Ooh. Post One-Fifty. Big.
I had planned on doing a version of that Gestalt number in which you start each sentence with "Now I (am/hear/see/smell/am sucking on, etc.)", and for the less literal among us, I was gonna leave out the word 'now', and just write about whatever has been on my mind over the course of the afternoon.
That was yesterday. Google decided it didn't like me, and not only does that mean that I couldn't check my email, it also meant that Blogger wasn't letting me anywhere near any o' that
So having said that, I'll speak instead about a topic never far from my heart: dance craze songs.
The blame, as always, must begin with Chubby Checker. (With a name like that, it's almost easy to forget that he was once Archbishop of Canterbury, and an Earl who has been a Peer of the Realm for several decades.)
There's been many dance crazes throughout the years, but before "The Twist", I don't believe any of them had their own song, ostensibly explaining how to do it.
And Chubby himself may have single-handedly did in the entire genre by insisting that he wasn't a one trick pony...Or he was, but in a sort of Updated For Your Pleasure kind of way: the hopefully-named "Let's Twist Again (Like We Did Last Summer)" (with the unpublished subtitle: 'Perhaps you recall what fun it was, and what a great time we all had in those innocent days of a year ago when I was a top-selling recording artist, and not at all lonely as hell, having a hard time paying the bills, etcetera. Do you know how hard it is retaining a small harem of groupies [The Chubby Chasers (tm)]? Won't you please help
Then came "The Christmas Twist", I believe it was called (But hell, even Harlan 'Colonel' Sanders was doing albums like that, in those days). What they never tell you about was his later foray into social activism that most Black artists would eventually embrace: "Let's Twist in Remembrance of Brother Malcolm X", and "A Twist to Decry the Hellish Social Conditions in the Ghettoes of Amerikkka, Causing Many to Riot".
So you'd think that we'd be done with all that, but we weren't. Many one-hit (and no-hit) wonders of the days soon after tried it too, with the same level of hopeful-ness. From the 'Hairspray' soundtrack, we have "It's Madison Time", or perhaps just "The Madison". I don't know; I don't own the album.
But it never fails to crack me up. The first line, before you even know what's going on, is simply: "It's Madison time-HIT IT!" And then the guy sort of lazily explains possible things one might do, bodily, to celebrate...Madison Time, with the constant command, "HIT IT!". This would provide the template for future excursions by less talented artists.
And who can forget Otis Redding's one attempt at this weirdness-"The Hucklebuck"? In lieu of explanation of Hucklebucking, he kind of provides a travelogue of places where they be doin'
the Hucklebuck. Handy for planning Hucklebuck-oriented summer vacation road trips, but still for the life of me, I can't do
the Hucklebuck, and Otis isn't making it any easier on me
The '70's were apparently a great time for James Brown impersonators. On the compilation series 'The Sounds of Soul', there's about a hundred of them, and many want you to learn their brand new dance. I love 'em all: The Vibrettes, McKinley Sandifer, Phil n' Portia, all had their dance-hit attempt.
Certainly the most famous of these was Archie Bell and the Drells, who gave us...Well, let's let Archie tell it:
"Hi, I'm Archie Bell, and these are The Drells! We're up here (?) from Houston, Texas, and we're gonna show you a brand new dance called The Tighten Up!"
A lot of explanation for so little information to come. Archie spends almost all his time exhorting you to Tighten Up, at some point excusing himself to go 'tighten up with the drummer', who responds with a weird little drum solo, causing someone in the studio to whistle with appreciation.
And yes, at no point is there anything in the way of explanation of how one does The Tighten Up. This song, for some reason, is available on some karaoke machines, and I've done it, simply because it's fucking absurd to stand up there singing repetitions of the words 'tighten up', over and over again. On the album, there is so totally a "Tighten Up, pt. 2" track. It varies little from the original.
