Wednesday, May 09, 2007

“Shakin’ All Over” / The Swinging Blue Jeans


In 1964 I was just a dumb American kid who took whatever Top 40 radio, three TV networks, and Tiger Beat magazine sent me. The sudden influx of British groups was already overloading my circuits, considering what a neophyte music fan I was. I didn’t stop to wonder what other English bands might be getting lost in the shuffle. I heard on the radio the irresistible party song “Hippy Hippy Shake,” but did I have any idea who sang it? No.

Still, the fact that I didn’t “know” the Swinging Blue Jeans can’t stop me from enjoying them now -- their classic Merseybeat sound evokes the era just as powerfully as if I had actual 40-year-old memories of them. In England, at any rate, they were significant players: the first rock ‘n roll band to perform at the Cavern Club, they played the Star Club in Hamburg alongside the Beatles, and their stage presence was reportedly every bit as dynamic as the Fab Four’s.

Of course they got a recording contract when the record labels (all those suits who’d passed on the Beatles) went scrambling up to Liverpool to sign whatever talent was left. In 1963, “Hippy Hippy Shake” was hot enough on the charts to win them a spot on the very first Top of the Pops show -- where apparently they got in a fistfight with another group booked on the show, the Rolling Stones. Ah, yes, my heart warms to them already.

I had no idea that “Shakin’ All Over” was a minor track, never released as a single even in the UK, let alone in the States (though it was in Scandinavia). I certainly never heard the original 1960 UK record by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates; possibly the version I first knew was the Guess Who’s sluggish 1965 recording, or the Who’s amped-up cover. But somewhere along the way – in a movie soundtrack? In some friend’s dorm room? -- this is the one that got branded on my brain, a quintessential slice of early 60s British rock. It’s crisper and cleaner than those other versions, with a persistent ticking beat and a signature guitar lick cascading down the scale like a muscle spasm. Ray Ennis’s vocal is full of jittery tension, with a tinny quality enhanced by the spare monoaural recording. (Yes, there are tracks that sound better in mono.) It’s all part of the edginess, the rawness, that makes this track so compelling.

The lyrics aren’t much to speak of, practically the same thing in every verse: “When you move in right up close to me / That’s when I get the shakes all over me / [insert a clanging guitar flourish, woozy with feedback] / Quivers down my backbone / I got the shakes in my kneebone / Yeah, the tremors in my thighbone …” (cue up that old jazz number “Dem Bones”). I love how Ennis punches out the alternating high and low notes at the end of each line, like bursts of nervous energy. Then that propulsive beat jerks to a halt, the drum pounds twice, and Ennis’s echoey voice shivers succinctly: “Shakin’ all over.” Enter that diving guitar riff once more, and the giddy joy ride takes off all over again.

The Swinging Blue Jeans wouldn’t be the first band who deserved to make it big and didn’t. But the records are still around, and a reconstituted SBJ (still fronted by Ray Ennis) works the oldies circuits. Check out this clip of them performing "You're No Good" (puts Linda Ronstadt's cover to shame). They fire up my nostalgia neurons just fine.

Shakin' All Over sample


Anonymous said...

My dear Holly,

I feel loaded up with nostalgia neutrons reading this. I saw them live many years ago in Mallorca.
Fast and furious. Thank you for waking up my memories.


Holly A Hughes said...

Ever notice that this song is on the tape Ray Davies often has played before his shows? It always make me sit back and grin. For a moment, I'm content to wait to see Ray, so long as I've got this tune to listen to.

Wish I could have seen them in Mallorca with you! They always had a good fan base in Scandinavia, didn't they?

Anonymous said...

Holly! I heard they are doing a concert in Mallorca next week. Wanna come?