The Story Behind the Song "The Loco-Motion" by Little Eva
"The Loco-Motion," by Little Eva
Whether everybody is actually doing it these days is debatable, but back in the summer of 1962 this song was guaranteed to have everyone up on the dance floor. The song was an early popular version of what we would refer to these days as a line dance. Like "The Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the lyrics actually describe the steps needed to perform the dance.
So, come along and learn about this "brand new dance."
"...You gotta swing your hips now
Come on baby
Well I think you got the knack, whoa whoa..."
Short Biography of Little Eva
Eva Narcissus Boyd was born in 1943 in a small town in North Carolina, the tenth in a family with 13 children. Her Grandpa was a church minister and Eva began singing in church when she was just a child. She and four of her siblings even had their own gospel group called The Boyd Five.
A visit to Coney Island to visit her brother and sister-in-law in the summer of 1959 gave Eva a taste of big city life. Eager to get away from the confines of Bell Haven NC, and hoping to get into the music business, she made her way back to New York as a teenager in 1960, where she worked as a maid on Long Island.
It so happened that Eva's sister-in-law knew one of the members of a girl group called The Cookies, and introduced Eva to them. Eva loved to sing, and whenever The Cookies had a gig and one of the girls couldn't get out of class to perform, Eva would stand in for them. The work didn't pay much and Eva wasn't called upon as a stand in often enough to make a decent wage.
With their lineup in flux, The Cookies needed help and urged Eva to audition for Don Kirschner and join their lineup. Don and his company Aldon not only produced records, they also had a number of songwriters working for them, including the husband-and-wife team Carole King and Gerry Goffin. It happened that King and Goffin were present when Eva auditioned for Kirschner, where she sang "Will You Love Me Tomorrow". Kirschner offered her the job with The Cookies. And, expecting their second child and needing a nanny for their daughter Louise, King and Goffin also offered her a job as a nanny. And so it was that she moved in with the Goffins and began her singing career.
Though she recorded a number of songs after "The Loco-Motion", she never achieved the success with the others that she had with that first big song. By 1971 she had retired from the music business and returned home to North Carolina, where she passed away at the age of 59.
The Making of "The Loco-Motion"
King and Goffin actually began writing the song with performer Dee Dee Sharp in mind. Sharp recorded four R&B hits in 1962, including gold record-selling "Mashed Potato Time" and "Ride".
King and Goffin knew that Eva could sing and dance so it seemed only natural that Eva should record the demo. They lined up a sax player, guitarist, bass player and drummer, and got Eva into the studio as soon as possible. King herself played piano and sang backup vocals on the demo, as did The Cookies. Kirschner loved Eva's voice when he heard the demo, and decided to release it exactly as it had been recorded by her with no changes to the arrangement. He even established his own record label, Dimension, to release the song.
A tiny thing at just under five-feet, the name "Little Eva" was the perfect stage name, and also made her appeal more to younger audiences who were the target for this dance-craze song.
Five Loco Facts
- The performer's professional name "Little Eva" was one that was used by her family anyway. She had an Aunt Eva who was known as "Big Eva", so she became "Little Eva".
- As a nanny working for Carole King, Eva was only about a year and four months younger than her boss.
- Eva's salary while working as a nanny was only $35 per week. She didn't own the rights to the song, and only made about $30,000 for her part in it.
- A promotional picture taken for the song appeared on the cover of Cashbox magazine. The picture included King and Goffin, producers Don Kirshner and Al Nevins and "Little Eva" all posing around an actual train.
- The video below was actually remastered to make it appear as though the entire song was captured live on film. In fact, only a short clip from the music show Shindig! exists.
Come on Baby!
"The Loco-Motion" Climbs the Charts
Released in June of 1962, the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 list at #86 the week of June 30th and peaked in the number one spot August 25th. The song would not attain the number one position again until 1974, when it became a hit for the American band Grand Funk Railroad.
Eva made enough money from the song to move into her own place, which was a dream come true. Her follow-up song that same year was "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby". Also written by King and Goffin, it peaked at #12 in December 1962. This was followed by "Let's Turkey Trot" in 1963 which got as high as #20 before falling back down the charts.
Unfortunately for Boyd, her name had become synonymous with dance music, so she wasn't offered a lot of good new material. She worked as a backup singer with The Cookies and others for a time, but by 1964, she simply wasn't top of mind when producers and writers were looking for singers. Like so many others, she joined the odd "oldies" tour through the '70s and '80s, but that was her only real remaining connection to the music business.
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© 2018 Kaili Bisson