On the bus with The Beatles Chris Montez – Let’s Dance!

‘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)

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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!

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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.

Immortal Jukebox A4 Bernard Cribbins “Right Said Fred”

‘In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will … It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.’

(Karl Marx)

‘Those who best know human nature will acknowledge what strength light hearted nonsense gives to a hard working man.’

(Coleridge)

‘So Fred said, ‘Let’s have a cuppa tea
And we said, ‘Right – oh’

(Myles Rudge/Ted Dicks)

There have been innumerable ethnographic, sociological, psychological, political, historical and even psycho-geographic studies describing the nature and peculiarities of the English working man.

Some of these have even been readable by people not chained and bound in the salt mines of academia. I plead guilty to having a few feet of shelf space dedicated to the subject myself.

However, I would advise anyone looking to gain an acute insight into the character and mores of said working man to look no further than Bernard Cribbins classic, forensically brilliant examination of the subject in his 1962 recording, ‘Right Said Fred’.

‘Right Said Fred’ belongs to that now rare and frequently derided genre – the comedy record. Fair enough – most comedy records are only funny in the deluded imaginations of their creators and even those that are mildly amusing barely warrant a single repetition let alone an honoured place on the Immortal Jukebox.

Right Said Fred is the exception that proves the rule.

This song, written by Myles Rudge and Ted Dicks and performed with perfect comic panache by Bernard Cribbins is laugh out loud hilarious and has me smiling and laughing every time even though I must have heard it a hundred times or more over the last 50 years.

It is also the kind of song that makes you feel good about your fellow man – who turns out to be just as clueless as you. It is a song that makes you glad to be alive.

Context: English life and working practices in the pre Beatles era were openly structured around universally recognised, if not universally accepted, class and status divisions. Everyone knew their place even if they detested the whole system and were actively planning to subvert it.

Most people, especially blue collar workers, didn’t think too much about how the system came into being – instead they wanted to play the system for their own advantage, to win small battles every day and put one over the bastards who would grind you down if you gave them half a chance.

Here’s the situation out of which the chaos and comedy of good intentions gone awry proceeds. Three workmen; Fred (the Foreman), Charlie (the Charge Hand) and our unnamed narrator arrive at a house to move a large piece of furniture, which though never formally identified, is probably a piano.

This is an awkward, beligerantly heavy thing that will test the limits of their strength, their willpower, their know – how, their patience and their camaraderie. And, the structural integrity of the house itself.

Ted Dicks provides an easy to whistle, all-together now, nudge-nudge, springy music hall melody set to an ironically bouyant rhythm. Sound effects – heaving labour, creaking stairs, boinging springs and collapsing walls and ceilings were furnished by the record’s producer: George Martin in his pre – Beatles incarnation as the boss of Parlophone Records and a comedy specialist already having logged hits with Peter Ustinov, Peter Sellers, Rolf Harris and Charlie Drake.

Myles Rudge, the lyricist, provides a narrative that is economical and full of clever, acute comic details using a propulsive, instantly memorable rhyme scheme which in concert with his partner’s musical hooks virtually guarantees the song will lodge deep in your brain.

The song is then delivered by Bernard Cribbins, a wonderfully droll comic actor rather than a singer, as a shaggy – dog story using alternate tones of baffled irritation and relaxed nonchalance.

As each verse progresses Cribbins in virtuoso style subtly ups the tempo and rhythmic attack to mirror the enfolding disaster. Let the mayhem begin!

Obviously, they begin by trying to lift it but, despite Fred and our narrator, one on each end, striving might and main together they, ‘couldn’t even lift it’. Oh dear, they could be in for a long day here!

So, planning, strategy, and tactics will be required – and you can’t begin to address such weighty matters without the essential fortification of English life, the elixir that punctuates all activity and transforms the perception of all situations – a cup of tea!

One of the first things you learn when joining any group of working men is that the tea-break is a sacred rite and not to be trifled with on any account.

In an increasingly atomised society drinking tea remains one of the only pursuits shared by virtually the whole population. Something like 100 million cups of tea are downed by the English every single day of the year!

Fred, restored by his first cup of tea, decides that reinforcements are required – so Charge Hand Charlie is called up from,’the floor below’ and noisily ascends to join his fellow workers.

However, Charlie’s presence and further straining, heaving and of course complaining prove of no avail. They were getting nowhere. Only one thing for it – another cup of tea!

Charlie, refreshed, has a think (always a dangerous thing) and suggests that all the handles need to be removed and moreover, in an inspired phrase, ‘the things what held the candles’. Sadly it did no good.

