This seemingly innocuous song became one of the first great earworms, with the chorus of "Shimmy, shimmy, ko-ko-bop, shimmy, shimmy, bop" burrowing into our brains and refusing to let go.
Like many hits of this era aimed at teenagers, it's about a dance: the "ko-ko-bop." The third verse contains specific instructions:
Left foot forward, right one back
Bring them side by side
Syncopate your last two steps
Now you're gonna glide
The song is about a guy who is entranced by a "native" girl who shows him the dance.
This is based on a song called "(Shimmy Shimmy) Ko Ko Wop," which was released by a Pittsburgh group called the El Capris in 1956. That song was written by group members James Scott, James Ward and Leon Gray; it takes place on an island and has a Polynesian rhythm.
The Little Anthony & the Imperials version is a not-so-subtle rewrite, with just a tweak to the title and a change of setting for the verses. This version is credited as written by Bob Smith.
Various "Shimmy" songs followed: in 1960 "(I Do The) Shimmy Shimmy" by Bobby Freeman went to #37 US; "Shimmy Like Kate" by The Olympics made #42 that same year; and in 1962 James Brown hit #61 with "Shout And Shimmy."
This was the first uptempo hit for Little Anthony & the Imperials, who were known for their ballads "Tears On My Pillow
" and "So Much."
Little Anthony did not like this song, and would often disparage it on stage before performing it.