The Sages tell us that when you really get down to it there are only seven stories in the world.
And, that these are endlessly retold and recast so that the human race can come to terms with the otherwise incomprehensible complexity of our lives.
So everyone from Homer to Tex Avery (not excluding Dante, Shakespeare and Emily Bronte) has expounded with greater or lesser wisdom on the eternal themes.
My own midnight reflections have led me to identify that what holds good for Story also holds good for Questions. After deep contemplation I have discovered that there are only five Questions underpinning all human enquiry.
For four of them you’ll have to wait for the publication of:
‘The Five Questions every life must answer’ (pre-orders accepted now).
But, exclusively, for readers of The Immortal Jukebox, I can reveal that one of the Questions is:
‘Do You Want To Dance?’
It’s a profound question.
Especially if you regard it not solely as a question you ask another but as a question you should address to your innermost self every day if you want to live a fully engaged life.
So, ‘Do you want to dance?’
Bobby Freeman a 17 year old from San Francisco, thought it was such an important question that he had no hesitation in asking it 19 times during the 164 second course of his classic recording from 1958.
Yowsa! Yowsa! Yowsa!
Now Bobby’s demo with him on piano and vocals and a friend on echoing bongos/congas seems to have been taped in a deep, dark hollow before New York musos like Billy Mure with a glittering guitar break added some semblance of professionalism so that the record could be commercially released
Of course, the circumstances of a record’s genesis don’t matter a hoot if, instantly, as it blooms from your radio or neighbourhood Jukebox you just know that it has uttered a profound truth as you obey its command to shake a tail feather.
It was thus no surprise that, ‘Do You Want To Dance’ was a top 5 hit on the Billboard Chart. There’s a hypnotic charm about the latin beat, ascending melody, false ending and the artless vocal’s increasingly insistent expression of the central question.
Resistance is useless – surrender!
Do You, Do You, Do You, Do you Want to Dance?
Do You, Do You, Do You, Do You Want to Dance?
The song, easy to learn and easy to extend vocally and instrumentally if the audience fell under its spell, became a fixture of many a group repertoire.
In Britain it was a notable success for Cliff Richard (1962) and in the US it attracted the attention of Del Shannon and The Four Seasons (1964) before the startling genius of Brian Wilson took into into realms undreamed of by Bobby Freeman.
The relationship between original and The Beach Boys version might be compared to that of a Lascaux cave painting and a high Renaissance masterpiece by Raphael.
Brian Wilson with his multi dimensional musical intelligence added structure and sophistication to Bobby Freeman’s sketch.
So we have three part harmony, vocal chanting, an instrumental ensemble of saxophones, timpani, massed guitars and organ seamlessly integrated into a sweeping wide screen orchestration which also features subtle key changes. On the top Dennis Wilson, with his first lead vocal for the group, provided glowing warmth and drive.
A singular aspect of Brian Wilson’s talent in his mid 60s pomp was his ability to to create complex arrangements which though capable of endless analysis by musicians and critics flowed with what seemed complete naturalness into the hearts of his listeners.
Under Brian’s baton Pop Music had a cathedral like architectural glory it has rarely ever attained. Success and sophistication went hand in hand as Brian and The Beach Boys had hit after hit.
John Lennon was another who knew a thing or two about marrying art and popularity in song. He would have heard Bobby Freeman’s version in Liverpool as a teenager. The Rocker in John, a defining aspect of his character, must have been taken by its sensual sway and swoon.
For it was this aspect of the song he chose to emphasise when he recorded it for his, ‘homage to leather jacketed youth’ album from 1975, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’.
It should never be forgotten that John Lennon was a great Rock ‘n’ Roll singer. I’d hazard the view that the true primal therapy for John was singing and that through singing he found balm for his own troubled soul as well as providing it for millions of others all over the globe.
The final version featuring on The Jukebox is a 1977 blitzkrieg New York City take by The Ramones. We will have to call this the spray paint on the subway wall graffiti version!
I must admit that in my college days I did some very enthusiastic ‘pogoing’ to this one propelled by my love of high octane, eyeballs out Rock ‘n’ Roll and large quantities of cheap alcohol.
There’s no messing with The Ramones.
They set out in a cloud of dust like a drag racer and don’t let up – wholly careless as to whether the parachute will deploy!
So, whichever version you prefer the eternal Question remains which we will all have to answer in our own way – ‘Do You Want to Dance?’
For my part the answer is a resounding Yes!
Bobby Freeman could never match, ‘Do You Want to Dance’ though he did have several other hits. He was a winning singer and I’m always pleased when one of his songs comes up under random play on my music player. A comprehensive collection of his 56-61 work can be found on Jasmine Records.
Other versions you might care to investigate:
The Mamas & Papas
Jan & Dean