Never Mind the Macarena--Do the Freddie!
Admit it. You want the Macarena to be over as much as the media do. Even Regis and Kathie Lee recently informed their viewers that the Macarena was nearly a dead item. Then when nighttime rolled around, David Letterman did his part by shoving a Macareniac into a waiting cab and whisking him off to the East River for a well-deserved push. Bye-bye, Miss Macarena Pie!
Maybe it was the insipid sight of the New York Yankees field crew looking like it was auditioning for Barbara Eden's role in I Dream of Jeannie that finally pushed the Macarena's envelope to the bursting point. Or perhaps Al Gore threatening to do the dance o' shame at this year's Democratic Convention gave the craze its passe cachet.
Clearly, the biggest Macarena vexation is the song itself--an unmelodious alchemy of "Pop Muzik," "Ten Little Indians" and the Lone Ranger theme. There was a time when dance crazes were applied to more worthwhile songs, often with better moves than a series of steps that matches the Hand Jive and Hokey-Pokey to conga-line etiquette.
So when you find yourself standing on the Macarena's grave--deliver us soon, oh, Lord, we beg of you--why not dust one of these oldies but goodies off for a little victory jig:
1. The Stroll (1958)
In its heyday, American Bandstand was responsible for two things: Clearasil sales and dance crazes. The Stroll, immortalized in the Diamonds' sleazy hit of the same name, was one of the show's earliest success stories. This lazy, juvenile-delinquent call to arms regaled the simple pleasures of schlepping down the street, whistling at passing chickadees and hanging out around the candy store. In short, it institutionalized loitering for an entire generation of teens.
2. The Twist (1959)
The most successful dance craze of all time was first introduced by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. Unfortunately, Ballard's label, King Records, didn't believe in either the song or the dance and released "The Twist" as a B-side. There it languished until it got the tubby kiss of life by Chubby Checker, a former chicken plucker from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. With Dick Clark's conflict-of-interest patronage (Clark was secretly the Rotund One's manager), Chubby's recording of "The Twist" enjoyed two summits at No. 1, 16 months apart.
In its first go-round, the Twist was the domain of spotty, pimply teens, just as nature intended. By 1962, it had morphed into the dance of choice for jet setters like Zsa Zsa Gabor, prompting New York Post society columnist Earl Wilson to write "Twist parties are getting chic--like caviar." Yuck!!! To this day, Clark cites the Twist as a turning point in rock history, because it put kids and adults on common rock ground for the first time.
Chubby's dance empire expanded to include such Twist variants as the Pony, the Fly, the Popeye and the Hucklebuck. Unfortunately, there's a downside to the World's Foremost Twist Authority. Sample this twisted slice of megalomania from a 1993 interview this writer conducted with the Dance-Crazed Czar:
Chubby: Anyone that was born after 1950 is living in the shadow of the Twist. You're living in the Twist. Every time you go out, it's a part of your life. People dance apart because of the Twist.
Me: Are you saying Chubby Checker is responsible for slam-dancing and stage-diving?
Chubby: They're all my dances. As long as people dance apart, they're all my dances.
3. The Limbo (1963)
This dance remains an office-party favorite, even if Chubby Checker (a favorite entertainer-for-hire at corporate functions) refrains from doing it nowadays because "I got tired of young guys beating me at it, and besides, it wrecked my shoes!"
4. The Freddie (1965)
Long before the Curly Shuffle, the Freddie was the dance fashioned exclusively for geeks. Since Chubby Checker's fall from Top 40 favor happened within weeks of the British rock invasion, it was only fair the Chubster should steal something back from the mother country. Parkway Records released his recording of "Let's Do the Freddie" in time to compete with Freddie & the Dreamers' less-suggestive single "Do the Freddie." The latter platter became the hit, despite some unsettling Yokoesque cackling from singer Freddie Garrity. Perhaps the world decided it wasn't ready to see a portly black man doing a dance with all the offensive precision of a Nazi goose step. The Dreamers' Top 40 streak ended with its "Freddie" recording. Contrary to the recording's claim that "it's the thing to do, kids will envy you," all "doing the Freddie" ever seemed to do for youngsters was invite unrelenting peer persecution.
5. The Clam (1965)
By the mid-Sixties, the King's once-Midas touch had atrophied to such an alarming degree that Elvis Presley movies were released to drive-ins strictly as second features, and his recordings became mere unapologetic souvenirs of these cinematic also-rans. Girl Happy gave us the excruciating "Do the Clam," the Pelvis' lone contribution to the land of a thousand dances. If the sight of Bing Crosby's balding son Gary playing in Elvis' movie band wasn't enough to send audiences running for cover, there was the horrific sight and sound of the Hound Dog Man inviting swinging beachcombers to "Turn and tease, hug and squeeze/Dig right in and do the clam."
On the plus side, requests for this camp classic will usually "clam up" annoying Elvis impersonators.
6. The Batusi (1966)
On the pilot for the enormously popular Batman TV series, the Caped Crusader strolled into a discotheque, ordered a glass of orange juice and proceeded to impress guest star Jill St. John with his go-go prowess. His ensuing batty interpretation of the then-popular Watusi was largely ad-libbed at a moment's notice by masked thespian Adam West. The Batusi recently enjoyed a brief revival after John Travolta dusted it off for the Jack Rabbit Slim's scene in Pulp Fiction, but like reruns of the show, West didn't score any residuals for the Batusi, either.
7. The Funky Chicken (1970)
Besides giving the music world his lovely daughter Carla, Rufus Thomas supplied us with a slew of doggone-dance discs in the early Sixties, including "Do the Dog," "Walking the Dog," "Can Your Monkey Do the Dog?" and the recording that ended his canine streak, "Somebody Stole My Dog." In the Seventies, Thomas moved farther down the food chain for the cocksure "Do the Funky Chicken," which instructed all willing pupils to flap their arms around and pour gravy all over themselves. As Rufus himself put it during the midsong break, "I feel so unnecessary."
8. The Hustle (1975)
Van McCoy's No. 1 smash single-handedly reintroduced young people to the idea of dancing together. Eventually, the Hustle gave birth to the Bump, a kind of booty-body check that could send partners sprawling to opposite ends of the disco with a dislocated hip.
9. The Moonwalk (1983)
For the record, the fancy footwork with which Michael Jackson dazzled the world was actually the Backslide. For it to be the Moonwalk proper, he would've had to Backslide in a complete circle. The media incorrectly labeled it the Moonwalk, and Jacko never corrected the obvious mistake. Too bad, since Backslide would've been a far more appropriate title for his tell-nothing autobiography.
10. Vogueing (1990)
Even poseurs have to dance sometime. Madonna's chart-topping smash appealed to mimes, runway models, mannequins, out-of-work actors who fancied themselves the next Garbo and people who were just too tired to do any real dancing. Say cheeeeese!
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