Land Of 1,000 Dances
with Donny Jacobs
Every volume of Land Of 1000 Dances includes a version of the song that gave the series its name. Unfortunately, Rounce chose one of the least impressive versions to include here. Rufus Thomas's recording is neither one of the best nor one of his best. He deserves credit for trying to put some New Orleans flavor back into Chris Kenner's composition, but his slow habanera rendition has the unfortunate effect of draining the life out of it. It's just a misstep in Rufus's otherwise remarkable recording career, but here it is on display again, after having been forgotten about for decades . . . past mistakes do have an odd way of coming back to bite you in the ass! "Matador" is not as disappointing, but even the flamenco kick songwriter Curtis Mayfield gives this typically Latinized Major Lance workout isn't strong enough to make it a great dance record. William Bell's lackluster attempt at "Monkeyin' Around" doesn't even have a Latin sensibility going for it. It's just plain boring. Best known for his soul ballads, Bell would've been much better off sticking with them!
Things start to heat up once Jeb Stuart takes the stage. His "Greasy Frog" sounds like a patently uncool dance step . . . had it actually existed, people probably would've avoided dancing it at all costs! Even so, Jeb puts an awful lot of feelin' into his "froggin,'" and Willie Mitchell's backing band really boots. Groove doctor Don Covay could always be counted on to fill a dance floor, and his brass-driven "Boomerang" has everything necessary to have done just that. However, the single was a surprise no-show on the R & B charts. A tasty Latin boogaloo, Dr. Don obviously designed it to appeal equally to the Black and Spanish sides of Harlem nightlife. Next up are the ever-popular Whispers, captured on wax fifteen years before the release of their megahit Disco platter "And The Beat Goes On." Here they offer us "The Dip," a laid-back dance which they teach with much grace and panache. This was just the right step for discothèque patrons who didn't want to get sweat stains on their new bellbottoms!
For rhythm numbers with a hotter groove, step into the Soul Kitchen for a spell. Jerry Williams, Jr, better known as Swamp Dogg, is at the grill fryin' up a sizzlin' Soul cha-cha called "Push, Push, Push" (not to be confused with the Joe Cuba record of the same title). The record has a lot in common with "Shake A Tailfeather" by the Five Du-Tones, and there's more than enough energy in it to stir up cage dancers at trendy clubs like the Whisky A Go-Go. Making their final R & B chart appearance, The Olympics make their swansong single as lip-smackin' good as a ballpark frank. They squirt lots of hot mustard on their "Philly Dog" and load it up with relish, too. Black teenagers wolfed it down in 1966, and for good reason: This foot-long boogaloo couched in a Motown bun is as delicious as can be. Tasty snacks aren't the only thing you find in the Soul Kitchen, though. Leaning against the meat locker in hot pants and fishnets are The Gypsies, bold and sassy Soul sisters who want to get their freeek on! That's obvious just from listening to the first few bars of their Top Forty R & B entry from 1965. These girls are so horny, in fact, they'll dare you to "Jerk It" right in front of them! Just remember to wash your hands before you touch any food!
It's too bad that The Temptations never released a single to capitalize on their famous Temptation Walk. They surely would've put more soul into it than the Entertainers Four put into their less-than-tempting platter. Unfortunately, this "Walk" has too many steps that drag. Billy Butler's "Boston Monkey" doesn't drag, and even though Billy's from Chicago, his swingin' simian step may well have coaxed them onto the dance floor up in Beantown. Still, they'd have gotten more vigorous shoulder action out of "Dirty Water," the legendary dance rocker by Boston's own Standells. That delectable 1966 disk doesn't appear here, of course; The Standells were a white Rock band, so they fall outside the narrow scope of Tony Rounce's compilation. If duck-walking appeals to you more than monkey business does, "Walking The Duck" by The Triumphs will trouble your tailfeathers for a while. This snazzy, Snap-E-Tom of an instrumental wouldn't sound out-of-place on a Booker T & The MGs album. That undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that it was cut in the MG's home base of Memphis, Tennessee.
Compared to the boogaloo, the shing-a-ling was a relatively minor Latin dance craze. Lee Williams and The Cymbals' rendition of "Shing-A-Ling USA" offers a clue as to why that was so. As a dance rhythm, the shing-a-ling had flash but no smoke . . . there was motion, but it didn't really move you. A certain sense of excitement was lacking. There's no lack of excitement, though, in Richard Temple's performance of "That Beatin' Rhythm," a big Northern Soul favorite. Richard's enthusiastic approach to the lyric is so effective, it almost succeeds in hiding the flaws of a song that's nothing but a second-rate Motown Sound ripoff! Sometimes, style really does trump substance. It's easier to understand how British Soul fanatics would go wild for "Broadway Freeze, Parts One and Two." This is one of the funkiest Habanera rockers you'll ever hear, a stone floor-filler if ever there was one. How it missed the American R & B charts has to be one of the great unsolved mysteries; its horn-powered groove was a clear harbinger of Sly and The Family Stone hits like "Dance To The Music."
