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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Come On, Come On, Do The Loco-Motion Times Three!

This is the final entry for the month of August 2014, so naturally, I decided that I would make it a very special one.

And believe me, this edition of the
Sunday Jukebox is exactly that.  What if I told you that today, I'll be featuring not one, not two, but three different versions of the same song by three different artists!  In all three cases, this song reached the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and in two of the three, the song topped the charts.

It's incredibly rare for a cover version of a song to chart within the Top 5 of any musical chart.  For a cover version to reach the #1 position?  That's even rarer.

In fact, this song holds another interesting record.  It's one of the few songs to chart in three different decades.  The first time was in the 1960s.  The second was in the 1970s.  The third was the 1980s.  And the three artists that helped make the song an instant success on the charts came from three entirely different backgrounds.  One was a nineteen-year-old who worked as a babysitter for two of the most prolific songwriters of the day.  One was a group hailing from Flint, Michigan whose blues rock compositions entertained people throughout the 1970s.  And, one was a soap opera star who would later grow up to become as big as Madonna in her native Australia.

The song itself wasn't anything serious or deep.  Back in the 1960s, when the song was first released, there were many different types of new dances being created that had their own distinct song to go along with it.  You had the "Mashed Potato", the "Peppermint Twist", and even the "Bat-usi" if you really wanted to get campy. 

But do you know how to do this dance?  Everybody's doing it.  I know you'll get to like it if you give it a chance now.  You just have to swing those hips now!  Now, jump up, and jump back!  Well, I think you've got the knack!

So, put the chuga-chuga motion into it like a railway train now because I want you to come on, come on, and do the Loco-Motion with me!

Yes, long before the Quad City DJ's told everybody to come on and ride the train, this Loco-Motion was pulling into the nearest station and got everybody moving to the beat!  But who was the first person to make this danceable classic a chart-topper? 

Well, it was this little lady - who once worked as a babysitter for songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin - the songwriting duo that penned the lyrics for this very song.

ARTIST:  Little Eva
SONG:  The Loco-Motion
ALBUM:  Locomotion
DATE RELEASED:  June 24, 1962

I should note that it was exactly 52 years ago this week that the single topped the Billboard Hot 100.

So, here's the story behind Little Eva's recording of the single.  As mentioned before, Little Eva (born Eva Narcissus Boyd) was hired as a babysitter for Carole King and Gerry Goffin's daughter, and we know that King and Goffin wrote the song for her.

The interesting thing about this song is that there seemed to be a whole lot of urban legends and half-truths surrounding it.  The most popular of these stories seem to be the way that the song was created.  According to many tales, the song came about after Carole King was playing music on her stereo and Eva started dancing along with the music while cleaning the house.  Her dance moves allegedly inspired the Loco-Motion.

However, both Little Eva and Carole King have denied this story as being factual, with King simply stating that she and Goffin had heard Eva sing and liked her voice enough for her to record the song. 

However, because the song was written long before the dance accompanying it was even created, Eva had to come up with the dance moves on her own.  This was later confirmed by Carole King in her concert video "One on One".

There was also a story going around that when it comes to Little Eva's payment for the song, she was only given fifty dollars total - which even in 1962 era currency was pocket change.  But that was also considered to be a false story.  Although Little Eva's life took a drastic turn after recording "The Loco-Motion".  She moved to South Carolina in the early 1970s and lived a life of poverty for several years before she was rediscovered in the late 1980s - right around the time that a certain other starlet was getting started in the music business using her song to do it - but more on that one later.  She passed away of cervical cancer in 2003.

Even after her death though, there are still rumours floating around about her.  The most common one is that Little Eva didn't actually sing on "The Loco-Motion", and that Carole King herself was the real lead singer.  This is a claim that many people seem to believe, including one-third of the famous production team of Stock/Aitken/Waterman, Pete Waterman.  It has been confirmed that Carole King did sing back-up on the track, at least.

Now, twelve years after Little Eva wowed the crowd with her version of "The Loco-Motion", a Michigan based band released their own cover version - a cover version laced with loud music and powerful vocals, and had definite edge to it.  This version also hit the top of the charts in May 1974, and actually stayed on the top of the charts for twice as long as Little Eva's version - a rarity for a cover version.

ARTIST:  Grand Funk Railroad
SONG:  The Loco-Motion
ALBUM:  Shinin' On
DATE RELEASED:  February 1974

This version was produced by another legend in rock music, Todd Rundgren.  And the decision to record this song came courtesy of guitarist Mark Farner, who just happened to be whistling the song while the band was at the recording studio.  The song - which clocked in at just under three minutes in length - reportedly had two different versions.  There was the original version which included a full instrumental section filled with heavy guitars - and there was a radio friendly version which omitted the instrumental portion and inserted a reprise of the song's bridge, which was basically a rehashing of "you gotta sway your hips now".

That's really about all that I have to say about Grand Funk's version, though I will add one more interesting piece of trivia about it.  It is one of the tracks that you can download and add to your "Rock Band 3" video game - provided that you still own a copy of it.

So, that was version number two.  Version #3 would be an interesting tale.  It would be released a little more than twenty-five years after Little Eva's version was released (which explains the sudden resurgence of Little Eva's popularity in the late 1980s).  And, the story behind how this version was recorded is a rather interesting one.

The year was 1987.  The scene was an Australian rules football charity event which featured a slew of football players, and local Australian celebrities.

Some of these celebrities included the stars of the Australian drama series "Neighbours", which debuted in 1985.  And one of the people who was there was Kylie Minogue, who played the role of Charlene Mitchell on the show.

Anyway, the story goes that at this charity event, the Neighbours cast members all assembled on stage to sing a medley of songs.  Without encouragement from anyone else, Kylie belted out an impromptu performance of "The Loco-Motion".  And shortly after that performance, Australian record label Mushroom Records signed Kylie to a record deal where she would record and release the third version of "The Loco-Motion" to hit the charts in twenty-five years.

ARTIST:  Kylie Minogue
SONG:  The Loco-Motion
ALBUM:  Kylie
DATE RELEASED:  July 28, 1987

Now, I should note that while "The Loco-Motion" didn't quite top the charts in the United States, it did hit #1 in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, and Japan.  And, the song's release in the United States only happened because the team of Stock/Aitken/Waterman remixed the single for an American audience.  The single's American release was also delayed by a whole year, being released in July 1988, right around the time that Kylie Minogue's debut album, "Kylie" was released.  But it certainly was worth it in the long run.  The debut single made huge waves in her native Australia and the United Kingdom, and Kylie shifted her focus from acting to music, leaving "Neighbours" in 1988.

Just to put it into perspective, this cover version of "The Loco-Motion" was the beginning of Kylie's massive pop music career.  In particular, on the UK charts, this would be the first of THIRTEEN consecutive Top 10 hits for the singer, beginning with "The Loco-Motion" and ending with 1991's "Shocked".  Over the course of her career, she would release a total of fifty-five singles, with three-fifths of them peaking within the Top 10 of the UK Charts.

It is a shame that her United States success didn't quite take off.  Sure, Kylie did have a couple of Top 40 hits in "I Should Be So Lucky" and "It's No Secret" in 1988 and 1989 respectively, but "The Loco-Motion" would actually be the only Top 10 single that Minogue would enjoy in the United States for THIRTEEN years, when Kylie's 2001 single "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" hit #7 on the charts.  But, I'm sure that no matter where she charted in whatever country, she'll always look back on "The Loco-Motion" as the song that began it all.

And, there you have it.  Three versions of the same song that charted within the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100!  Now, here's the million dollar question.  What version was your favourite?

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