Readers recommend playlist: songs about fads and crazes

Short-lived dances and fashion gimmicks run through your suggestions this week – James Brown, Roxy Music and Sonic Youth all making an appearance

Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from your suggestions after last week’s callout. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly series works at the end of the piece.

Beginning our list – by popular request – is I’m the Man by Joe Jackson. Among many other crazes mentioned in this 1979 tune, Jackson claims to have given us the Hula Hoop. (Although I beg to differ – there’s evidence that kids were hooping in 14th-century England.)

Listen to the playlist on YouTube.

The plan for the rest of this playlist was to have no plan and just pick the songs I liked, but gradually a trend began to emerge, not only in the fads and crazes themselves, but in the negativity that many of these tracks stirred up.

For instance, I chose Willie & the Hand Jive by Johnny Otis because I’m a sucker for the Bo Diddley beat. At the time of its release in the late 1950s, rock’n’roll venues in England did not permit standing or dancing in the aisles, so instead they danced in their seats. At Otis’s concerts, the audience would be shown Willie’s hand jive dance so they could join in. Despite the song’s references to dancing, and despite the demonstrations of the dance during performances, would-be censors believed that the song glorified masturbation. I wonder why? Slightly less controversial, though still upsetting the prudish, is Hot Pants by James Brown. The garment went from homely Daisy Dukes to the sleaze of the adult entertainment industry as portrayed by Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver.

No such problems with our next number – Do the Strand by Roxy Music, which references a new dance (“There’s a new sensation / A fabulous creation”) but gives no instructions on how to do it – typical art school antics.

Brand New Key by Melanie is an innocent song about her memories of rollerskating when she was young, but that didn’t stop the Freudians from jumping on the lock and key elements of the song as being somehow symbolically sexual. It even led to the song being banned on radio.

The steps to our next dance need very little instruction. Stiff torso, rigid arms, legs together, jump. As Pogo Dancing by the Vibrators puts it, “Why move from side to side / When you can jump up and down?” Sid Vicious claimed to have invented the dance, backed up by Viv Albertine and Shane McGowan, who said that a leather poncho Sid wore to gigs prevented him from any form of dancing other than jumping up and down. Which brings us neatly to the Svengali of punk, whose magpie instincts led to Double Dutch by Malcolm McLaren – a song about the international skipping game based on a South African tune. Lawsuits ensued when Township jive group the Boyoyo Boys took legal action against McLaren over the similarity of Double Dutch to one of their own songs. Barristers were engaged before the matter was settled in favour of the band.

In Zoot Suit by the High Numbers, when Daltrey sings, “I wear zoot suit jacket with side vents five inches long / I have two-tone brogues yeah you know this is wrong”, it’s all about one-upmanship and style, but in Los Angeles during the second world war they were the cause of a series of what became known as the Zoot Suit riots. The suits were very popular with the Mexican-American youth, but because of the large amounts of fabric they used in a time of rationing, they were deemed unpatriotic, leading to attacks from white American servicemen.

Since the late 60s the ultimate aim for hippies has been a visit to Goa. Ain’t Going to Goa by Alabama 3 is having none of it. They ain’t trance dancin’ or chanting tantric mantra. They get all the consciousness they need at their local tabernacle.

The Beats were the antithesis of American culture in their time and were consequently stereotyped as criminal delinquents, among other things. The Beat Generation by Louis Armstrong is the theme song for a film of the same name – a sensationalist flick about a bad beatnik. Louis sings: “Now your lives don’t have a meaning though you’re living up a storm / You’ll do anything at all except conform”. Lifelong pot smoker Louis must have been laughing inside when he sang that.

Gimmix! (Play Loud) by John Cooper Clarke has the Bard of Salford observing consumerism: “Another day – another fad”, riffing off everything from a “skateboard panic” to “cushions that fart”.

Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls? by J.E. Mainer is a gentle lampooning of the religious criticism directed at the 1920s hairstyle. And finally, we have Pattern Recognition by Sonic Youth, inspired by the book written by one of my favourite authors, William Gibson, with a maverick trendspotter as its central heroine.

Not all songs appear on the Spotify playlist as some are unavailable on the service.

New theme: how to join in

The new theme will be announced at 8pm (BST) on Thursday 6 July. You have until 11pm on Monday 10 July to submit nominations.

Here is a reminder of some of the guidelines for readers recommend:


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