Thursday, September 17, 2009

Little Eva: "The Loco-Motion" (1962)

Little Eva's original "Loco-Motion" is the song I've been high on lately. One of those things where you've heard a song a million times but never really listened to it. I really listened to it recently, and was blown away.

It's marked by a perfect musical economy. Not a note wasted, not one more instrument or lick than necessary. Which is not to say it's minimalist: in fact it's a very full and satisfying little record. It's just that it's put together with incredible craftsmanship. That's Goffin and King for ya.

I mean, listen to the drumming. Tough and snarey on the intro and refrain, insistently clangey on the verse, locking into the saxophones on the turnaround. Nothing fancy, but what's there is just right. And speaking of saxophones, dig how much release there is in that sudden sax solo, and how it then dies down into a tension-building stutter, setting up the renewed release of the refrain.

This is a very professional record, in the best sense of the word. But as with much great pop music, it's not any one thing that makes it a perfect record - not just the professionalism - but a combination of things - in this case the tension between the professionalism of the music (including the very solid songwriting, an argument in favor of formula if there ever was one) and something very amateurish.

Which is Little Eva herself. It's well known that she was Goffin and King's babysitter: a background almost too right to be true. She sounds like a teenager in this vocal, and of course that's just what the Brill Building loved in 1962. But she doesn't sound like a scared teenager, or an inept one. She's a great natural vocalist, in charge of the song from the get-go. The producers know it: they put her way up front in the mix, dominating the backing vocals. She's a primary color, not a delicate shade; a belter, if such a thing were possible in the girl-group milieu. She manages to sound both innocent (the unvarnished accent on "swang your hips now") and expert (the second "come on" that ends the verse), spontaneous ("yay-yay-yayeyay") and in control (same interjection).

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