Editor’s Note: This is the final of a two-part feature about teen dances from the first decade of the modern rock ‘n’ roll era beginning in 1955. Part I appeared in The Albany Herald on June 17.
Teen dances during the 1950s and 1960s varied in steps and styles.
One incentive for new variations was the rebelliousness of the time — teens didn’t want to dance like their parents, who were actively disapproving their lifestyle, so they invented a wide range of step-and-style replacements. Another motivation for change was the music. Rock ‘n’ roll required different styles of dancing, some of which mirrored rock’s strong beat.
Most teens learned about the new dances from watching “American Bandstand,” which went national in 1957.
Here are some of the new dances from that period.
“At the Hop” – Danny & The Juniors’ 1958 No. 1 hit named many popular dances of the day including the chicken and documented what happened at a hop. During the 1950s, high school dances were often referred to as “The Hop.” Sometimes, these dances would be “Sock Hops” because school administrators would make the students remove their shoes so they didn’t scuff the gym floor. The song was No. 1 for a then-record seven weeks.
“The Walk” – Although already a veteran musician, jazz pianist Jimmy McCracklin saw his popularity skyrocket after appearing on “American Bandstand” in support of his self-written single “The Walk.” It peaked at No. 7 in 1958.
“Willie & The Hand Jive” – Recorded by The Johnny Otis Show in 1958, the music was based on a song Otis heard a chain gang singing while he was touring. The lyrics tell the story of a man named Willie who became famous for doing a hand-jive dance.
The song’s origin came when Otis discovered that rock ‘n’ roll concert venues in England did not permit teens to stand and dance in the aisles, so they instead danced with their hands while remaining in their seats. At Otis’ concerts, performers would demonstrate Willie’s “hand jive” dance to the audience, so the audience could dance along. The dance consisted of clapping two fists together one on top of the other, followed by rolling the arms around each other.
“The Madison” — This dance was created and first performed in Columbus, Ohio, in 1957, and it became extremely popular. Like “The Stroll,” “The Madison” is a line dance that features a regular back-and-forth pattern with called steps. Its popularity inspired dance teams and competitions, as well as various recordings. Today it is still performed as a nostalgic dance.
Al Brown’s Tunetoppers and Ray Bryant both charted hits with The Madison in 1960. Brown’s version, “The Madison,” peaked at No. 23. Bryant’s song, “Madison Time,” topped at 30.
“Bristol Stomp” — The Dovells’ 1961 smash hit “Bristol Stomp” reached No. 2 on the Hot 100. This was the Dovells’ first Top 10 record.
The song was written about teens in 1961 who were dancing a new step called “The Stomp” at Good Will Hose Co. dances in Bristol, Pa., a blue-collar suburb of Philadelphia.
The Dovells followed “Bristol Stomp” with several other dance songs, including “The Continental,” which reached No. 37, “Bristol Twistin’ Annie,” No. 27, “Hully Gully Baby,” No. 25 and “The Jitterbug,” No. 82, all in 1962.
“Pony Time” — Chubby Checker unquestionably was the king of the dances. Besides “The Twist” and “Twist”-related songs, Checker charted with other dance songs including “The Hucklebuck,” No. 14 in 1960; “Pony Time,” No. 1, and “The Fly,” No. 7, in 1961; Limbo Rock,” No. 2, and “Popeye the Hitchhiker,” No. 10 in 1962.
“Pony Time” topped the charts for three weeks and started another Checker dance craze with teens doing the pony.
“The Watusi” — A solo dance that was popular during the early 1960s, “Watusi” is a former name for the Tutsi people of Africa, whose traditions included spectacular dances. The naming of the American dance was inspired by a scene in the 1950 film “King Solomon’s Mines,” which featured Tutsi dancers.
The Vibrations had a 1961 hit with “The Watusi” that rose to No. 23.
