Friday, March 11, 2011

Dance Moves: Waltz

kyosuke himuro

Kyosuke Himuro: Waltz


After spending the evening watching the horrible news from Japan, I wanted to share something soothing, beautiful, and Japanese.

Kyosuke Himuro made his name in the 80s with fellow Boøwy bandmate Tomoyasu Hotei (of Battle Without Honor or Humanity fame). Since that band's demise, he's been a successful solo artist, leaning more towards the pop side of things. This English-titled song, Waltz, is a gorgeous ballad that really shows off his rich voice. Stylistically, he's a lot like George Michael, except he's not, you know, a creepy, entitled wanker.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dance Moves: The Stroll, The Twist, The Limbo Rock, and The Cool Jerk

dancing the stroll

The Diamonds: The Stroll (1958)


Chubby Checker: The Twist (1960)


Chubby Checker: The Limbo Rock (1962)


The Capitals: Cool Jerk (1966)


I know a few weeks ago, I opined that SMM wasn't meant to be the definitive resource for the weekly theme. But somehow, I just think that one of us has to chat about the raft of dances and their respective songs that blossomed in the late 50's and early 60's. Not that this list is at all definitive – it's just a few of the songs I really remember from those days.

One of the precursors to the boom in dance songs is the first song, a 1958 gem. I can't say I remember it exactly, but notice that photo up there? Well, that's yours truly in the frilly slip, along with my older sister and mother, doing my best at learning the Stroll, dancing along to American Bandstand on the TV.

The next song is much more vivid in my mind. I'm not sure if this was a universality, but in our suburban mecca, people actually did the Twist at weekend parties. I remember all the parents in the neighborhood twisting in our basement. And they did the Limbo, too---well, that was only possible, as far as I could tell, after a few of those funny-smelling highballs. Although we limbo'd a lot in school. It was the Macarena of the early 60s – everyone knew how it was supposed to be done, although the actual execution was wobbly.

Finally comes my personal favorite, the Cool Jerk. My sister bought me the 45 for my birthday (mostly because she knew she could "borrow" it whenever she liked.) I still own this 45, too. The top-notch Motown backing group, the Funk Brothers, provide the backing.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dance Moves: Evangeline Waltz

Beausoleil: Evangeline Waltz


Every dance event I ever attended, after a high energy evening, always wound down with a slow dance. I imagine that this might also hold true for Mardi Gras, so here is a beautiful Cajun waltz to bring things to their natural conclusion. Evangeline Waltz is a traditional song. The liner notes say that this is a song of unrequited love, and I must believe it since I don’t speak French. If anyone who does can provide a translation, please do so in the comments. Merci. I must rely on the sound, and Beausoleil has never failed me yet.

Dance Moves: The Frug

smurfs cannot

Rilo Kiley: The Frug


Some songs don't lend themselves to over-detailed analysis. This 1999 song by indie pop group Rilo Kiley is one of those. Lead singer Jenny Lewis lists some things she can and cannot do, most of which are of passing value (I can make some mac and cheese), which stand in stark contrast to the fundamental thing she claims she cannot do: I cannot fall in love.

For what it's worth, I cannot do the Smurf either. I can, however, still do a passable frug and a damned good Freddie.

Dance Moves: Mardi Gras Mambo

The Hawketts: Mardi Gras Mambo


Darius recently wrote about the Meters, a precursor to the Neville Brothers formed in the late '60s. But their pre-history goes back even further, and this song is as good a starting point as any. The Hawketts' "Mardi Gras Mambo", featuring Art Neville on vocals, was released way back in 1954, but it remains a popular Mardi Gras anthem today. Indeed, I woke up this morning with this song in my head, and it seems like the most appropriate song to post on Fat Tuesday.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dance Moves: Tango Atlantico

Joe Jackson: Tango Atlantico


“You may think that this song comes too late.” So sings Joe Jackson on his 1986 album Big World. The song seems to be about the Falklands War, which was fought in 1982. Most of the songs about it came out in 1983, so you can see Jackson’s point. But in wars, soldiers are always left behind, as peacekeepers or advisors. These are who Tango Atlantico is about. Here in 2011, the United States is still fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both have gone on so long that the public has turned their attention to other things. To me, Tango Atlantico is also about our troops in those two countries. You don’t have to agree with the reasons these wars are fought to appreciate the sacrifices of our soldiers, who volunteered for this with the best of intentions. It seems that there is always a forgotten war being fought somewhere. So, Mr Jackson, your song does not come too late at all.

Dance Moves: Bossa Nova Baby

Tippie and the Clovers: Bossa Nova Baby


Bossa Nova Baby has been unjustly regarded by some as a bit of a displeasing novelty number from an Elvis movie (1963’s Fun In Acapulco). Even Elvis is said to have been embarrassed by it. If so, he had no cause: it may not be a bossa nova — it’s too fast for that — but it has a infectious tune and a genius keyboard riff which begs to be sampled widely. Perhaps it was the lyrics which had Elvis allegedly shamefaced, but the lines, “she said, ‘Drink, drink, drink/Oh, fiddle-de-dink/I can dance with a drink in my hand’”, are not much worse than some of the doggerel our man was forced to croon in his movie career as singing racing driver/pineapple heir/bus conductor. Or perhaps Elvis was embarrassed by the idea of including a notional bossa nova number in a movie set in Mexico. So here we won’t revisit Elvis’ version of the song, but the original.

Tippie and the Clovers, who were signed to Leiber and Stoller’s Tiger label, recorded the song first in 1962 to cash in on the bossa nova craze. Apparently the composers preferred the Clovers’ version of Elvis’. These were the same Clovers, incidentally, who had scored a #23 hit with Love Potion No. 9 (also written by Leiber & Stoller and later covered to greater chart effect by the Searchers) on Atlantic in 1959.

(photo from

Dance Moves: Little Black Samba

Grover Washington Samba

Grover Washington, Jr.: Little Black Samba


I have a handful of songs on my hard drive that I'm just waiting for the right theme to match, and this is one of them. I could have chosen among 66 other songs I've got with the word "Samba" in the title, but one look and I knew this would be the one. Its rhythm is so infectious and compelling that I'm having a hard time sitting still long enough to write this entry.

In 1980 when Come Morning was released, the saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., was at the peak of his popularity and was a key artist in the explosion of smooth jazz, a genre of jazz blended with funk, R&B, and pop. This song in particular celebrates the heavy African influence in Brazilian music in both lyrics (sung by the drummer Grady Tate) and rhythm (ably assisted by Eric Gale, guitar; Ralph MacDonald, percussion, and Steve Gadd, drums).

I like its cleverly punned title, too.

Doublespeak -> Dance Moves: Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha

Sam Cooke: Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha


James Taylor: Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha


Things heat up a bit as we move from one title theme to another this week, leaving behind songs that use the same word twice to start a set of songs which mention dance styles or dance moves in their title. Yes, folks, it's a Star Maker Machine Dance Marathon, and if it works, I'm hoping it'll become an annual pre-spring event, marking the warming of the world with a bit of energy as we shake off winter with some dance floor moves.

Sam Cooke provides a solid transitional tune with his hot, humid, heavily rhythmic tribute to the Cha Cha Cha, a dance of Cuban origin often referred to doubly in American parlance; Sam's original is a worthy addition to the canon, and it'll certainly teach you how to do the moves, but it's James Taylor's 1991 version, off his sorely underrated Adult Contemporary album New Moon Shine, that brought me here: slow, sultry, languid, and aching with a kind of longing that Sam surely never envisioned, bless his heart.