I DJ'd for for my friend Gretta Thorn's (Now Gretta Thorn Stone) wedding a few weeks ago. She's one of the founding members of The Jam Cellar. And even though there were a good amount of dancers there, she wanted to keep the rest of the guests comfortable, so me and my DJ'ing partner for the evening, Luke Albao ended up playing the the wedding party greatest hits for the night. That's the reason why the last song appears on the playlist below. We had a lot of fun strategizing how to get from "Twist and Shout" to "Celebration" while working in a Madonna song in there. We thought people might think we were being too cliche, but they were having too much fun to notice. At the end of the night Nina Gilkenson told me that she hadn't danced that hard in a long long time. This coming from a woman who gets flown out to a big dance event every other weekend. This got me to thinking about why those songs are popular and also about Lindy Hop's own hit parade.
This week I DJ’d Jam Cellar’s New Blood Night. It’s something we do every once in awhile to get new people and old friends in the door. Basically if you bring a person that’s never been there before, then both you and that person get in for free.
I decided to go retro with my set, dubbing it on Facebook as New Blood, Old Hits Night. Most DJ’s have a stash of overplayed hits they keep in reserve if a night isn’t going for them. I thought it would be fun just to wheel them out all at once especially since I haven’t heard a bunch of them in a long time.
I'm not going to pretend like this was some great challenge or anything. In fact I'm pretty sure any tone deaf moron would have been able to keep any Lindy Hop floor full by putting the playlist below on shuffle. However, the last time I did something like this was a couple of years ago, but it was at a venue that has more beginner/intermediate level dancers. Most of them hadn’t heard any of the songs at all. The fun part was watching them react, and being reminded of why certain songs are just the jam. It was like re-watching the last 10 years of social dance compressed into 2 hours.
However, my main mistake that time was to group all the different era’s of songs together into 30 minute sets: Neo-swing, Hollywood, Groove, and Old School. This only reminded me why we got tired each genre, and why we moved on to the next.
This time around I applied my regular approach of mixing and matching songs based on feel. A lot of DJ’s like to talk about flow, but are limited to tempo or genre. I tend look at songs in terms of the kind of mood they set. Genre and tempo play into it, but so does recording quality, vocals, rhythmic quality. Then there are harder to quantify aspects like soul and attitude. Lavern Baker’s “On Revival Day” is faster than her version of “Gimme a Pigfoot,” but the former is more relaxed quality while latter is more like a kick in the balls; assuming that sort of thing turns you on.
One thing I was really mindful of was always chasing the blatantly cheesy selections with more quality choices, just so it didn’t sound like I was going to play bullshit all night. The aforementioned “On Revival Day” followed Royal Crown Revue’s “Beyond the Sea” while Roy Eldridge’s “Jump Through The Window” follows Lavay Smith’s “Oo Poppa Do.”
It was a lot of fun for one night, but of course someone came up to me and asked why we don’t do this every night. I’ll admit that I think we eschew known hits probably too much, but I know I put away stuff because it does get tired after awhile. Eating cotton candy and M & M’s for every meal sounds like a good idea until about day three when your crap comes out in a candy coated shell.
This same person asked me why certain DJ’s seem like music snobs, and I reminded him that half of the “hits” I was playing were only discovered because some DJ’s refuse to remain complacent and constantly look high and low for the Next Big Thing. I remember a debate on some forum where a well known DJ declared that there was no point in looking into older music anymore because we had already found everything danceable from that era. This was in 2002 before the community was exposed to Sidney Bechet’s “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Tells Me” or Fats Waller’s “Yacht Club Swing” or pretty much the entire Cats & The Fiddle song book.
In the search for these hits, DJ’s will play dozens, maybe hundreds of songs that just fall flat. I’ve been getting together with Mike Marcotte and other DJ’s to select competition music every year for the past five years. We toss in songs we’ve discovered over the past year and debate if they’re competition worthy. A lot of times we determine songs are just good social dance songs because they lack certain key elements for an exciting competition. Other times we shoot songs down altogether because sometimes you listen to something in the isolation of your home or car or shower and think this is a good idea until someone else points out all the flaws (poor recording quality, lack of discernible rhythm, weird breaks or song structures, whatever).
Most DJ’s don’t have the luxury of input from their peers before they play something so the only way to find out if the crowd likes it is to just play it. Sometimes more than once, even after it clears the floor. The first time after I played Wynton Marsalis’ “Dead Man Blues” the promoter of the venue came up to me and told me never to play it again. I ignored her even though she had a point about its affect on the crowd, and to my satisfaction, I packed the floor with it at a big event over a year later.