Our narrator sagely reflects that, ‘he never thought it would’. The English working man has always expected that the best laid plans of his supposed superiors will inevitably end in dismal failure even as he carries out these plans with shrugged shoulders.

The ‘I told you so’ or, ‘There’s a surprise’ is generally uttered only under the breath or mimed to their mates via a barely raised eyebrow.

They proceed to take the feet and even the seat off. That should have got them somewhere but no it did not! Time for another cup of tea. Energised, Fred realises that if they are going to shift the, ‘so – and – so’ they will have to take a door off.

They succeed with this despite the bad twinges they experience taking off the hinges (having a bad back is virtually a badge of honour for the English working man). Sadly, this too got them nowhere and so they down another cup of tea.

Fred is now begining to get exasperated and declares with warlike intent, ‘that there wall is gonna have to go’! But, even with it all down they were no further forward. They retreat and have another cup of tea.

At this point Charlie has another think and in a seemingly inspired brainwave opines that he has got a sort of feeling that if only they could remove the ceiling it would only be a matter of using a rope or two and they could solve all their problems and, ‘drop the blighter through!’.

Fred, and he will come to bitterly regret this, agrees to Charlie’s madcap plan with electric enthusiasm. Before you can draw breath Fred equipped with a crowbar is climbing up a ladder and laying into the ceiling with many a mighty blow!

Oh dear, Oh dear, Oh dear. Inevitably, a half of ton of rubble falls on top of Charlie’s unprotected dome. What state Fred is then in and what his hopes for recovery are we never learn.

Charlie and our narrator decide the piano will remain unmoved and, pausing only for another cup of tea, they go home.

As they saunter homeward our narrator wryly notes that Fred has a tendency to be hasty and that you, ‘never get nowhere if you are too hasty’. The piano will just have to be left amidst the dust and rubble on the landing.

No doubt the whole saga will make for a lengthy anecdote down the pub where mugs of tea will be replaced by pints of beer. Cheers!

(Warning and Disclaimer: Fred and his crew flagrantly breach many health and safety regulations during the course of the song. DO NOT try to follow their example at home!).

Scorecard:

Pianos moved: 0

Doors removed: 1

Walls removed: 1

Ceilings destroyed: 1

Serious injuries: 1

Houses trashed: 1

Cups of tea drunk: 6

Notes and Comments:

‘Right Said Fred’ reached No 10 in the UK charts in July 1962. It followed a previous hit, ‘Hole In The Ground’ also written by Rudge and Dicks which had gone one place higher in February of the same year.

The latter song again mined the seam of chippy working class humour: detailing the confrontation between a hole-digging workman and a snooty bowler-hatted official who observed that, ‘you are digging it round and it ought to be square’.

The workman after taking a drag on his cigarette replied that his hole was fine and he just couldn’t bear to dig it elsewhere. The song concludes with the workman noting with quiet satisfaction that the hole is now gone; the ground is smooth and beneath it is the bloke in the bowler hat!

The whole story is brilliantly told by Bernard Cribbins in well under two minutes.

Noel Coward, a connoisseur if there ever was one of the comic song, chose,’Hole In The Ground’ as one of his ‘Desert Island Discs’. It has also been suggested that the Count Basie Band heard the song when touring the UK and became great fans.

Rudge and Dicks:

Myles Rudge (1926 – 2007) was an all purpose post-war entertainment professional having worked as an actor and scriptwriter for radio and TV. He had a particularly productive working relationship with Kenneth Williams.

His only other hit song with Dicks was the children’s song, ‘A Windmill In Old Amsterdam’ which is not recommended for listening by anyone over the age of 5.

Ted Dicks (1928 – 2012) had an art school and theatre background. In addition to his work with Rudge he wrote film and TV theme songs. The most notable of these was for the cult children’s TV series, ‘Catweazle’ – another beloved baby boomer classic!

Bernard Cribbins has now attained the BAFTA clutching status of,’national treasure’ in British life. On TV he has appeared in everything from, ‘Dr Who’ to, ‘The Wombles’ and, ‘Jackanory’.

On film apart from three of the Carry On series he has appeared in two classic comedies with Peter Sellers, ‘Two Way Stretch’ and, ‘The Wrong Arm Of The Law’.

He also had a key role as Perks the railway station assistant in Lionel Jeffries’ family film masterpiece, ‘The Railway Children’. His name in any list of credits is a very welcome sign and a virtual guarantee of pleasure.