The Vibrettes, on the other hand, gave us something called "The Humpty Dump" (not to be in any way confused with "The Humpty Dance", some ten to fifteen years later). They do
, in fact, give us some explanation of how the dance is done, but what emerges is a description of something you would look wrong
"Do the hump. It's The Humpty Dump.
Do your thing, pat your rump.
Pat your thighs.
Shade your eyes.
Move your feet.
Show your tee-eeth"
All this is set to what amounts to a James Brown riff, and just for giggles, I tried doin' it once. What I saw in the mirror looked more than passing queer.
Then the song, in the great tradition of songs like this, decides to mention a couple other
dances that you, as a dance-craze consumer, might wish to check out: "Gonna moo-oove to San Francisco, where they're doin'/ a thing called The Bolo". Then they fail to explain what that is
, and well, they spend the last moments of the song simply repeating "gonna moo-ooo-ooove", which is, under the circumstances, poignant. They utterly failed to become famous.
"Rare Back and Stretch", by McKinley Sandifer, is a wonder of contradictions. On one hand, the dance is easy "like taking candy from a baby", but it also is "a whole lot o' work y'all: it ain't no play". This is at least partially due to the strictures of the rhyming format ('baby' rhymes with 'maybe', as 'ain't no play' rhymes with 'listen to what I say'), where meaning often takes a back seat.
But then, after some pretty definitive (if mutually contradictory) statements about the nature of The Rare Back and Stretch, McKinley then softens up a little. He offers that if you can't
do the dance, you may "groove cross the floor, and do anything
". Okayyy...But wait a minute. Where are you going?
"Ah'm 'onna go rare back n' stretch wit' th' drummer!", in an obvious nod to Archie Bell, he says, adding, "Git it!
", which sure as hell sounds like someone demanding that I do The Madison to me
This is all so confusing, and as always, it just gets weirder when everyone's stoned. "Charge!", by Phil and Portia, is a wonder. It's an interaction between a man who is so stoned, he keeps breaking narrative to just stand there going, "Heh heh...Heh heh heh heh...
", and a woman who is more likely running the show, so spunky is she.
The name of the dance, according to Phil, is the Charge and Discharge. He ran across it when he went home down south, "where they're doin' a mad, mad thing". She almost blows her cue, and stumbles through asking him what the name is.
It's hardly remarked upon, what a horrible name for a fine, fun dance that is. And after a fair amount of what should be good, casual, earthy banter, he asks her to step on back ("I'm gone!", she drawls), and he yells, "CHARGE!"
The music goes into a break, and apparently he's dancing. Portia is making approving noises, but again: we have no idea what the dance looks like. After breathing a sigh of what sounds like relief, Portia interjects: "Look here!"
She points out that she too has learned a brand new dance, and for some reason, it is also called The Charge and Discharge. However, she ain't no damn 'farmer', as she keeps calling Phil (which makes me think that maybe these two have several years of banter-y, vaguely sinister interaction ala Ike & Tina, that we haven't been privy to), and in the city, they have ce-ment, which is smoove, not like all them weeds
they got down where farmers are.
"You sure do get on my case," says Phil, a bit pathetically.
" she retorts. This is getting out of control.
She too, somewhat more coquettishly, says, "Charge!", and seems to be dancing or something, based on the reactions of all nearby. Eventually, one of these geniuses (I'm gonna say 'Phil') gets the idea that maybe
a good idea would be to combine the rural and urban versions of these dances we, as listeners, have only heard about. The song fades.
Too much junk, too much coke, too many 'ludes. The dust what make yo' head BUST!
The Seventies burned out, much like we suspected they would, and took with them both The Variety Show Hosted By A Celebrity and Dance Craze Songs.
Or Did They?
The Humpty Hump, Da' Butt, The Macarena,
for Christ's sake? 'The Steve Martin', from EPMD's first album? Hell, you haven't lived
Naw, the greatest game is never done. We just gotta get back at it. The stakes are remarkably low.
Labels: my personals