Little Eva

TrackAlbum
The Loco-motionLondon HLU 9581
Will You Love Me Tomorrow?The Loco-motion
Keep Your Hands Off My BabyLondon HLU 9633 A-side
Where Do I Go?London HLU 9633 B-side
Let's Turkey TrotLondon HLU 9687
Swinging On A StarColpix PX 11010
I Wish You A Merry ChristmasColpix PX 11021
Wake Up JohnL-L-L-Locomotion CD
Let's Start The Party AgainL-L-L-Locomotion CD
Mama SaidSpring SPR101 (US 45)

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Contributor: Peter Viney

Little Eva, aka The Babysitter, when I first suggested this Toppermost. Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s babysitter, Eva Narcissus Boyd. The myth is that they saw her dancing around the house and wrote The Locomotion for her, but that’s 1962 PR. Myth 2 is that she was 15. She was 17. Myth 3 is they asked her to do a rough demo, and decided to keep it. Carole King says they knew she was a singer when they hired her and had always intended to write for her. Another story is that she received $50 for The Loco-motion, a good pay day compared to her $35 a week wage as live-in babysitter, sharing a room with the baby. In fact, she was already working as a fill-in with The Cookies before The Loco-motion, and she did session work with them. Her voice is distinctive on Don’t Play That Song (You Lied) by Ben E. King. Even more, her voice is that first lone word “Chains!” in Chains by The Cookies. Little Eva has such a distinctive voice that she is seen as a solo artist, but throughout her sound is a “girl group” sound with backing singers. The Dimension Dolls LP in 1963 mixed it all up … The Cookies, Little Eva and Carole King. Twelve tracks. Four each. No doubt Carole King was on all of them.

Assembling her songs is easy if you can find the CD L-L-L-L-Little Eva: The Complete Dimension Recordings, because that has her LP, Locomotion, followed by all the early singles and B-sides, including the duets with Big Dee Irwin. So this is ten out of no more than thirty tracks. Little Eva was right there at Goffin and King’s extraordinary early 60s creative period, with first choice of some of their best work.

Little Eva was also my first sit-down rock concert. She toured with Brian Hyland in early 1963. I remember her in a white dress with an almost spherical skirt, exploding onto the stage like a ball of energy. I guess against Brian Hyland doing his worst single, the C&W flavoured I May Not Live To See Tomorrow (I May Die Tonight Of A Broken Heart) there wasn’t a lot of competition. I know The Brook Brothers were support. Now Google brings up the programme of the package show, and I gaze at it with no memory of The Chariots or Johnny Temple whatsoever. I see she was backed by The Rhythm & Blues Quintet Plus One. I wouldn’t be surprised if some went on to fame … there are no details on line. I’d guess they were more than a tad weak compared to the records, but I wouldn’t have known that at the time.

The Loco-motion. The hyphen is the preferred spelling (crazy-motion) but is often dropped, and the dance Little Eva later had to invent herself for TV shows is the old puffer train. The rough demo story is true. Producer Don Kirshner loved the demo and said it was good enough. Goffin and King did try to re-do it in a better studio, but just couldn’t get it to sound as good. The issued version is the demo, with overdubbed backing by Little Eva and Carole King to boost it. American #1, British #2, an all-time classic. The covers range from Grand Funk Railroad (US #1 in 1974) which I don’t like at all, to Kylie Minogue (US #3/ British #2) which I do like.

The Loco-motion LP contains the single, plus a round up of Goffin-King’s Greatest Hits so far: Some Kinda Wonderful, Run To Her, Up On The Roof, Sharing You, Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Two of those were written for Bobby Vee. Breaking Up Is Hard To Do was by Greenfield/Sedaka and Uptown by Mann/Weil. The album is a Brill Building primer, and often you feel it’s a simple gender switch on other treatments. Until you get to the last track, Will You Love Me Tomorrow. Goffin and King made their name with The Shirelles’ version in 1960, produced by Bob Crewe. It had a killer B-side too, Boys.

Even the title has a story. First pressings were labelled Tomorrow, but quickly changed to Will You Love Me Tomorrow? As everyone knows the actual words are Will You STILL love me tomorrow? That becomes the title on several versions too. Shirley Owens of the Shirelles didn’t want to record it. She thought it “country” but it was also too controversial. Some radio stations considered the message too explicit. It is obviously about “the morning after” and in 1960 this was a dilemma for girls in a way it’s hard to explain today. Not only was there no pill, but a “reputation” was something to be feared. For 1960, it was startlingly explicit. It’s a great song that Carole King still performs. It’s a song the female singers of the 60s were all drawn to … covers include Brenda Lee, Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield, Carla Thomas, Jackie de Shannon, Cher, Françoise Hardy, Linda Ronstadt.

But where does Little Eva come in? It’s taken so differently which is why it is a significant cover. It starts with sleazy saxophone which continues to wind right through the song. It’s a duet between vocal and saxophone … sex and sax. She takes it slower, less charged with anxiety than The Shirelles pleading version. Better? No, but certainly as interesting. My guess is that Goffin & King took her version further in their original intended direction.

