Knocking The Beatles Off Number 1 : The Dixie Cups!

‘They were the shyest, sweetest group …. You rooted for them – wanting them to be successful … They exuded innocence, they listened, they performed … What you heard was who they were .. And they just sang from the heart. They deserve recognition and respect.’ (Ellie Greenwich on The Dixie Cups).

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By the middle of 1964 The Beatles had virtually annexed the Number One position in the US Hot 100 chart. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, ‘She Loves You’ and ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ rested atop the chart for fourteen straight weeks and surely, ‘Love Me Do’ which hit the summit at the end of May would extend their imperial sway even further.

Who could stop them? Well, as no one but Nostradamus could have predicted The Beatles were turfed out of the top spot not by another British Beat group or one of the titans of American Pop but by three shy young girls from New Orleans, collectively known as The Dixie Cups.

The members were sisters Barbara and Rosa Hawkins and their cousin Joan Johnson. Their debut single, the immortal, ‘Chapel of Love’ elbowed John, Paul, George and Ringo aside and selling over a million copies took up glorious residence at Number One for the first three weeks of June 1964.

Unless you’ve wholly surrendered to soul deadening cynicism the sheer romantic charm of, ‘Chapel of Love’ is bound to win you over as it celebrates in a tone of sure hearted happiness the delights of marriage and the dizzy joy of a wedding day.

Doesn’t everybody want, or remember with affection, the day when the sky was blue and the birds sang, as if they knew, that this precious day was the much longed for and now finally here, ‘I Do Day’?

Doesn’t everybody want, once in their life, for the sun to shine brightly and believe, or at least hope, that, ‘I’ll be his and he’ll be mine until the end of time’?

Doesn’t everybody want to believe, hoping against hope, that they will never be lonely any more?

I do. I did on the day I got married all those years ago and I still do now.

And listening to the lovely innocence of The Dixie Cups familial harmonies I believe once again in the power of simple words and simple melodies to illuminate and provide inspiration and comfort throughout the dramatic phases and stages of life in all its simplicity and infinite complexity.

I love; the relaxed tempo of the song, the finger snaps cueing in the bass and drums, the angelic affirmation of the vibes, the haze of the horns seeming to wish the happy couple bon voyage as they set sail for the future and the way the vocals suggest joy being welcomed and embraced as a natural fact.

I love the almost intoxicated wonder of the line, ‘Gee, I really love you and we’re gonna get married, Goin’ to the Chapel of love’. (I think one day I will have to write a whole post dedicated to the use of the word, ‘Gee’ in fifties and sixties pop – you have been warned!)

Listening to the song it sometimes feels like I’m taking time out to swathe my spirit temporarily in a cocoon of bliss. Perhaps I’m also seeking reassurance and fortitude for the day ahead – whatever it may bring. All I really know is that, ‘Chapel of Love’ is a song I never tire of.

Though this was a debut single for The Dixie Cups the team behind the record reveals a gallery of some of the most important figures in the popular music of the 1960s. The girls had been brought to New York by their musical mentor, Joe, ‘You Talk too Much’ Jones. He was involved in selecting songs for them and in producing, ‘Chapel Of Love’.

The song was written by the (then!) husband and wife duo of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich who rank with Lennon & McCartney and Holland, Dozier, Holland as authors of classic hits. Think of, ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’, ‘Then He Kissed Me’, ‘River Deep – Mountain High’, ‘Do – Wah – Diddy’, and, ‘Leader Of The Pack’ just for starters!
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The record was also a debut for Red Bird Records run by the legendary songwriting/production team, Leiber and Stoller, and a storied figure in the New York City music scene and the vocal group world, George Goldner, who between them had helmed dozens and dozens of hits.

I was once told that there are 8 million stories in the naked city and I’m sure there’s at least that many stories behind every great song

The truth of the above statement is surely proved by the (largely fruitless) attempts that have been made to explain what The Dixie Cups other great hit from March 1965, ‘Iko Iko’ is really all about.

I could (as is my frequent wont) launch into a scholarly disquisition on the role of West African tonal languages and folkloric culture in Haiti, Cuba and New Orleans on the genesis of the song with footnoted excursions into Native American interaction with slave populations and the tangled web of copyright and intellectual property rights (summed up in the music business with the wise saw, ‘Where there’s a hit there’s a writ!).

But, I think, on mature reflection you would rather just hear an unforgettable song which returns us all to the playground of our youth (which many of us think we should not wholly abandon) with memories of rhymes we never knew the meaning of but which just made us happy and strangely empowered when chanting them out in unison.

Some words just sound wonderful when run together – whether they hold the key to the universe or are pure gibberish (I’m using my own anglicised version of the lyrics)

‘Talkin’ ’bout, Hey now! Hey now! I-KO I-KO … Jock-a-mo-fee-na-nay!!’

The legend goes that The Dixie Cups were goofing off in the studio and launched, impromptu, into a song they had learned at their grandmothers’ knee. The percussion effects are supposedly provided by striking a chair and metal ashtrays! In the booth, the ever canny Leiber and Stoller realised that such magic must not be allowed to vanish into the ether. So, they kept the tape running and with minimal overdubbing – Voila! A never to be forgotten hit was produced.

The Dixie Cups only had a short 18 month or so career as hit makers (though they still perform even now). Yet, there is no doubt in my mind that the gloriously open hearted records celebrated here will forever retain a place in the annals of pop music and more importantly in the lives of all who listen to them.

55 thoughts on “Knocking The Beatles Off Number 1 : The Dixie Cups!

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