Thursday, March 29, 2012

Top 12 Songs About Dance Crazes


From the Charleston to the Dougie, every generation has its own popular dance styles. It's interesting to watch old dance clips and see the type of dances that people were doing decades back. In the same way that music and fashion evoke a particular zeitgeist, dance styles also bring to mind a certain era. For instance, seeing a clip of couples doing the Jitterbug immediately brings to mind the World War II era in the 1940s, just as watching someone breakdancing evokes memories of the 1980s. Dance is an important part of contemporary culture, and that's why so many artists and bands have written songs about the popular dances of the day. I made a list of my 12 favorite songs about popular dances:


12) "The Spank" by James Brown (1978) - James released this phat jam in 1978 in recognition of the popular urban dance called "the spank." It's one of  his more underrated tracks. The slow-boiling groove is driven by a laid-back, strollin' bass line and is filled with tight horn lines and nasty guitar licks. The track is bad, but you should expect nothing less when the Godfather's at the helm.

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11) "Hitch Hike" by Marvin Gaye (1962) - This irresistible early Motown dance track was a great showcase for the talented soon-to-be R&B star Marvin Gaye. The song reached number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it Gaye's first top 40 single. Gaye co-wrote the song with William "Mickey" Stevenson and Clarence Paul, who were songwriters and record producers for Motown. The track triggered a brief dance craze, and Gaye would do the "Hitch Hike" dance during his live performances of the song.

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10) "The Bird" by The Time (1984) - Minneapolis bad boys The Time scored another hit with this rowdy funk cut. The song was written by Prince (under the pseudonym Jamie Starr) and Time members Morris Day and Jesse Johnson. Day livens up the track with squawking bird noises and his comically cocky player persona. The song is on The Time's third album Ice Cream Castles, which also includes their hit song "Jungle Love." The Time also performed "The Bird" in Prince's blockbuster film Purple Rain.

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9) "Cool Jerk" by the Capitols (1966) - This jammin' dance track by Detroit soul trio the Capitols recognizes the huge 1960s' dance craze "the jerk". The song was inspired by the more sexualized version of the dance called the "pimp jerk" that people were doing in Detroit nightclubs at the time. The group renamed the song "Cool Jerk" to prevent it from possibly being banned on radio stations. The fact that having "pimp" in the title of a song could possibly get it banned from the airwaves shows how much things have changed and how relatively tame radio was back in the day. Legendary Motown in-house band The Funk Brothers played on the track, so it's not surprising that it grooves so hard. '80s girl band the Go-Go's recorded a solid cover of the song in 1981.

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8) "Da Butt" by E.U. (1988) - This funky club banger is by Washington D.C.-based go-go band E.U. The monster track became one of the biggest hits of the go-go sound, which is a funk subgenre that melds R&B, early hip hop and funk. Filmmaker Spike Lee was a big fan of the song. He used it in a scene for his second feature film School Daze and directed E.U.'s video for the song. Lee even had a cameo in the video. It's a lively party video with plenty of booty shaking, but still very tame compared to the ones made today.

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7) "Twistin' the Night Away" by Sam Cooke (1962) - The twist is one of the most popular dance crazes of all time. I think one of the reasons why it was so popular is because it was fairly easy to do, and people of all ages, races and social classes could get their twist on. A slew of twist songs were released in the early '60s. "Twistin' the Night Away" is one of the best of the the bunch. The late, great Sam Cooke wrote the song. The track shows what a gifted and versatile songwriter Cooke was. In addition to writing great dance songs like "Twistin' the Night Away," he also penned the powerful civil rights anthem "A Change Is Gonna Come," as well as the beautiful pop/soul classic "You Send Me" among a number of other great tracks. He was a rare and amazing talent.

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6) "The Loco-Motion" by Little Eva (1962) - This bright, cheery dance tune was written by husband-and-wife songwriting team Gerry Goffin and Carole King for teenage singer Eva Boyd, who would later be known by her stage name Little Eva. According to urban legend, Eva babysat for the couple's three-year-old daughter. They got the idea for the song while watching 16-year-old Eva dance with their daughter, and Eva's dancing reminded them of a locomotive. And, voila, a song was born. Apparently, the real story was a little less interesting. Eva was already an aspiring recording artist when she met King and Goffin. The couple thought she had a good singing voice and had her record "The Loco-Motion." Also, there was no "Loco-Motion" dance before the song was recorded. After it became a huge hit, Little Eva had to create a dance to go along with the song. The song is notable for appearing three separate times in the American pop charts top five, and each time in a different decade: Little Eva in 1962 (U.S. #1), Grand Funk Railroad in 1974 (U.S. #1) and Kylie Minogue in 1988 (U.S. #3). 

