Blog, Music

Drive time

A chugga-chugga motion like a railroad train, now!

There’s an element in early ’60s pop songs – not only non-ironic optimism, but also something in the drive of the music itself – maybe the same drive that would enable an entire nation to pursue crazy goals like putting a man on the moon… and a quality in the vocals – just enough youth, just enough street – I’d swear, you can almost hear Little Eva popping her chewing gum, and I love her for that. Combine all this with the BIG SOUND they got from recording real people on analog equipment with very limited track counts, and you have something that was “of its time,” and will never come again.

When I say drive, it’s not just about tempo, it’s the feel, the attitude, the sound itself. Hear it (and feel it!) in Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion” (1962 – my favorite dance record ever), “Tell Him” (1962) by The Exciters, “Let Me In” (1962) by The Sensations, The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” (1963), Bobby Lewis’ “Tossin’ and Turnin'” (1961), Dee Dee Sharp’s records, and in so much of Motown, but especially “Dancing in the Streets,” Martha & the Vandellas’ 1964 coded anthem for the civil rights movement. The beat is propulsive, and the songs seem to breathe – again, it’s something built into not only the musicians’ performance, but the recorded sound itself. (Dance music of today uses heavy sidechain compression to evoke a hyped-up version of this breathing effect.)

All these records came out of northern urban centers (and L.A.); worth noting that southern soul tended to be a bit more laid-back — the famous behind-the-beat feel of Stax drummer Al Jackson Jr. vs. the pumping pop-soul “Sound of Young America.”

Some of these songs were covered in later years, but the drive was lost (and youth was no longer youth, if that makes any sense).

play “The Loco-Motion” on YouTube