Thursday, March 17, 2011

If You Get The Notion: Little Eva: "The Locomotion"

In the fall of 1962 the world was at a crisis point; it in just such circumstances that people either take music very, very seriously or throw themselves into one craze or another, if only to distract themselves for a few moments from what is actually taking place. Enter one young girl, a babysitter who could sing, who was fortunate enough to work for two young songwriters at the Brill Building; add also a new dance craze (so new it was actually created by the song, which somehow I think is a first) and lots of oohing and hand clapping and horns like trains in the back and here you have it - "The Locomotion". If only music was as simple as that! But the more I think about it, the more I find here - not just another song signifying the innocent US swinging and chugging towards (possible) oblivion - but the start of something big.

This is the first song in this blog both sung and (co-)written by a woman, and also therefore represents the tip of the rather large iceberg known as the Girl Groups, a phenomenon that sadly I hardly get to write about here, as much as I love it. (Can anyone vouch for the greatness of this box set? I intend to get it, now that we live somewhere big enough to store it.) After the big titan men of rock seemingly disappeared, it was in part these girls who kept it all going, Little Eva included. As unlikely as it seems, not is this song the historical first for women for this blog, but in its own way as a kind of...civil rights song. Not an anthem, maybe, but you don't call someone Little Eva and have her sing about (underground) railroad trains without some forethought - and there is something powerful in this song, a kind of "Let's make a chain NOW!" exuberance and vitality that doesn't just speak to the dance floor but to something in US/UK culture; a need to distract yourself by choo-chooing away, maybe, but also a sense that a release of energy is in itself energizing.

It is not just a commonplace to note that the 50s were a time of pent-up feelings and notions and that the 60s gradually saw a lot of the formality of the 50s evaporate - you can hear it happening here, a song heard 'round the world as tensions grew more and more. That it was a babysitter who sang this call to rise and march (as I interpret it, anyway) is amazing - having been a nanny myself once, I can only imagine the gulf between her old life and new one, not that she got to sing for so long. But as vital as this song is, Little Eva is immortal, a warm, encouraging voice in the impending nuclear darkness.

1 comment:

Jonathan Bogart said...

I'll certainly vouch for the greatness of the One Kiss Leads to Another set. The lack of some of the key acts -- particularly the Spector groups -- hurts it to an extent, but there's so much unknown and undiscovered material there that it's hard to object.