Northern Soul pilgrims from a Caribbean background no doubt found "Do The Sissy," blues guitarist Albert Collin's hyperactive reggae instrumental very hard to resist. They'd have frowned on Sissy dancing in Kingston, but what the Hell? This wasn't Jamaica, it was swingin' London circa 1969! Can't you just picture those West Indian macho men hesitating for a moment or two before giving in to the rhythm . . . then dropping their wrists, pursing their lips, and wiggling those fine brown frames of theirs? Shake it, rastaman! There's no need at all to hesitate when King James (James Brown, that is) instructs you to "Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn!" The Godfather of Soul's music found favor with dance devotees all over the world, from Kingston to Hong Kong to Rome. This greasy groove was the fourth entry in his late '60s quintet of Popcorn dance hits, and you can bet during the last twenty years it's been sampled at least a couple dozen times by Hip Hop musicians. Rappers do love themselves some vintage JB! Eddie Bo's beat-crazy "Hook And Sling, Parts One and Two" sounds like a funky merengue, but is better described as free-form Funk. Whether it has a Latin pedigree or not, it sure doesn't take long to get your hips shakin.' Eddie's salacious commentary will have you snickering in spite of yourself.
Reggae rhythms show up again on "The Chicken," one of Jackie Lee's follow-ups to his 1965 best-seller "The Duck." This is a much better record than "The Duck," and the same soulful femme trio that graced that earlier hit shows up here, makin' like Rita Marley's I-Threes. Even if these capable ladies had been on hand to help Joe Simon sing "Moon Walk, Part One," they wouldn't have been able to salvage such an awful song. At least the title works . . . its movements are as hapless and ungainly as a Nasa astronaut clomping around on a lunar landscape! This lumbering space flight comes in for a slow and painful crash landing, and it's not pretty. Still, if "Moon Walk" got heavy R & B chart action and club play on both sides of the Atlantic, somebody must've liked it! How nice to know that somebody also liked "The Meditation" by New York City's TNT Band; it crossed over from Latin music radio stations to land in the R & B Top Forty. Produced by the legendary George Goldner and released on his Cotique label, this is one of the very best of the late '60s boogaloo hits. Over a stuttering beat that Tony Rounce correctly notes was borrowed from Archie Bell and The Drell's 1968 chart-topper "Tighten Up," TNT Band lead vocalist Tito Ramos mugs and signifies his ass off. He comes across like a freaked-out combination of black Baptist preacher and Spanish Harlem street thug! Ramos's performance amounts to a musical comedy routine on wax, and calls to mind one of those funky comedy dance sequences from TV's "Laugh-In."
If only radio had responded as enthusiastically to Johnny Otis's "Watts Breakdown!" The man who gave us the fabulous "Willie And The Hand Jive" in 1957 still had what it took to groove the young folks in 1969, and this bodacious boogie track is proof. Johnny and his band's lead singer Delmar Evans break this step down quite nicely with one another, but if they want to keep gossips at bay, they'd better find some foxy ladies to dance with next time! Kicking off a long chart career under their new, improved name, George Clinton's supergroup Parliament (formerly The Parliaments) got its funk aesthetic together early on with great tracks like "The Breakdown." This was a fine warm-up for blockbusters like "Up For The Downstroke" and "Give Up The Funk" that would arrive later in the decade. The hits "Bumpin' And Stompin' by Garland Green, "Makes You Wanna Hustle" by Donald Byrd and "Do The Bus Stop" by The Fatback Band ride us straight into the Disco Era. They sound out-of-place on this boogaloo-heavy compilation, but their inclusion does prove a point. Although denounced in its day as an aberrance by many Pop musicians and Rock journalists, Disco was just part of an urban dance music tradition that had been evolving in Black and Latino communities for a long time.
Since 2004, when the "Soul and Funk Edition" of Land Of 1,000 Dances hit the streets, no additional volumes have appeared. That doesn't mean Ace Record execs might not have another one up their puffy sleeves. However, if they don't, the American Varèse Sarabande label has unintentionally given their series a bang-up send-off. In August of 2005, they reissued Cannibal and The Headhunter's classic Land Of 1,000 Dances album. Frankie "Cannibal" Garcia and his homeboys (with East LA bar band The Blendells backing them up) were to blame for many a ruptured living room rug in 1965. Teenagers couldn't help but want to dance all night once they'd set phonograph needles down on their stomper of an LP. The Headhunters aren't such great singers, and their wannabe bluesman stylings sound awfully comical at times. Nevertheless, they romp through covers of "Boy From New York City," "My Girl," "Shotgun" and "Searchin'" with such a sense of joyful abandon, no group could embody the exuberant spirit of Rock 'n' Roll any better. They give top-notch original tunes like "Don't Let Her Go," "Strange World." "Get Your Baby" and "Fat Man" the same spark. Frankie's wailing vocal on the title track is, of course, definitive. Wilson Pickett's record may be the one most people remember, but the Wicked Pickett knew where to take his musical cues from, and it sure wasn't from Rufus Thomas' record!
Each new generation has its own dance steps, and its own favorite music for dancing. That will never change. However, a strong argument can be made that dancing in the 20th century, especially from the 1920s to the 1980s, was something quite unique. There was a mass mania, a wild enthusiasm, a feeling of collective exhilaration that hadn't existed before, and probably hasn't existed since. People were dying to do The Charleston . . . The Jitterbug . . . The Shag . . . The Twist . . . The Watusi . . . The Funky Chicken! Occasionally, they even died as a result of doing these steps! Civilized people may never have that much fun again. Thank goodness we still have memories of those kooky dance crazes to entertain ourselves with . . . and to keep those memories fresh, we have film footage, scratchy old vinyl records, and great CD compilations called Land Of 1,000 Dances.