The Orlons, a Philadelphia vocal quartet, had the biggest Watusi hit with their recording of “The Wah-Watusi” that peaked at No. 2 in 1962. The Orlons followed “Wah-Watusi” with two other Top 5 hits in 1962: “Don’t Hang Up” and “South Street.”
Ray Barretto, a Puerto Rican jazz musician, enjoyed his first success with “El Watusi” in 1963. It became a Top 20 hit.
“Mashed Potato Time” – After combining with Philadelphia neighbor Chubby Checker on their No. 3 hit “Slow Twistin’” in 1962, Dee Dee Sharp had her biggest hit with “Mashed Potato Time,” which climbed to No. 2 in 1962.
The song referred to the Mashed Potato dance move which was a fad at the time.
Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s No. 1 smash “Monster Mash,” released a few months after “Mashed Potato Time,” was written in part as a parody to Dee Dee Sharp’s song.
“The Loco-Motion” – Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, “The Loco-Motion” was originally intended for Dee Dee Sharp, but she rejected the song.
The song is notable for appearing in the Top 5 three times, each in a different decade. Little Eva had a No. 1 hit with “Loco-Motion” in 1962. Twelve years later, Grand Funk Railroad topped the charts with their version of the tune. In 1988, Australian Kylie Minogue had a No. 3 hit with the song.
Most of the song’s lyrics are devoted to a description of the dance, usually performed as a type of line dance. Interestingly, the song surfaced before the dance.
Little Eva had two other Top 20 hits: “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” in 1962 and “Let’s Turkey Trot” in 1963.
“The Monkey” — This was a 1963 novelty dance, popularized by two hit records: Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time” and The Miracles’ “Mickey’s Monkey.” Both songs peaked at No. 8.
The dance emulated a lot of actions a monkey would do.
“The Monkey Time” was Major Lance’s first hit. He had his other major hit in 1964 when “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um” climbed to No. 5.
Meanwhile, The Miracles, who had their first Top 10 in 1960 with “Shop Around,” amassed 20 Top 20 hits.
“Hully Gully” — The Olympics’ song peaked at No. 72 in 1960 and sparked the Hully Gully dance craze.
The unstructured dance consisted of a series of “steps” that are called out by the MC. Each step was relatively simple and easy to execute; however, the challenge was to keep up with the speed of each step.
The phrase “Hully Gully” comes from a folk game in which a player shakes a handful of nuts or seeds and asks his opponent “Hully Gully, how many?”
The Olympics had their biggest hit in 1958 when “Western Movies” jumped to No. 8.
Among the era’s other dances were “The Slop,” “The Frug” and “The Chicken.”
This week in rock history: James Brown departed L.A. Mayor Sam Yorty’s office when the mayor failed to appear at 10 a.m. as promised on July 23, 1969. Yorty was to present Brown with a proclamation declaring James Brown Day in the city. … The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” was released on July 24, 1965, where it would reach No. 3. The song was the first Beach Boys’ recording to include vocals by Bruce Johnston, who had joined the group as a substitute for Brian Wilson on concert tours. … The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run” entered the Pop chart on July 25, 1960, and introduced the instrumental surf sound to rock ‘n’ roll. The song peaked at No. 2. … John Denver earned a Gold record for his all-time biggest hit, “Annie’s Song,” a tribute to his wife, Annie Martell, on July 26, 1974. Denver later said that he wrote the song in 10 minutes while he was on a ski-lift. … The Everly Brothers had the nation’s best-selling song with “Bye Bye Love” on July 27, 1957. The tune was ranked 210th on “Rolling Stone” magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. … Jerry Lee Lewis made his TV debut on the “Steve Allen Show” on July 28, 1958. He went over so well, he was booked for two more appearances. The performance, containing the now familiar Lewis trademarks of kicking the piano stool across the stage and pounding the piano with the heel of his shoe, caused sales of his single “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” to skyrocket.
Barry “The Old Rocker” Levine is an entertainment writer for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at email@example.com.