Tuesday, July 13, 2010

7/13/10 - Songs of the Summer, #23-24: "The Locomotion" and "It's My Party"

The Master List

Top Song of 1962: "The Locomotion" by Little Eva

Into the heart of oldies radio, we are. I'm fascinated by songs, like this one, that seem like they have been and always will be played on mainstream FM radio. Some hit songs are huge, and then disappear without a trace. My nemesis from the last entry, "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini", for example, seems to have little cultural cachet except as a bit of '60s cultural debris. "The Locomotion" is probably being played on the radio this very moment, and probably playing over the PA system at a roller rink, etc.

I first noticed this with "Under the Bridge", the Red Hot Chili Peppers song from 1991. As soon as the song achieve smash hit status, it basically never stopped being played on the radio. Unlike other hits from the era, which I noticed started to disappear after a period of peak saturation, "Under the Bridge" seemed like it had hit some other plane of hit; the kind that never really fades from view. These become part of the overall cultural fabric, destined to be repeated until they're so much aural wallpaper. Usually these songs are great songs, because otherwise they don't have endurance, but even a great song can lose some of its power when it becomes part of the cultural background, instead of standing out in the foreground.

Such is the status of "The Locomotion", a song I knew entirely without ever voluntarily listening to it. Sonically it's got a lot of the Phil Spector wall-of-sound elements - horns all squashed together, dense, thick drum sound, a cascading chorus of backing vocals, and a woman's voice sitting on top of it all, sounding somehow far off in some echoey sonic chamber, vying with the piano for space in the mix.

Melodically, the hook is in the backing vocals (the "come on baby do the locomotion" refrain) that come sweeping in once the chorus hits. It's a pretty undeniable song, so much so that I'm already tired of it without ever choosing to listen to of my own volition.

Top Song of 1963: "It's My Party" by Lesley Gore

The early '60s then, marks two girl-group sounding songs as the back-to-back summer hits. This is another song that shows up a lot on oldies radio, and it's not hard to see why - the "it's my party and I'll cry if I want to" line, repeated with descending harmonies, is another "Purple People Eater" sized mind-devouring hook.

I remember my awareness of Lesley Gore coming through They Might Be Giants, who often cover the sublime "Maybe I Know" live. I remember being struck by the raw melancholy of "Maybe I Know"; the way that it stripped bare the kind of despairing emotions that TMBG songs occasionally trafficked in - it fits their sound better than I expected, because of the way that the it resonates with the absurd melancholy of some of TMBG's more overlooked material. And melodically, it's ridiculously catchy, such that the listener is caught in the melodic undertow - you're singing along with it before you even realize that it's all about being left alone and heartbroken.

"It's My Party" pulls a similar trick - the title refrain is both a kiss-off and a statement of grand self-pity; a complicated set of true emotional responses to the by-the-numbers betrayal of the verses that elevate the song to something more than just another girl-group lament of lost love. It's not a straight-up declaration of power, because the tears are those of the narrator's unmooring, but there's something affirming about bursting out in tears at a celebration; the emotion at the center of so many girl-group anthems spilling out and causing a ruckus.


ariyele said...

locomotion is the first hit song with a woman's voice that doesn't seem super polished and perfect too. it's almost nasally if you listen to the quality of it. there's much more going on with the hook--which you wait for.

ariyele said...

both of these songs were in my consciousness without ever having listened to them. but it's my party was something that i remember learning the hook to in elementary. somewhere vaguely too--i remember it being an anthem for being "allowed" to be a wild woman--perfectly stated in the lyrics. it's okay for me to cry bc this is my party. so perfect. kinda deep actually. wonder what clarissa pinkola estes would say about this from a psychology perspective.