I bought this single not knowing anything about the group, but just from listening to the first minute and being blown away. I love the way it bursts into life, no slow intro or gradual build-up but a flying kick to the head before you've had any warning. It's a rip-roaring early 60s beat freakout, but who were the band?
I hadn't consciously thought about it, but I presumed they were a black group. Evidently so did a lot of people listening to American radio in the 60s, and this band of white cleancuts would play more black venues than white, including shows at the Apollo and with Ray Charles.
It wasn't necessarily the vocal sound that made me think it wasn't a white record so much as the looseness and kinetic energy of the track.
The very early 60s was a strange time, as rock n roll's first thunder rolled away and diminished and the world was unknowingly waiting for the Beatles to rejuvenate everything. Into the void stepped a lot of twee and sanitised Connie Francis pop, the sort of thing Radio 2 still loves to play in the daytime.
There were also a lot of dance-craze records. As a generation of white folks emerged who'd grown up with rock n roll, they came out on to the dance floor. It was still unknown territory so they needed a bit of instruction, hence records came out that would have specific moves. It also regulated rock n roll dancing and thereby made it less threatening. There was the Hitch-Hike, the Twist, the Watusi, the Mashed Potato, the Stomp and loads more.
And then once there was a hit record, every artist desperate for a hit - and not caring about much creative worth or any long-term prospects - would jump the bandwagon and do a new tune about the dance, telling us how all the kids love doing this all night long.
The Dovells were labelmates with Chubby Checker, whose The Twist had started the biggest dance craze of them all (even though his version was in fact a cover of a Hank Ballard track).
You name it, some bugger twisted it; Florida Twist, Peppermint Twist, Spanish Twist, everybody Twisting The Night Away even though Mama Don't Allow No Twistin'.
Oddly, that general 'sequels are never better' rule is bucked, and two of the best twist records are bandwagon jumpers, Twist and Shout and Chubby Checker's own Let's Twist Again (on which, incidentally, the uncredited backing singers are the Dovells).
Even though these were as unashamedly commercial as a toy given away with a Happy Meal, some of the tracks are genuinely great. As Julian Cope pointed out, the funny thing about rock n roll as an art form is that anyone can make it work; paradoxically, a facsimile of rock n roll is usually the real thing.
The Dovells grabbed on to the stomp bandwagon in late 1961 with The Bristol Stomp. Check out this vintage performance. Despite the suits and ties, the shit-eating grins and the hilariously sedate audience (I can laugh for hours watching a loop of the bit from 0.32 to 0.37), there is some real pace and verve. There's this thin veneer of corny choreography struggling to cover the volatile bubbling youth energy. They just don't stop moving, it reminds me of footage of the Two Tone bands.
See what I mean?
By the way, they claim that 'the kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol when they do the Bristol Stomp'. Does this mean the kids are rather blunt then? I mean, pistols can be pointy at best, but hardly sharp.
Whatever, that fizzing energy really burst through on You Can't Sit Down, everything good in them to the fore with a real wildness, jittering, pounding and then exploding, a contagious sense of raucous party that propels you skywards. It's one of those records that could be issued to hospitals - if a patient doesn't start dancing to this then it's time to pronounce them clinically dead.
The Dovells' lead singer and - when they took the occasional break from cover versions - main songwriter Leonard Borisoff quit in late 1963, and then came back in 65 with an utterly brilliant solo single. As Len Barry, he wrote and recorded 1-2-3.
I've known and loved that record since I was a teenager but, yet again, I'd not thought about it but sort of just presumed it was a black singer. It ranks right up alongside any mid-60s Motown and soul you can find, great production and even though it's a song of devotion there's such a gorgeous melancholic edge to his voice.
Motown also thought it was like their stuff. Specifically, they thought it was like Ask Any Girl, the B-side of the Supremes' Baby Love. Barry denied it, but Motown sued and the courts thought Motown were half right and split the royalties.
There is one bit you can spot, the chords dropping after the title's said, but really it was a bit harsh to have Motown trousering half the money. I find little sense in a world that takes royalties from 1-2-3 and My Sweet Lord but leaves Noel Gallagher alone despite using All The Young Dudes for not one but two big-earning hit singles (Stand By Me and Don't Look Back in Anger).
If you haven't already got it, go and get Len Barry's 1-2-3.
Meantime, roll back the carpet, get ready to air-sax and stick this one on.
[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones, sorry!. See 'Deleted Tracks' in the sidebar if you want this MP3 emailed to you]