Clap your hands!
By Bob Pakes
“A clap is the percussive sound made by striking together two flat surfaces, as in the body parts of humans. Humans clap with the palms of their hands, often quickly and repeatedly to express appreciation or approval, but also in rhythm as a form of body percussion to match the sounds in music.”
In this topic, we’ll explore nine cool songs from the 50’s and 60’s by various artists, that all prominently feature handclapping. Interesting background info is provided of all these songs, but most of the talking will be done by the songs themselves. For this purpose, 12 audio files and 4 videos are included. So, grab a drink, sit back, and enjoy 30 minutes of rock ‘n’ roll handclapping!
There’s no better way to start a topic about rock ‘n’ roll handclapping, than with Gene Vincent And His Blue Caps, and Gene’s Clapper Boys in particular.
Paul Peek and Tommy Facenda were part of the Blue Caps between early 1957 and early 1958. The first Gene Vincent recording session Paul and Tommy participated in, produced Lotta Lovin’, a song that would reach number 13 on the chart and become the second-biggest seller of Gene’s career. Paul and Tommy provided backup singing and handclapping on Lotta Lovin’, which can be heard below.
Paul and Tommy were an indispensable part of Gene’s stage act during 1957, often drawing more attention than Gene with their routine of dancing, singing and handclapping. Click the image to the right to get an impression of a typical 1957 live performance. For a toned-down version of Gene and the Clapper Boys in action, watch this scene from Hot Rod Gang.
Gene Vincent And His Blue Caps | Lotta Lovin’
Little Bitty Pretty One
Little Bitty Pretty One was written and originally recorded by Bobby Day in July of 1957. However, Thurston Harris scored a number 6 hit with the song shortly after Bobby Day’s single had been released, which only managed to climb to the number 57 position.
In 1960, Frankie Lymon then released his version of the song, which reached number 58 on the Billboard chart, while Clyde McPhatter did the same in 1962, which peaked at number 25.
The tempo of the song was taken up a notch every time a new version was released. Interestingly, while Day, Harris and Lymon’s versions all featured serious handclapping, McPhatter’s version did not.
For comparison, below we have Thurston Harris’ version of Little Bitty Pretty One, as well as Clyde McPhatter’s.
Thurston Harris | Little Bitty Pretty One | with handclaps (released in 1957)
Clyde McPhatter | Little Bitty Pretty One | without handclaps (released in 1962)
Treat Me Nice
For the inevitable Elvis entry in this topic, we’ll look at the songs in his films from the 50’s, some of which featured handclapping while the record versions did not.
There’s a whole lotta clappin’ goin’ on in Love Me Tender (We’re Gonna Move), Loving You (Got a Lot o’ Livin’ to Do! and Mean Woman Blues) and King Creole (Dixieland Rock), but the Treat Me Nice scene in Jailhouse Rock is probably the most fun to watch from a handclapping point of view. One of this scene’s many highlights, is the positive energy of gum-chewing and handclapping-enthusiast Judy Tyler (who only barely manages to refrain from clapping for a second at the 01:14 mark). In sharp contrast to Judy’s enthusiasm, the man to her right seems to have never been so bored in his life! This scene, however, is most of all a testament to Elvis’ greatness in the 50’s: the voice, the charisma, the moves – they’re all here.
Elvis Presley | Treat Me Nice | movie version
You’re The One
On December 27, 1958 (only 5 weeks before his death), while home in Lubbock, TX, for Christmas, Buddy Holly visits local radio station KLLL. After having been challenged to write a new song in 30 minutes, Buddy not only writes the song You’re The One, he also cuts a quick demo of it. Helping out on this improvised recording, are KLLL employees Waylon Jennings and Slim Corbin. While Buddy sings and plays guitar, Waylon claps his hands and Slim slaps his knees.
You’re The One could be enjoyed in its purest form for the first time in 1964 on the album Showcase. In late 1968, Norman Petty then overdubbed the song with the help of The Fireballs. This version was released in early 1969 on Giant.
