On the surface, there’s not much difference between “The Loco-Motion” and “The Twist.” Both are pop songs promoting previously non-existent dances, with lyrics that devoted to detailing (albeit vaguely) the requisite motions. But what makes “The Loco-Motion” so superior to “The Twist” is the fact that it is the better song. “The Twist” starts with a basic 12-bar blues form and doesn’t do much with it. There’s no middle eight, no instrumental break, no clever lyrics – nothing to distract from the song’s repetitiousness. But while “The Loco-Motion” uses a standard pop song format as its launching point, note how Gerry Goffin and Carole King toss in a few tweaks. After the drums that kick off the track, the first sound on the record is a weird, flat drone, courtesy of some brass instrument. The drone doesn’t call much attention to itself, but it lays down the foundation for Goffin’s layered production. There’s the unexpected chord changes that bridge the more straightforward verse and chorus (“Do it nice and easy, now, don’t do it slow/A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul”), and the exaggerated syncopation (“come on, come on – DO the loco-motion with me”). On top of that, so many interesting parts – the backup singers, the handclaps, the horn break – click into place.
But perhaps the most charming element of the song is Little Eva herself. The old story goes that Goffin and King recruited their babysitter to record “The Loco-Motion” as a demo meant for an established artist, but the label liked her take so much that they released it as is. In actuality, the songwriters were already aware of Little Eva’s singing voice before they hired her. Nevertheless, it’s her raw phrasing, with its imprecise enunciation and distinct lack of professional sheen, that catches the ear. While the girl group genre had its share of strong, pure-toned vocalists like Shirley Owens and Darlene Love, much of its appeal stemmed from the idea that these singers could be your life. These are teenage girls, singing about the same problems that you have, who sound like just like you (only better). It’s the imperfections and vulnerabilities in their voices that make them believable. When Little Eva sings, you can trust that she knows the newest dance – even if it doesn’t really exist. 8
Hit #1 on August 25, 1962; total of 1 week at #1
76 of 975 #1’s reviewed;7.79% through the Hot 100