‘Dance when you are broken open. Dance if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re absolutely free.’ (Rumi)
‘We should consider everyday lost when we have not danced at least once’ (Neitzsche)
‘Dance is the hidden language of the soul’ (Martha Graham)
‘Hey baby won’t you take a chance! Say that you’ll let me have this dance,
Well let’s dance! Let’s dance!’ (Sung by Chris Montez, written by Jim Lee)
Names are wonderful things. I find few subjects so fascinating as Nomenclature and Taxonomy.
I know, I know; not something you often hear as an opening gambit at a party but as Leslie Gore might have said, ‘It’s my party and I’ll be obscure if I want to!
And, wouldn’t you know – the names of dances offer a rich seam of delight for an errant academic like myself. And, that’s before they yield up their myriad physical, social, emotional and spiritual delights.
There are undoubtedly impressive theses to be written and many, many, golden memories to be stirred recalling nights spent in glorious company lost in:-
The Jitterbug. The Charleston, The Tango, The Merengue, The Mambo (something for all you Mamboniks on The Jukebox later in the year), The Rumba and The Cha-Cha-Cha.
Many lives and lovers altered forever by blessed hours lost in:-
The Hully Gully, The Hustle, The Jerk, The Macarena, The Pony, The Stroll, The Madison, The Frug and The Shake. Not forgetting The Bump, The Funky Chicken, The Locomotion, The Hitchhike and (my favourite) The Watusi!
You want to get happy? Dance! Dance! Dance!
Let’s Dance! The Twist, The Stomp or The Mashed Potato, any old dance that you want to do. But, Baby, Baby, Baby don’t leave me all alone on the floor – Let’s Dance! Let’s Dance!
Now if that don’t just THRILL your very soul I can only conclude that you must have done a deal with Ol’ Mephistopheles years and years ago (and I have to tell you he never cuts a square deal).
Chris Montez’s 1962 Let’s Dance is another killer cut from LA’s Gold Star Studio. And, yet another debut single that was an immediate classic.
From the opening count off- 1. 2, .. 1, 2, 3! and the materialisation of the thunderous up and at ’em boys, don’t you dare get in our way drums (courtesy of Jesse Sailes) we’re plunged head, heart and hot feet into a liberating, stimulating, heart lifting, heartbeat accelerating musical journey to pop paradise.
Once Chris starts to sing with straight off the street Chicano cool and Ray Johnson hits his immortal groove on the Organ all resistance is useless!
Unless you’re in a coma you’ll spend the next two minutes or so in abandoned bliss. As Chris says, (and I second that emotion) …. Ooh, oh, Yeh!
Of course it was a top 5 smash in the US and in Britain selling over a million copies and earning a Gold Disc. Indeed it hit the top 5 for a second time in Britain when rereleased in 1973 sending my own teenage endorphins into overdrive.
It was the delirious drive of the organ that did it for me. Wave after wave of delight washing over me until I felt all my senses were drenched and part of me wished that I would never come up for air.
Dancing to the song it felt like you were being granted access to some secret realm of weightless joy – soaring into a sensual stratosphere.
In the US Chris got to tour with greats like Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson. In 1963 he toured Britain with Tommy ‘Dizzy’ Roe and found, on the bottom of the bill, a promising beat combo with the odd name of, ‘The Beatles’ that had a lot of energy, an encyclopaedic knowledge of Rock ‘n’ Roll and an ability to stir the girls in the audience to something near frenzy. They seemed like good guys and he wondered if they might ever make it big in America!Embed from Getty Images
Chris, like his early idol Ritchie Valens was Chicano – born Ezekiel Christopher Montanez on January 17 1943 in Hawthorne California (also the home of the blessed Brain Wilson of The Beach Boys).
In his youth Chris absorbed the ranchera singing style as well as the powerfully affecting sounds of Doo-Wop, R&B and the uptown ballads of The Drifters.
Given his chance at recording by Monogram Chris delivered two major hits with, ‘Let’s Dance’ and the follow up, ‘Some Kind of Fun’. Everything should have been hunky dory except that, as so often in those times, he got a lot of fame but this did not translate into a fat bank balance!
Disillusioned, Chris resolved to go to college and study music rather than record for glory alone. His next appearance on record came through Herb Alpert, co-founder of A&M records.
Herb was no Rock ‘n’ Roller but he was a very savvy music business figure who heard a caressing, whispy tone to Chris’ voice which he believed would suit a different type of song – dreamy ballads which would appeal across the generations.
Herb picked up, ‘Call Me’ a winning ballad from Petula Clark (penned by Tony Hatch who also wrote Downtown) and sensed that it would suit Chris and reestablish his career while adding a new stylistic dimension.
The seasoned professionals behind Chris created a come hither, menthol mood, underpinning Chris’ airy vocal. The record buying public got on board and by the end of 1965 Chris was back in the higher echelons of the Billboard charts.
The title track of Chris’ debut LP for A&M was a song that had been around for more than two decades, ‘The More I See You’ by the classic American Songbook team of Harry Warren and Mack Gordon.
There had already been fine versions by Chet Baker, Nat Cole and Bobby Darrin before Chris layer down his take on the song.
What he produced was an unexpected easy listening classic. A warm summer breeze sound that charmingly swirled around your mind and set the body aglow. Many couples locked eyes and limbs as they danced to, ‘The More I See You’.
It’s the kind of song that people fall in love to. The kind of song that couples adopt as, ‘Their Song’.
A top 20 hit ensued and the song, despite the stature of many of the artists who had previously recorded it, is now indelibly associated with Chris Montez.
This was the high water mark of Chris’ career which continues to this day. Anytime you get a chance to see him perform you can be sure of a fine show which features Chicano rock, Spanish balladeering and easy listening charm.
They say that no one on their death bed says, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at work’. Don’t let yourself end up thinking, ‘I really wished I’d danced more’.
Dance liberates and heals. It is the hidden language of the soul.
Start today by taking the floor wherever you are with your nearest and dearest. Crank up, ‘Let’s Dance’ and, ‘The More I See You’ and let your body go!
You won’t regret it and you’ll want to say thanks to Chris Montez.
Hey Thom, found you through a WP rock and roll search, which led me to your excellent Valens piece. And a link to this…oddly enough, I found a Chris Montez greatest hits CD at a flea market a few weeks ago. Bought it and two books for $3. I have a radio show that’s mostly ’50s rock and roll and Let’s Dance has been part of the playlist, but I’ll be spinning more from that disc on the coming weeks.
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Delighted to welcome you to The Jukebox. Take a ramble around – likely you’ll find more to your taste.