Saturday, September 6, 2014

wacky tacky Tunes: How Low Can You Go?

By its very definition a fad is ephemeral, lasting only a brief moment, quickly to be replaced by the next big thing.  To be sure, the Limbo lollapalooza reached its zenith in the early 1960s.  It is incredible, however, that this particular fad has enjoyed a staying power heretofore unexperienced by many other dance crazes.

It's as simple as that!!!

As well as being the source for countless concussions and several segments on America's Funniest Home Videos, the Limbo continued to entertain my contemporaries at nearly every grade-school birthday party more than twenty years after its heyday.  With no knowledge of its origins or the identity of Chubby Checker, my theory that we enjoyed the Limbo at the hands of lazy parents who got out a broom and some old LPs and told us to "have fun," has the distinct ring of truth to it.  Maybe that's the secret to an enduring fad, setting the bar (both parenting AND Limbo) very low... 

Just a small sampling of '60s-era covers to Limbo albums

The physical manifestation of the 1950s calypso craze, Limbo dancing was born in Trinidad and made famous by "Limbo Queen," Julia Edwards.  Soon called to Hollywood, Edwards and her dance troupe brought the gravity-defying dance into the consciousness of the world via the Rita Hayworth/Robert Mitchum/Jack Lemmon vehicle, Fire Down Below (1957).

The undisputed Queen of Limbo, Julia Edwards

In spite of the immodesty inherent in dancing the Limbo (even the most demure photos of vintage Limbo, when shot straight-on, were enough to make me blush), it wasn't long before everyone - and their mother - was trying to contort his or her body into the most unnatural positions with the expectation of somehow successfully writhing/scooching under a stick suspended mere inches off the ground.  Edwards quickly upped the Limbo ante by setting the Limbo Pole under which she danced alight - the Flaming Limbo!  Novelty tunes written to accompany such dramatic Limbo performances also caught on like wildfire.

"Limbo Song" - Frankie Anderson (1961)

"Ali Baba Limbo" - Lord Jayson & His Limbo Gang

"Limbo All de Way Home" - "Ivy" Pete & His Limbomaniacs (1963)

The most successful Limbo-themed composition was of course, "Limbo Rock," interpreted by many, perhaps most-famously by the King of American dance crazes, namely Chubby Checker.  My earliest memory of this song was in the Tilted Acres scene of John Waters' ode to '60s teenage dance culture, Hairspray.

"Limbo Rock" - Chubby Checker (1962)

"Limbo Rock" - The Champs (1962)
Is admitting that I like this version a little better a Limbo taboo?

With myriad other Limbo songs like "Limbo Wobble," "Papa Loves to Limbo," "Limbo and the Blues," "Limbo Man," "Out on a Limb-o," "Limbo for Lovers (what an incredible feat of strength and dexterity that would be)," and "Let There Be Limbo," it was obvious that Limbo was a full-fledged, bona fide fad.

"Limbo" - Nina & Frederick (1960)
Denmark's dynamic duo

"Let the Little Girl Limbo" - Doris Day (1963)
I love that at the end of the song, she throws down the Limbo gauntlet to Mr. Checker.
But when she says, "Look out, Chubby, here I come," I prefer to think that she's talking to me.

By the time a craze reaches both Denmark and Doris (as well as becoming The Hokey-Pokey's dance partner on almost every children's album ever made), you know it has reached cultural critical mass.  It's kind of like having Pat Boone cover a real rock 'n roll song - when the squares (this coming from a Doris Day devotee and hardcore danish -pastry- fan) were in, the coolness of the Limbo was on its way out.  Although as I've said, it never really went away; for decades now, children and drunken people the world over continue to bend themselves in half backward as they clumsily attempt to shimmy under a glorified mop handle.

All the kids may be back in school, but summer isn't officially over for at least two more weeks.  With plenty of Limbo time left, I must ask, do you Limbo?  How low can you go?  In the world of Limbo, the depth to which Mr. Tiny can lower himself knows no bounds; I have resigned myself to forever being just one of the people holding the Limbo Stick.


Mr. Tiny


  1. I Google+ 1'd and played all of the YouTube videos. Greatly enjoyed it!