'Cause I couldn't dance.
You didn't even want me around.
And now I'm back,
to let you know,
I can really shake 'em down.”
As a teenager growing up in central Montana, dances were a very important social event. Whether at the high school, the local teen club, or the Eagles, these were opportunities to make it of break it with the local gals. And, as a teenager, the local gals were very high on my list of priorities.
But, sadly, I couldn’t dance. Not that that really mattered much. The key was getting up the gumption to just ask a girl to dance. And be prepared for rejection. Oh, they did say yes now and then. And those were good times.
The music was always part of it. Even if you couldn’t get a dance partner, you could still groove to the music. That’s right kids of today, we would GROOVE to the music. Sometimes it was just records and we took off our shoes to save the gym floor: sock hop. Other times it was local bands. Especially John Uribe and the Sultans. Lot’s of memories that I’m sure many from my time and place share.
Those six little spoken lines that I started this essay and the song that comes after were written by Motown CEO Berry Gordy, Jr. There is some controversy whether he wrote the song for The Temptations or originally for the group that had it as their one big hit. That would be The Contours.
Now I admit I probably heard it first covered by some NW band such as the The Wailers, Kingsmen, or Paul Revere and the Raiders. The song has been covered umpteen times and was even resurrected when it was used for the soundtrack of “Dirty Dancing.”
The Contours struggled throughout their career and this was there only really big hit, their third try. Funny about how they got into the business. A possible lesson for anyone on dealing with rejection.
Joe Billingslea and Billy Gordon founded a singing group called The Blenders in their native Detroit, Michigan in 1959. They completed the group with Billy Hoggs and Billy Rollins, who had responded to an ad placed in the local newspaper by Billingslea. The group soon added Leroy Fair (in place of Billy Rollins) and bass singer Hubert Johnson and changed the name to The Contours.
In the fall of 1960, the group auditioned for Berry Gordy's Motown Records. Gordy turned the act down, prompting the group to pay a visit to the home of Johnson's cousin, R&B star and Gordy associate Jackie Wilson. Wilson in turn got The Contours a second audition with Gordy, at which they sang the same songs they had at the first audition, the same way, and were signed to a seven-year contract. Get that, second audition, same as the first, but this time they got the job! Or was that Jackie Wilson’s doing?
The 1962 release of their third song with its shouted lead vocals from Billy Gordon and references to several popular dances such as the Mash Potato, hit #1 on Billboard's R&B chart and crossed over to #3 on the Hot 100 in 1962. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
Founding member Billingslea, now 77 years old, continues to perform with his group, The Contours with Joe Billingslea, which is among the acts featured in a DVD released by Motown in January 2007 called “Motown: The Early Years,” featuring its appearances on the Public Broadcasting System specials. In March 2010, The Contours were inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame. The band has released 15 singles, many of which charted although never higher than #16, although the ’88 rerelease of “Do You Love” me went to #11.
They have ten albums including a 2011 release and you’ll find their work on several Motown compilation albums. There have been various ventures by individual band members and a few law suites over use of the name, but then lawyers were always an essential part of rock and roll.
Le’ me see you dance.
He can’t dance.
You can’t dance.
Watch me now!