In the photo to the right, we see 21-year old Waylon Jennings, now playing bass for Buddy Holly during the 22-year old’s final show on February 2, 1959.
Get ready for 90 seconds of pure Holly magic, with Buddy on guitar, and Waylon and Slim adding ‘percussion’.
Buddy Holly | You’re The One | undubbed
Here we have Norman Petty’s overdub. This is not at all a bad version, and the handclaps are still there, but they are drowned out for the most part by an abundance of instruments. A good effort, but the magic of the original recording is definitely gone here.
Buddy Holly | You’re The One | overdubbed
Before the term “rock and roll” had even been introduced, Fats Domino had been playing exactly this kind of music for over a decade in his hometown New Orleans. By the time Elvis scored his first million seller, five of Fats’ singles had already gone past the one million mark. Fats Domino was also rock and roll’s first piano wizard, before Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis entered the scene. And in August 1969, Elvis named Fats Domino as one of his major influences when he started out.
Fats Domino recorded I’m Ready in January 1959 and it was released on single in April of the same year. The master take of the song did not include the handclaps that can be heard on this single since these were added later. Below we can listen to the undubbed and the overdubbed versions of one of Fats’ rockiest songs.
I’m Ready was released as a double A-side single with Margie. While both songs received equal promotion, Margie reached the number 51 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, I’m Ready managed to climb to the number 16 position. On Billboard’s list of artists charting with both sides of the same single, Fats Domino (24) is in third place, only behind Elvis Presley (51) and The Beatles (26).
Fats Domino | I’m Ready | undubbed (without handclaps)
Fats Domino | I’m Ready | overdubbed (with handclaps)
Don’t Bye, Bye Baby Me
Here we have a real nice handclapping treat!
In the Fall of 1959, Eddie Cochran recorded Don’t Bye, Bye Baby Me at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood, CA. Eddie and his crew only needed four takes to complete the song that would remain unreleased for over 25 years. When takes 2 and 4 finally saw the light of day in 1986, the fans were given a unique insight into an Eddie Cochran recording session, and since this song leaned heavily on handclapping, these takes fit perfectly within the theme of this topic.
Since 1986, the near complete session from that day, which included 12 takes of Jelly Bean, has become available (albeit spread over several different LP’s).
Doing the backup singing and handclapping during the session, were a vocal group Eddie had worked with frequently in 1957-1959, The Johnny Mann Singers,
When listening to the complete recording session at Gold Star, one immediately notices how in charge Eddie was of the whole recording process, from doing the count-ins himself to making sure that no valuable time would be wasted. We get a great taste of all this when listening to take 2 (which includes an interesting false start) and take 4 (the master take), both of which are presented below.
The photo to the left was taken in 1959 at Gold Star, but during a different session.
As soon as take 2 is underway, Eddie notices that the backup singers are not clapping. He’s being told they can’t sing and clap at the same time, to which Eddie replies “Well, let’s overdub it then”, before immediately moving on to the next take.
Eddie Cochran | Don’t Bye, Bye Baby Me | take 2, with false start
On take 4, a few handclaps can be heard throughout the song, but only during the sections that did not require background vocals.
Eddie Cochran | Don’t Bye, Bye Baby Me | take 4 (master take)
And here we have the end result: the master take, now fully overdubbed with handclaps.
Eddie Cochran | Don’t Bye, Bye Baby Me | master take with handclap overdub
Drip Drop, written by Leiber and Stoller, was first recorded by The Drifters in 1958, reaching number 58 on the Billboard chart. Dion DiMucci released his version of the song in 1963, taking it to the number 6 spot. Whereas the Drifters’ version does not feature any handclapping, Dion’s recording of Drip Drop is pretty much dominated by the handclapping sounds of vocal group The Del-Satins.
Dion, born in the heart of the Bronx in 1939, grew up on the streets of New York around the time New York was hailed as the world capital of doo-wop. Characterizing early doo-wop, are vocal harmonies, simple lyrics, little or no instrumentation, and of course handclapping. It must have felt like a natural thing to do for young Dion to be inspired by the countless doo-wop groups that populated New York’s street corners and discover his own talents.