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5) "The Humpty Dance" by Digital Underground (1990) - Digital Underground leader Shock G assumes his famous alter ego Humpty Hump on this hilarious but very funky rap song. The track is hook-filled and possesses a goofy charm that you don't find in many rap songs today. It has a hot beat with a sick, pulsating bass line. Digital Underground were influenced a lot by P-Funk, and you can definitely hear it on this track. The Humpty Hump character is sort of a demented composite of Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk and Groucho Marx. The track did extremely well on the charts; it topped the Rap Singles chart and climbed to number seven on the R&B charts and number 11 on the pop charts.

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4) "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell & the Drells (1968) - Archie Bell & the Drells' dance smash "Tighten Up" struck a chord with a large cross-section of listeners upon its release in 1968. The song topped both the pop and R&B charts and went on to sell four million copies. "Tighten Up" is named after a popular dance in Houston, Texas, and it is quite infectious. The song has this really upbeat vibe that puts the listener in a light, groovin' mood. Plus, the song boasts an incredibly hooky bass line. It is one of the most recognizable bass lines in soul music. The track also has some nice drumming on the breakdown as well as some cool guitar and organ parts. The song was ranked #265 on Rolling Stone's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time." The track was written by Archie Bell and fellow group member Billy Butler. The Drells recorded on legendary songwriting and production team Gamble & Huff's record label Philadelphia International Records.

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3) "Willie and the Hand Jive" by Johnny Otis (1958) - This jumpin' Bo Diddley-influenced R&B classic by Johnny Otis set off a big dance craze in the U.S. The song was the late R&B great's biggest hit, and boy does it jam. The song always makes me imagine one big hootenanny where backwoods folk and hillbillies (black and white) are tearing up the dance floor together. The song climbed to number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number five on the Billboard R&B chart. Otis was a very accomplished musician and was involved in several different facets of the music business during his long career. He was a talented multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, impresario, bandleader and producer. He had also been a DJ for a time as well as a talent scout. The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer died on January 12, 2012 at the age of 90.

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2) "Twist and Shout" by the Beatles (1963) - The Beatles rocked their mop-topped heads off on this raucous, electrifying cover of "Twist and Shout." The song rocks so hard that it just makes you want to get up and move. The track was originally recorded by Philadelphia R&B group the Top Notes in 1961, and the Isley Brothers had a go at it in 1962. The Isley Brothers radically changed the song's arrangement, which improved it significantly. The Beatles used the Isley's arrangement for their cover of the song, and straight up slayed it. The Beatles cover of "Twist and Shout" has become the definitive version of the song. It was used very effectively in a scene from the classic '80s teen film Ferris Bueller's Day Off  (1986).

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1) "Mother Popcorn (You Got to Have a Mother for Me)" parts 1&2 by James Brown (1969) - James dropped this extra lethal dose of funk back in 1969. The funk/soul legend created a kinetic dance called "the popcorn" a few years earlier and recorded several popcorn-related songs after that. "Mother Popcorn" is the funkiest of the bunch in my opinion. The track flows like a well-oiled funk motor, with jabs of hot brass, nasty guitars, badass drumming, and a heaping helping of funky bass. And as an added bonus, Maceo Parker contributes a gloriously funky sax solo. Oh, and let's not forget the great bridge where James lets loose with some blood-curdling soul screams.

James was on fire during this period. It seemed like every song he released was an instant funk classic, not to mention his incredible live shows. "Mother Popcorn" shot to number one on the R&B charts and number 11 on the pop charts. The Godfather definitely had the Midas touch going on at the time and was the undisputed boss of the funk game.

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Honorable Mention: "Fopp" by the Ohio Players (1976) - Man, I almost forgot about this super-funky cut.

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1 comment:

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