Land Of 1000 Dances is a song from the Sixties that has an interesting history and has been recorded by a variety of different artists.
In the early 60's dance songs were very popular in rock-and-roll. Following the success of Chubby Checker's The Twist, which had reached the number one spot in the charts on two different occasions, there was a proliferation of dance songs: the Locomotion, the Pony, the Mashed Potatoes and others. In 1962 songwriter/performer Chris Kenner decided to write his own dance song.
Kenner was from New Orleans. Following the lead of Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and others who had come before him, Kenner was a hard-working, frenetic singer, songwriter and performer. In 1961 he had written and recorded I Like It Like That, Part 1. The song made it into the top ten nationally [it returned to the top ten later in the 60's, in a cover version by the Dave Clark Five].
Kenner was inspired by an old spiritual that was sung in the South named "Children Go Where I Send Thee." It is a song where the narrator enumerates all the places where he can "send thee:" "Children go where I send thee, how shall I send thee ..." etc. Kenner took the song to noted New Orleans record producer Allen Toussaint and recorded it in 1962. It is interesting to note that in the popular version of this song Kenner's original introduction has been eliminated. That introduction, however, explains the title of the song. Nowhere in the lyrics is there any mention of a Land of 1,000 Dances, although many different dances are mentioned in the lyrics. The original introduction by Chris Kenner goes like this: "I'm gonna take you, baby, I'm gonna take you to a place. The name of the place is the Land of a Thousand Dances." It failed to chart; it was a bomb. But Kenner still liked the song and was determined to take it a little further.
So, he approached Fats Domino, hoping to persuade him to record it. That ought to get the song some attention. Domino agreed, with the proviso that he receive half the publishing rights and be listed as co-writer of the song. Kenner accepted the deal. Unfortunately, Domino was nearing the end of an incredible stretch of recording popular songs -- he put only one song in the top forty in 1962, and it wasn't Land Of 1,000 Dances.
A Chicago DJ picked up on the song, and it reached as high as number seventy-seven in the charts; ironically, this was Kenner's version, not Domino's. By 1965, the Beatles had inspired teenagers across America to form their own garage bands. These groups, many of whom were not very talented musically, were looking for songs that were easy to play. One such group, from the streets of East Los Angeles, picked up on the song and began to use it in their act.
The lead singer of this group was Frankie Garcia. As Garcia tells it:
At that time Rufus Thomas was singing a song called "The Dog," which I sang in our show. And on the album where Thomas sang that one, he also had Land Of 1,000 Dances. I learned the song the way they wrote it, but we changed the rhythm a little. We added a double drum sound which Stevie Wonder had just come out with on Fingertips. I wanted to do it to that beat; I thought it really sounded good. Now the original of that song, if you've ever heard it, is lyrics from beginning to end. Dances all the way through. Lots of lyrics. And on stage, I blacked out and couldn't remember the words. So I started ad-libbing, 'Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na.' After the show, the other musicians went 'What were you doing?' and I said 'I don't know.' And they said 'Well do it again, it sounded real good. Could you do it again?' Finally we got to where I could remember it, but didn't care about the words anymore. I just wanted to get to that 'Na na na na na.' Everywhere we went we got a great response to that song. And that's when I was approached by a guy named Eddie Davis through a group called the Mixtures, which was one of the first bi-racial groups around then. Eddie Davis wanted to send us into the studio. Now, I didn't know a thing about the studio. I was paranoid about all this technology. They couldn't convince me to go into the studio, until I found out a band called Little Willie and Thee Midniters had started singing Land Of 1,000 Dances and we found out they were going to cut the song themselves. So I figured I'd better go into the studio. Before you know it, it was a big hit. [Quote is from Bob Shannon and John Javna, Behind The Hits.]
Garcia's nickname at the time was Cannibal. The song was released as Land Of 1,000 Dances, by Cannibal and the Headhunters. It reached only number thirty on the charts nationally, but was picked up by many of the garage bands who were looking for songs that were easy to play and easy to sing. This helped to fuel the song's enormous popularity at high school dances and stage shows across the country. The following year, 1966, Wilson Pickett recorded the song for Atlantic adding his own style to it. It entered the top ten and was his most successful song ever.
Over the years Land Of 1,000 Dances has been recorded by many, many artists. In addition to Chris Kenner, Fats Domino, Rufus Thomas, Cannibal and the Headhunters, Little Willie and Thee Midniters, and Wilson Pickett, others who have recorded it include Tina Turner, Patti Smith, Tom Jones, and Junior Walker. Chris Kenner, who started it all, suffered a heart attack and died in 1976.
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