For comparison, here we have both versions of Drip Drop:
The Drifters | Drip Drop | without handclaps
Dion DiMucci | Drip Drop | with handclaps
My Boyfriend’s Back
Not just the doo-wop groups, but also many of the girl groups in the 1960’s often incorporated handclaps into their songs. A good example of this, is My Boyfriend’s Back, a number 1 hit for The Angels in 1963. Outshining the group’s recording of this song, is their live performance of it on The Ed Sullivan Show that same year.
My Boyfriend’s Back is basically a sweet sounding song that is actually all about threatening someone with a savage beating, and what makes the Ed Sullivan performance so enjoyable, are the innocent smiles and gestures of the three angels that in no way correspond with the nature of the song’s lyrics. The entire performance is one big highlight, but a situation that deserves a special mention takes place at 01:43, when lead singer Peggy Santiglia suddenly breaks free from the group and claims center stage. Judging by the confused reactions of the two other singers (sisters Barbara and Phyllis Allbut), this appears not to have been rehearsed and most likely was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. My Boyfriend’s Back is number 24 on Billboard’s list of “Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time”.
The Angels | My Boyfriend’s Back | The Ed Sullivan Show (October 6, 1963)
If I Were A Carpenter
If I Were A Carpenter was released by Bobby Darin on 45 and on an album of the same name in 1966. The single reached number 8 on the Billboard chart.
Bobby’s studio recording of this sensitive Tim Hardin ballad, did not include any handclapping, and neither did any of his regular live versions of it. However, in 1969 Bobby performed a one-off uptempo version of If I Were A Carpenter in duet with Stevie Wonder on the Kraft Music Hall tv series, taking this incredible song to a whole other level. This electrifying performance can be viewed below.
The clapping in this performance, mainly serves the purpose of giving rhythm to the song, but towards the end, the clapping more and more becomes an extention of the energy that was generated by these two singers. Bobby basically throws everything he has into the song while Stevie is hardly able to remain in his seat. The chemistry between these two musical giants, is simply out of this world.
At the time of the duet, Bobby, even though only 32 years old, was in the Autumn of his career and only had 4 more years to live. Stevie, on the other hand, already very experienced with a dozen albums to his name, was still only 19 years young.
Bobby Darin + Stevie Wonder | If I Were A Carpenter | Kraft Music Hall: Sounds of the Sixties (January 22, 1969)
THANKS / CREDITS / ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
The record company ads that are presented in this topic, originate from the historical archives of The Cash Box.
The regular versions of the Bobby Day, Thurston Harris, Frankie Lymon, Clyde McPhatter, Gene Vincent, Elvis, Drifters, Dion, Angels and Bobby Darin songs, are available on a huge variety of CD’s and included on most of these artist’s greatest hits compilations.
Both versions of You’re The One are available on several collector CD’s, including the now hard to find Not Fade Away.
Both versions of I’m Ready, were released on CD by Bear Family Records on I’ve Been Around.
The complete session of Don’t Bye, Bye Baby Me was released on CD by Bear Family Records on The Ultimate Collection.
For an incredible overview of Eddie Cochran’s recording sessions, click here.
The most complete collection of photos of Eddie Cochran at Gold Star Studios, can be found here.
For an informative article about My Boyfriend’s Back by Jerry Reuss, click here.
A video of My Boyfriend’s Back that includes Ed Sullivan’s introduction, can be seen here.
When interested in the career of Bobby Darin, please consider Shane Brown’s Bobby Darin: Directions.
I’d say this calls for (another) round of applause…
Excellent article, as always. Thank you.
I would say the definitive version of “Little Bitty Pretty One” is the one by Thurston Harris, which by the way featured the great Earl Palmer on drums.
Harris’ early solo releases also gave us several killer, full tilt, rock & roll tracks, such as “Do What You Did”, “Be Baba Leba” and “You’re Gonna Need Me”. God bless Thurston Harris – and Echoes.
Great article Bob! Thanks for sharing, Judith.