The Freddie, or a Study in Cringe

The Freddie, or a Study in Cringe

Today we’re taking a break from more serious matters to enjoy a trip down the musical memory lane. We’re going to travel back to the mid-1960’s when rock-&-roll was at a bit of a standstill. The music had died on February 3, 1959, and it took almost exactly 5-years for anything truly substantive to make a claim on life, which is what the Beatles did when they landed at JFK and the youth of America went mad.

In the wake of the Beatles arrival the music industry did exactly what they’d done a decade before when Elvis had hit (and have been doing more or less ever since)—they scrambled to sign anything that resembled what was Popular, which in this case was any band whose members possessed a British accent. This led to what is known as the British Invasion, when America was flooded with Beatles-esque bands, most of whom were exceptionally similar, at least on the surface, most notably with their mop-top hair-cuts, matching suits, and poppy-vocals.

(To a lesser extent this also happened with the Stones and their grittier, more R&B driven sound, and lest we sound like we’re poo-poo-ing things we’ll happily note that many excellent bands took hold during this time, a short list of whom would include The Zombies, The Kinks, The Who, The Yardbirds/Led Zeppelin, and many others.)

But the real money was behind finding the “next Beatles,” and of the many groups who were promoted during this time today’s focus will be on Freddie and the Dreamers, whose big shot at stardom was a song called “Do The Freddie.”

I’m not entirely certain what Freddie and his dreamy friends were hoping for with “Do The Freddie.” My best guess is that they were envisioning a “Twist” type dance phenomenon that had succeeded so well for Chubby Checker in 19601

It can be challenging to evaluate a previous era’s music, to say nothing about an earlier period’s dance-craze. That is, it’s all too easy to roll your eyes and be snarky about the moves people used to dance to. Yet it’s essential to remember that many kids in the 60’s really did think it was hip to do The Twist in the same way that The Electric Shuffle was rad in the 70’s, the Macarena was a real thing in the 90’s, and only two years ago people were twerking (and odds are good some lonely teenage girl in Iowa is video-taping herself twerking against her bedroom wall as this is being written).

The point here is not to demonize Freddie and the Dreamers as much as to recall that in the murky kitchen that is popular culture (and especially the teen-culture of the late-50’s/early-60’s, which at that point was an almost-entirely new market) this is one of the many items that was cooked up and thrown against the wall. That it didn’t stick isn’t surprising; that someone thought it might is of note. So take a moment to check it out. After all, who knows—with some practice maybe someday you too will be able to Do the Freddie…

 

  1. Curiously enough, Checker’s version of “The Twist” is a note-for-note cover of a song originally recorded in the late 50’s by a guy named Hank Ballard. In fact, Checker’s version sounds so much like Ballard’s that the story goes when Ol’Hank heard “The Twist” played on the radio, he grew immediately excited because he thought, Hey, this is it! I’m finally getting played on the radio and people are digging it! Only later did he find out that it was not in fact him singing the song but Mr Checker…, and into obscurity dwindled Ol’Hank. []

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