The Shag is the official state dance of Carolina. Although nowadays contemporaneous R&B beach music - as it has been, for the past four or five decades - it has its roots in a number of eight-count 1930s Swing dances, notably the Flea Hop and the Carolina Jitterbug. Billy Graves’ monumental (sic) homage to the The Shag, which he rightly identifies as being “Totally Cool!”, takes it deep into areas of R’n’R and teen angst!
It remains, to this very day, the de rigeur dance to perform when in this part of the world, much to the amusement of visiting English folk who are barely able to stifle sniggers at the prospect of attending an open-air Sh ag-A-Thon! (incidentally, it seems that Billy Graves’ disc, which became a significant crossover hit in early 1959, spending a couple of months on the US Top 100, was briefly scheduled for release here in the UK, on the London-American label; then someone at Decca, who owned the London imprint, thought about it…)
But this compilation ain’t just about shagging, no siree!…
Let’s face it, Dance has been inextricably linked with Popular Music since the advent of recorded sound. Dance music itself reached its apogee in terms of popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, following the initial impact/arrival of both radio and 78 rpm records…but by the dawn of the R&R era musical tastes had changed radically, and the first post-WWII generation of teenagers wanted to dance to far less polite and/or formal sounds. Consequently, between the mid 1950s and early 1960s - i.e. between the arrival of Rock’n’Roll and the British Invasion - the US Pop charts were all a-shimmy with Dance Craze discs whose very exuberance, diversity and sheer silliness took unselfconsciousness into a new dimension.
Fuelled by T.V. shows such as Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and exploitation flicks such as Hey, Let’s Twist and Don’t Knock The Twist, fad-obsessed teens could brush up on the latest and the greatest footwork which accompanied such record hop floor-fillers as The Pony, The Watusi, The Hully Gully, The Mashed Potato, The Stroll, The Slop, The Bristol Stomp, The Madison, The Hitch Hike, The Continental and, of course, the immortal Wang Dang Taffy Apple Tango. Nonetheless, the most popular and enduring dance by far was The Twist, which first saw light of day when Hank Ballard penned the song of the same name and devised the accompanying dance moves which he and The Midnighters performed on stage.
Several of the half-forgotten goodies featured on this unique 2-CD set - were proudly included in John Waters’ lavishly kitsch tale of dance-crazed Baltimore teen culture, Hairspray…although how more of these gems managed to escape inclusion remains a mystery!
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