You just never know sometimes. I remember DJ’ing with Andy Reid not too long ago at Jam Cellar and he wondered how the hell Fats Waller’s “Dark Eyes” became such a crowd pleaser. It’s a good song, but listening to it on my own, I would have never thought to play it for a dance crowd. But someone out there took a chance and it caught on.
Skye Humphries told me that it took him forever to get into Nina Simone’s “Love Me or Leave Me.” It wasn’t until long after he and the rest of the Minnie’s Moochers made it famous that he felt like he had a decent grasp of it. To this day, some people insist that it’s an undanceable song, but every time I dust it off, inevitably, at least one new dancer will run up to me demanding to know what that song is and where they can get it.
Anyway I thought I post my playlist from this week if only to provide a bit nostalgia for some of you out there. I’m not terribly concerned about other DJ’s stealing any of the songs on this playlist because if you don’t already have most of the songs on this list, then your DJ'ng probably sucks to a point where I can't help you.
Couple notes and asides:
I accidentally played Lindy Hoppers Delight because I added it to the list when a jam started during "Blue Suit Boogie." When it petered out I forgot to take it off. Everyone was swinging out, so it wasn't that big of a deal.
"Chant of the Groove" was a Tranky Do performance by the Jam Cellar crew.
"Opening JC Theme" is a very different variation of Dinah written and performed by the Jam Cellar Crew. It was recorded with some other tunes as part of the Jam Cellar's Yehoodi Radio Show a few years ago. If you click on that link, you'll find the lyrics to the song posted there. My favorite is the closing theme where I got Naomi to sing the web address.
|C Jam Blues||Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra||146|
|Sister Kate||Muggsy Spanier||151|
|The Viper's Moan||Mora's Modern Rhythmists||140|
|Are You All Reet?||Cab Calloway & His Orchestra||154|
|Watch the Birdie||Anita O'Day With Gene Krupa||164|
|Oo Poppa Do||Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers||171|
|Jump Through the Window||Roy Eldridge||156|
|Smooth Sailing||Ella Fitzgerald||130|
|Lawdy-Clawdy||The Cats & The Fiddle||150|
|Blue Suit Boogie||Indigo Swing||173|
|Lavender Coffin||Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra||132|
|Swing, Brother, Swing||Count Basie & His Orchestra; Billie Holiday||152|
|Lindy Hoppers' Delight||Ella Fitzgerald||196|
|Beyond The Sea||Royal Crown Revue||129|
|On Revival Day||Laverne Baker||150|
|Love Me Or Leave Me||Nina Simone||167|
|Yacht Club Swing||Fats Waller||168|
|Hold Tight||The Andrews Sisters||190|
|Shout Sister Shout||Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra||144|
|I Didn't Like It the First Time||Julia Lee||160|
|Gang Busters||The Cats & The Fiddle||188|
|Sixty Minute Man||Dominoes||128|
|Chant Of The Groove||Fats Waller||180|
|Shake That Thing||Wynonie Harris||139|
|See You Later, Alligator||Bill Haley & The Comets||158|
|Stop! The Red Light's On||Anita O'Day With Gene Krupa||172|
|Twenty-Four Robbers||Fats Waller||200|
|My Baby Just Cares For Me||Nina Simone||118|
|Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me||Sidney Bechet||143|
|Darktown Strutters' Ball||Alberta Hunter||170|
|Opening JC Theme||The Hot Club de Jam Cellar||210|
|Gimme A Pigfoot||Laverne Baker||122|
|Dark Eyes||Fats Waller||160|
|Moten Swing||Oscar Peterson Trio||138|
|Hey, Ba-Ba-Re-Bop||Lionel Hampton||131|
|Shufflin' And Rollin'||Buddy Johnson||152|
|Shiny Stockings||Ella Fitzgerald||135|
|Take It Easy Greasy No. 2||Lil Johnson||145|
|Madame Dynamite||Eddie Condon & His Orchestra||188|
|Exactly Like You||Carmen McRae||136|
|Wade In The Water||Eva Cassidy||114|
|Frankie And Johnny||Sam Cooke||117|
|The Oogum Boogum Song||Brenton Wood||111|
|Youve Really Got A Hold On Me||Miracles||74|
|One Way Ticket||Aretha Franklin||85|
|Sweet Caroline||Neil Diamond|