Dance Like an Egyptian, or Don’t

(Pictured: For two centuries, southern Illinois has sometimes been referred to as “Egypt.” To find out what that has to do with anything, read on.)

Fifty years ago, Martha and the Vandellas released “Dancing in the Street.” It first charted in August 1964 and reached #2 on the Hot 100 for the week of October 17, tucked in behind “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” by Manfred Mann. But it was #1 in many places, according to ARSA: New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Washington among them. It was widely recognized at the time as an emblem of the new consciousness of young people, especially young African Americans. Today’s it’s considered one of the pivotal recordings of the 60s, and is the subject of a pretty good new book.

But as we continue our monthly look back at 1964 as it was heard on WOKY in Milwaukee, we find that “Dancing in the Street” did not make #1 there. Neither did it reach #2. “Dancing in the Street” never appears on a WOKY chart, not even for a week. I’d love to know why.

Also not appearing on the WOKY survey, at least for the week of October 10, 1964: the Beatles. It’s the second Fab-free week in a row; “Matchbox” and “Slow Down” appeared on the September 26 survey but were gone on October 3. Such a thing isn’t unprecedented: the Beatles were absent from the WOKY surveys dated June 27 and July 4 as well—the first weeks without the Beatles since “I Want to Hold Your Hand” debuted on the survey January 11. The Billboard Hot 100, always a bit behind the street, shows “Matchbox” at #18 and “Slow Down” at #25 for the week of October 10. “A Hard Day’s Night,” which departed the WOKY survey after the week of September 19, falls to #50 from #24. But that’s all for the Beatles, unless you count George Martin and His Orchestra with “I Should Have Known Better,” from the American soundtrack of A Hard Day’s Night, which is bubbling under at #111.

The British Invasion continues, however. At WOKY, Manfred Mann, Chad & Jeremy (“A Summer Song”), and the Honeycombs (“Have I the Right”) are all in the Top 10; the Nashville Teens (“Tobacco Road”), Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, the Dave Clark Five, and Peter & Gordon are farther down the survey. On the Hot 100, “House of the Rising Sun” is still in the Top 20, and Gerry & the Pacemakers (“I Like It”) are at #41. “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks moves from #81 to #60, and the Zombies are at #101 with “She’s Not There.” Herman’s Hermits and Cilla Black are bubbling under, too.

Since July, the WOKY survey has been topped by a series of timeless classics: “Memphis,” “Rag Doll,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “House of the Rising Sun,” and “Oh Pretty Woman.” But during the entire month of October, the #1 song in Milwaukee was not quite so titanic: “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers. Only “I Want to Hold Your Hand” stayed longer at #1 to this point in 1964 (five weeks) and only the double whammy of the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” and “She’s a Woman” would equal its four weeks, later in the year.

All of this is introductory to what we really want to talk about: five other records on the WOKY survey that tell us something interesting 50 years later.

11. “Pearly Shells”/Burl Ives (up from 14). Many years ago, I knew a woman who said she was related to Burl Ives, and who had a memory of being a very little girl sitting on his knee. That could have been sometime around 1964, I suppose.

18. “Teen Beat ’65″/Sandy Nelson (up from 23). The vogue for drum records largely began and ended with Nelson, whose “Teen Beat” was one of the more unusual hits of 1959. “Teen Beat ’65” is a live remake.

21. “Good Night Baby”/Butterflys (holding at 22). “Good Night Baby” is a Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich song, and it’s possible that the Butterflys were made up entirely of Greenwich overdubs.

23. “The Dog”/Junior and the Classics (up from 35). This Milwaukee area band was led by Junior Brantley, later a member of the fabled Wisconsin band Short Stuff, and also a player with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Roomful of Blues.

33. “Gale Winds”/Egyptian Combo (debut). This southern Illinois band got on The Ed Sullivan Show after the regional success of “Gale Winds,” enlisted to fight in Vietnam, ended up entertaining the troops in “places Bob Hope wouldn’t touch,” and, according to this entertaining online biography, in the summer of 1963 they turned down a young musician who wanted to jam with them. Guy was in Illinois visiting his sister. Kid from England. Name of George Harrison.

6 thoughts on “Dance Like an Egyptian, or Don’t

  1. George Martin at No. 111 makes me wonder how much actual airplay coincided with a record’s place on the chart.
    I imagine No. 1 got played twice an hour … No. 50 twice a day … and No. 111, well, the night jock took it out once or twice to amuse himself after he did the weather.

  2. Yah Shure

    I loved “Gale Winds;” it was one of those oft-played “just before the news” instrumentals on WDGY. I did find this observation from the cited blog interesting:

    “Later, the band was picked up by Dot Records, which had better distribution than the more regional-oriented Norman Records.”

    Except that the Norman label was already being distributed by Dot at the time of “Gale Winds.” The copy of the 45 I bought in ’64 had a pressing flaw not evident until I saw a slightly discolored area in the vinyl that coincided with a marked dip in the treble frequencies each time it would pass under the stylus throughout the entire song. Took until the ’80s to track down a copy that passed muster. Took even longer to get used to hearing it without the intermittent muffling.

    “Rockin’ Little Egypt” on the flip is pretty decent, too.

    Was there an ordinance banning all street dancing in Milwaukee that didn’t involve polkas? Or was someone at WOKY exacting revenge upon Motown for a slight of some kind? Even the Motown-shy Twin Cities top-40s danced with the Vandellas.

  3. porky

    While a student at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Butch Nevious, the Combo’s drummer, was one of my instructors. The Egyptian reference was due to nearby Cairo (pronounced Care-OH). The linked article mentions almost signing with MGM but I have an MGM 45 of “Theme From Dr. Zhivago” by the band. Probably the best thing they did was an instrumental called “The Frog,” another Norman 45.

  4. Pingback: Not There | The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

  5. Egyptian Combo didn’t actually make it to the Ed Sullivan Show. They were scheduled, but I think they were bumped by the Beatles. I played with them for a couple decades after that debacle (and the other debacle in which they wouldn’t let George Harrison join them on stage in Benton Illinois)

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