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Monday, February 2, 2015

THE FIRST PARTY SONGS IN AMERICA

Let's begin Monday with Wooly Booly and  Louie Louie.  Why?  First, it's Monday, but second, these are my picks as the  two first indulgent party songs, ever, with The Charleston.  Mind you, your party song depends on when you went to college, or whatever, but there probably was an original some time in the past that started this all.  We are not talking about tea parties and one-year old birthday celebrations.  Associated with party songs is the voluminous imbibition of ethanol, fun, release of inhibitions and the like.

I scanned through popular American songs of the 1600's into the early 1900's and could not find anything particularly meritorious.  Beer Barrel Polka came from Europe, and in 1927.  How many of you realize that while the lyrics for  our National Anthem was written by Francis Scott Key, the music is an old English drinking song:  The Anacreon Song.  So  how sensible that we show patriotism with a drinking song.  Somehow, though, the Star-Spangled Banner does not quite evoke the right spirits.

One tally had That's Amore, Come Fly With Me and Jailhouse Rock as the best party songs of the 50's.  Those are not party songs, and Elvis, Bill Haley and Chuck Berry just did not have that killer entry.  Goldbass had Glenn Miller's Elmer's Tune as #1 in the 40's.  Huh?  Couldn't find a party list for the 30's, but DigitilDreamDoor had Miller's In the Mood, Kate Smith's God Bless America (the original movie version, with Ronald Reagan--and has now become the 7th inning song of choice) and Judy Garland's Over the Rainbow (America's #1 song) as tops in the 30's.  No great party song there, although In the Mood is worthy, especially this enhanced HD version.  But The Charleston dominated in the 20's and is right up there with the two above.

So to recap:
  • The Charleston, named after the city of Charleston, was created in 1923 from the Broadway show Running Wild, and this was the dance craze of the middle twenties, still performed today.  It was all black at the beginning.  Nobody really danced to WB and LL, you just got drunk and passed out, which is what many great parties are about.  Most forget that Prohibition (total ban on alcoholic beverages) began in 1920 and was not repealed until 1933, so there couldn't have been too many wild parties during that decade.  That's Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston in Paris
  • Louie Louie was written by Richard Berry in 1955, and I remember the version by Berry and The Pharaohs in my late 50's Stanford parties.  The Kingsmen released the more popular version in 1963, possibly gaining notoriety because the FBI actually conducted an investigation into alleged pornography.  They were an all-white garage band from Portland, Oregon, and began gaining fame in 1962 in their neighborhood through this song.  They took a chance by being provided one take on their recording for $36, where embarrassing mistakes were obvious, and singer Jack Ely (second from left below) was wearing braces, slurring the words into a microphone hanging from the ceiling.  Ely's baffling attempt was one reason the FBI intruded.  Everything went wrong, but that is what some of you still hear on the radio.  They never really got any royalties until they won a lawsuit in 1998 and over time has had 23 different members.  Original Mike Mitchell (second from right) still leads the group, now 54 years old.

  • Wooly Booly (note the two girls just standing like palm trees) was released by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs in 1965 and named Billboard's #1 song that year.  These Pharaohs were not the same as the group with Richard Berry.  Wooly Booly was the name of Sam's cat.  There is a Tex-Mex flavor from the beginning, and, as in Louie Louie, the lyrics are hard to understand, resulting in radio station bans across the country, which only insured for their lifetime popularity.  All three original takes went well.  'Li'l Red Riding Hood was another top hit for the group.  Best as I can tell, they're still touring.
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