The follow-up single, Keep Your Hands Off My Baby, was Goffin-King, and to me, just as good. It has the air of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound too. Not that it is, the instruments are all distinct. This one didn’t get covered. There are some versions of songs so perfect that there are few covers and this is one… Rescue Me by Fontella Bass is another. She has terrific power. Goffin and King wrote He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss) based on a story a bruised Little Eva told them, though in that case they recorded the song with The Crystals, not her.

It’s hard to describe Little Eva’s vocal individuality. It’s partly accent, but it’s also as if she has a mouth full of saliva sometimes. Where Do I Go was the B-side of Keep Your Hands Off My Baby and a track from Loco-Motion too. It’s straight Goffin-King teen angst, with the sort of lilting country rhythm that Shirley of The Shirelles had objected to, but instead of the whining plaintiveness, there’s something you can call soul imposed on top. Early country meets soul, perhaps. It also has me pondering the appeal of Jim as a boy’s name for 60s songwriters. I reckon it was the most popular name for a named person.

Johnny is so good-looking, Yeah!
Jimmy’s got a brand new car
Joey’s got lots of money … but …
I wouldn’t change you for a movie star.

She makes sense of it. That sleazy saxophone is still there, and the softly insistent piano is surely Carole King. Strings take the middle section.

One convoluted and somewhat silly dance deserves another. Shoo-shoo-gobble-gobble diddle-ip. Let’s Turkey Trot was the third Goffin-King A-side, and a much-covered one at that. The British B-side was Old Smokey Locomotion, and came right after Tom Glazer’s children’s classic On Top Of Spaghetti, which I prefer for a reworking of On Top Of Old Smokey. In America, Old Smokey Locomotion was a separate A-side.

Swinging On A Star. Little Eva didn’t get credit on this duet with Big Dee Irwin, which is ridiculous, as she is as much part of it as Inez Foxx is on Inez and Charlie Foxx duets, which this resembles closely. Like Inez and Charlie, it is based on a children’s song, just as Old Smokey Locomotion was. To the avid 45 collector, the Colpix label is one you always pick out of a box, because so many girl group classics were on Colpix. In Britain, I’d say 95% of Colpix singles you find are copies of Swinging On A Star.

The Trouble With Boys is considered a girl group classic, a Gerry Goffin-Jerry Keller composition. In Britain it was the B-side to What I Gotta Do (To Make You Jealous). I’m not crazy about it.

Let’s Start The Party Again. A nice combination, it has the party chatter at the start, think If You Wanna Be Happy or What’s Going On. Then it starts with a prolonged Well … in true Shout style. A great record and ahead of its time again. Having Goffin-King back on the case helps, and their sax player is there in the middle. It was an instant flop in the USA being released a week after JFK was shot. So, like Old Smokey Locomotion, it never had a British single release.

I Wish You A Merry Christmas. This is another duet with Big Dee Irwin, coupled with the The Christmas Song. It ranks with Phil Spector’s Christmas album, on which it would have fitted. Both flopped after the Kennedy assassination. It’s been on my Christmas playlist for years.

The label decided to push another dance craze on her with Making With The Magilla, an awful lyric but one which she gets through with some style.

Wake Up John was written by Chip Taylor, before he wrote Wild Thing and Angel Of The Morning. It can also be found on the Ace compilation Wild Thing: The Songs of Chip Taylor. It has a pre-echo of Angel Of The Morning, both in the opening riff and in the lyric Wake up John and tell me, that you really love me… It sounds to me as if John fell asleep right after the deed and she needs assurance. So it fits in a date sequence between Will You Love Me Tomorrow and Angel Of The Morning. It has very show-off drumming for the era too … and well played too.

The B-side Takin’ Back What I Said is also a Chip Taylor song. It was an American single just before the Dimension label collapsed altogether, and I didn’t meet it until the L-L-L-L-Locomotion CD release.

There are some later tracks which are rare. Stand By Me came in 1965. A good cover, but it has nothing new to add. She covered Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich’s British hit Bend It in 1966, in a strange version that sounds slowed up.

Luther Dixon’s Mama Said came in 1970. It was another The Shirelles had done. It’s a great song, and I think she improved it. Van Morrison quoted the line in the lyrics of Days Like This … a knowing line quote rather than a copy.

She retired in 1971, broke, and made a couple of comeback tours in the 80s on oldies packages, and died in 2003 at the age of sixty.

Little Eva biography (iTunes)

Check out all Peter’s music reviews at his website here.

TopperPost #361

1 Comment

  1. David Lewis
    Oct 6, 2014

    Didn’t know she’d died. A shame. What is it about Loco-motion that attracts lots of PR – it’s a great song, no doubt. It’s said that when (then Neighbours starlet with not much future beyond a quick buck) Kylie Minogue wanted to do it, Waterman was adamantly against it as it was his favourite song, but Kylie’s demo talked him into it. I shouldn’t believe it, it doesn’t make sense (at that point, Kylie was a different package to what she is now), but it’s a lovely story. Much like the ‘babysitter’ one ….

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