy record reeks of corn. Billy Graves’s aw, shucks vocal
makes you think of an obnoxious deejay in a plaid jacket and mismatched pants hogging the microphone. Of no help at all is
a droning bass voice repeating the last word of every verse; ditto for the clarinet solos, which are straight off Sheb Wooley’s
"Purple People Eater!" That said, Graves’s single was a modest hit, so its stuttering groove must’ve been solid
enough to inspire a Lindy Hop or two. Slightly better is Tony and Joe’s "The Freeze," a forgettable-but-fun party novelty.
The tone deaf male duo sings annonyingly in unison, reminding us of a ‘50s radio commercial, but the creative use of
rapidly clicking drumsticks boosts their hipness rating somewhat. After listening to this frigid track a few times, you can’t
help but notice that it sounds suspiciously like Musical Chairs! Joe Saraceno (the "Joe" in question), later became a big
wheel in surf music circles via songs he wrote and produced for The Ventures and other West Coast bands.
One night in 1958, a spaceship from the planet Funky descended from the heavens and caught a hapless R & B bandleader
named Johnny Otis in its tractor beam. Drawing Mr. Otis up into the bowels of their ship, the alien Funksters worked all manner
of weird and bizarre experiments on him. When they returned him to Earth, he found himself bursting with creative energy!
From his rhythmically-enhanced mind came an idea for a tune called "Willie and The Hand Jive." Incorporating elements of Cuban
and Hawaiian music, Spanish flamenco, western swing and rhythm and blues, "Hand Jive" was a rock ‘n’ roll song
far ahead of its time. Even more amazing was what happened after he cut it as a record with his band. Teenagers all over the
world could not hear its haunting melody and snaky groove without immediately succumbing to dance fever. Now, half a century
later, the amazing story of Johnny Otis’s extra-terrestrial visitation can finally be told! And if you believe that
one, we’ve got a huge suspension bridge in San Francisco we’d like to sell you. But the emergence of this groundbreaking
disc in the late ‘50s does seem to suggest that Parliament’s George Clinton wasn’t the first earthling to
board the Mothership.
Ever wonder what happened to the Transylvania Twist? It’s been replaced by "The Monster Mash," of course! The popularity
of "creature feature" TV shows in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s made the times ripe for rock ‘n’ roll
novelties with Halloween themes. John Zacherle’s "Dinner With Drac" was an early example, and parts of Screamin’
Jay Hawkins’ repertoire come to mind, but Bobby "Boris" Pickett’s ghostly gasser is, fangs down, the most terrifyin’
tune of them all. Conceived by producer Gary Paxton as a quick way to cash in on the Mashed Potatoes craze, it topped the
charts and reached Billboard’s Top Ten twice over a period of ten years. This fab floorshaker hasn’t been
off the air since its debut in 1962, and it’s still the perfect number to Mash to when you’re workin’ late
in Frankenstein’s lab! Ace Mimic Bobby Pickett delivers horror movie puns and wicked wordplay in his most funereal Boris
Karloff moan. Meanwhile, back at the masoleum, his Crypt Kicker Five have the gravestones rockin’ to and fro with plenty
of appealing, er, that is, appalling keyboard and drum licks. Future rock icon Leon Russell is the mad scientist you
hear tinkling on the laboratory piano, and Hollywood session regular Rickie Page sings the role of Dracula’s Daughter.
Pickett’s delightful recording is the only one you’re ever likely to hear, but there is at least one cover version:
Filmation Studios revived the song in 1970 for their cartoon series "Sabrina and The Groovie Goolies."
Little Eva and Dee Dee Sharp notwithstanding, there weren’t nearly enough women represented among performers of early
dance rock. When they did score, though, they tended to score big. Nobody, for example, could challenge the chart supremacy
of New York’s Shirley Ellis when she sang about gettin’ down to "The Real Nitty Gritty." This 1963 fingerpopper
sounds so contemporary, it could be a bestseller if it came out today. Bold soul sisters of Shirley’s calibre wouldn’t
fully come into their own, though, until the Disco era. By contrast, the dance craze years were something of a Golden Age
for Latino performers; the aforementioned Chan Romero and Steve Alaimo were but two of dance rock’s Hispanic beneficiaries.
Mexican-American rockers Chris Montez and Frankie Garcia shook up both the charts and the discotheques with a pair of unforgettable
singles. Montez paid tribute to all the popular dance crazes on his foot-stompin’ "Let’s Dance." His honey-dipped
tenor wasn’t the ideal vehicle for dance rock, but you sure couldn’t tell from the way kids moved and grooved
to his hit. Three years later, Garcia and his group Cannibal and The Headhunters claimed a slice of pop music immortality
for themselves. While cutting a cover version of Chris Kenner’s "Land Of 1,000 Dances," Frankie forgot the words and
improvised the famous naaa-na-na-na-na refrain. The rest is history! With a ferocious garage band thump, these powerful
Latin rock tracks close out a wicked good Ace Records compilation and leave your feet itching for more. Fortunately, Ace Records
values its customers too much to ever let them suffer from itchy feet. More was definitely on the way!