Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Land of 1,000 Dances (and videos)

Wilson Pickett died seven years ago this month. He was known as The Wicked Mr. Pickett, a nickname that applied as much to his volcanic personality offstage as well as on. Guns, alcohol and problems with women haunted him through his too-short life. (He died at 64.)

His musical legacy included some of the greatest soul records of the century: "Mustang Sally," "In the Midnight Hour," "Ninety-Nine and a Half (Just Won't Do)." But his best work -- the most irresistible dance record I have ever heard -- remains the 1966 single "Land of 1,000 Dances."

Chris Kenner's 1962 original didn't crack the charts. Then Cannibal and the Headhunters, a Mexican-American band from East L.A., cut a slurry, hypnotic version in 1965 and added the famous "Na na na na na" refrain that every artist since has used. Pickett went to the top of the R&B ratings and a No. 6. position on the pop charts the following year, and nearly 50 artists or bands have covered it over the last half-century.

YouTube versions abound, of course, and I've watched -- well, more than I care to to admit. Here are five that got me out of my seat:

1) Pickett himself in 1966, blowing the roof off a concert venue with a brass-heavy band. The audience gyrates as much as he does:

2) Freddie "Cannibal" Garcia, almost certainly lip-synching, with the Headhunters on a TV dance show. (He sings flat in the same places he did on the record.)

3) Worldwide Wrestling Federation loonies of the early '80s do a version that degenerates into madness (with many added lyrics). Rowdy Roddy Piper, the Iron Sheik, Junkyard Dog and the rest rock out! Look for Meat Loaf playing drums, and extra points for knowing that Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart had been lead vocalist for The Gentrys, who had the top-10 hit "Keep on Dancin' " in 1965.

4) The Korean rock band Cho Seung-Woo and the Devils do an excellent (and serious) version punctuated by blasting sax and guitar solos. They sing mostly in fine English but toss in a little Korean, too. And they do a verse in falsetto.

5) Tina Turner. Need I say more? From Camden Palace London in 1987, when she could really bring it.

OK, one more. If your grandmother made you watch "The Lawrence Welk Show" growing up, you'll know why this mind-blowing video is the least appropriate "Land of 1,000 Dances" ever made. And why fringed jackets never caught on.


Unknown said...

Love Wilson Pickett. I was made to watch the Lawrence Welk show and that last video was painful!!