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Oldies Music Glossary: "Dance Craze"

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A typical Chubby Checker album

A typical Chubby Checker album

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Definition: Although dances popular enough to have songs named after them are older than recorded music, the term "dance craze" usually refers to the first and biggest rock and roll version of the phenomenon, the one touched off by Chubby Checker's 1960 smash "The Twist" and which more or less ended with the British Invasion. As such, a "dance craze" song can be any song built around a popular dance (or looking to start such a dance), but hit dance songs from this particular era usually take one of three forms:
  1. A "girl-group" song, a sort of early pop-soul featuring one or more female singers, usually written by one of the famed Brill Building songwriting teams and produced in New York;
  2. A Philadelphia act, either a novelty artist or teen idol, who was in some way under Dick Clark's control and recording a poppier version of R&B; or
  3. Actual gritty R&B with a heavy backbeat, recorded in one of America's major urban centers (New Orleans, Memphis, Chicago) and usually not making many inroads outside its regional market.

Chubby Checker, having kicked off the craze craze with his crossover reworking of a Hank Ballard and the Midnighters song, is often thought of as the king of this scene, with Gary "U.S." Bonds his main rival and Dee Dee Sharp his female counterpart. However, many major artists jumped on the bandwagon for at least one hit during that time, and the seemingly short-lived fad has been outlasted by the songs themselves. "The Twist" remains the one and only hit to make it back to Number One in its original version (two years later, at that), while "The Loco-Motion" was an inexplicable US Top Five hit in three different versions over the course of three different decades: Little Eva (1962), Grand Funk Railroad (1974), and Kylie Minogue (1988). This, even though the dance itself never made it past the mid-Sixties!

Also Known As: Girl Group, Novelty
Examples:
  1. "The Twist," Chubby Checker
  2. "Mashed Potato Time," Dee Dee Sharp
  3. "The Loco-Motion," Little Eva
  4. "Wah-Watusi," The Orlons
  5. "Peppermint Twist," Joey Dee and the Starliters
  6. "Harlem Shuffle," Bob and Earl
  7. "Hitch Hike," Marvin Gaye
  8. "Dear Lady Twist," Gary "U.S." Bonds
  9. "Twistin' The Night Away," Sam Cooke
  10. "Land Of 1000 Dances," Cannibal and the Headhunters
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