The Loco-Motion

Album: LLLLLoco-Motion (1962)
Charted: 2 1


  • The husband-and-wife songwriting team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote this song. Little Eva was Eva Boyd, the babysitter - actually more of a nanny - being paid $35/week to watch their daughter Louise and clean the house. They were all young: Eva was 17, King 19 and Goffin 22. One day King came up with a melody that Goffin thought sounded like a locomotive, and when he saw Eva dancing with their daughter to the tune, he got the idea to make the song about a brand new dance - The Loco-Motion. He wrote the lyrics and they brought Eva to the studio and had her record the song as a demo - they were hoping Dee Dee Sharp would sing it. Their producer Don Kirshner thought Eva's vocal was just fine, so they named her Little Eva and had her record the song. The only downside for King and Goffin was losing their nanny: when the song became a million-seller, Eva was able to buy a place of her own.

    Gerry Goffin had actually had this song idea in the back of his mind for a couple of years, but had never found the right moment to bring it out. When he sat down to write it at last, he defended it to Carole: "This is going to sound stupid, but what the hell." Don't all the biggest fads start out that way?
  • That saxophone solo was performed by Artie Kaplan, who was also the contractor for the recording session. Kaplan was a song plugger in Aldon Music's publishing department and also Aldon's Music Contractor. Among many other things, he was the one who discovered Tony Orlando while eating lunch at the diner across the street from the Brill Building. As songwriter Barry Mann's roommate, he was there to see the beginning of Mann's relationship to songwriter Cynthia Weil.

    Describing the sessions for this song, Kaplan told Songfacts: "I contracted the 'Loco-Motion' recording session and cast the two other musicians who I thought would be right for the date, namely Buddy Saltzman on drums and Charlie Macey on guitar and bass. I played five saxophone overdubs on baritone sax and tenor sax plus the solo part on the session to fill out the feel of a larger orchestra. Carole King played piano on the date and also wrote the arrangement, while she and The Cookies (a female R&B group that recorded for Aldon) added their brilliant vocal backgrounds. And of course there was the wonderful vocal by Eva Boyd, all under the direction of Gerry Goffin and a most able sound engineer Ron Johnson at Dick Charles Recording studios in New York City.

    In those days demos were recorded in mono. Meaning that every time the musicians played a different orchestral part or the singers sang an added harmony, the engineer had to bounce the original track to a second machine while balancing the preceding part along with it. This process, known as overdubbing, was quite common in the early days among songwriters seeking inexpensive studios in which to record their songs to audition for music producers and music publishers.

    I only mention this bit of history because I hesitate to think of how this recording would have survived, but for the excellent work of the sound engineer Ron Johnson and the masterful job he did mixing a 'smash hit' record, overdub by overdub, and he never received a thank you for his effort.

    So, I'll do it now, for everyone who simply forgot. Thank you Ron Johnson for mixing 'The Loco-Motion,' a piece of musical history. For without you, we would all be nothing.

    Much love to you, wherever you are,
    Artie Kaplan"
  • When the demo of this song was completed, Artie Kaplan took it to Cameo-Parkway, but Cameo producer Bernie Lowe listened to the opening for all of sixty seconds before squeaking the needle off the record and saying "I didn't hear the hook," turning it down cold. Kaplan just shrugged and took it back to Aldon. Lowe's exact facial expression, upon hearing this song come out of the radio later as a #1 hit by July of '62, is forever lost to history but we're pretty sure it must have been memorable. And that's how this song became the first single put out by the newly-formed Dimension Records, spawned from Aldon Music.
  • "Loco" means "crazy" in Spanish, implying that the dance was a crazy motion.
  • In 1974, this became an unlikely #1 US hit for Grand Funk, who did a rock version of the song. It was just the second time a song hit #1 for two different artists - the first was "Go Away Little Girl" by Steve Lawrence in 1962 and Donny Osmond in 1971. That song was also written by King and Goffin.
  • A cover of this song was the first hit for Australian singer Kylie Minogue. Released in 1987, it was the biggest-selling single of the '80s in Australia, and her only hit (#3) in the US until 2002, when she struck with "Can't Get You Out Of My Head."
  • The genesis of this song might have been "Uptown" and "Spanish Harlem," two songs produced by Brill building alumnus Phil Spector. According to Rich Podolsky's book Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear, when these hits charted, Al Kirshner of Aldon Music didn't get what the popularity was with them, but told his songwriting staff, "Write some more of those songs that I don't understand." The other impetus was of course "Mashed Potato Time," by Dee Dee Sharp, part of the "mashed potato" song fad at the time as referenced in the entry for "Mashed Potatoes." Kirshner called his top writers into the office and announced that there was nobody hotter than Dee Dee Sharp in 1962, and that producer Cameo-Parkway was looking for a follow-up hit. So he charged his staff: "Let's give them a song they can't turn down."
  • The promotional photo for this single features five of the people involved posing around an actual locomotive train engine: Producers Don Kirshner and Al Nevins on the left, founders of Aldon Music, songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King on the right, the writers, and lead singer Little Eva, in the front with one foot up on the train like she's keeping it parked so it doesn't roll away. The photo graced the cover of Cashbox magazine.
  • The song was covered by Canadian ska-punk band, The Johnstones, with the title of "Locomotion" for their 2012 album SUCK. Their guitarist Jarek Hardy told us they decided to record their own version, as, "it's just a fun song." He added: " We always thought it would be funny to do a song that has a dance. We tried it on one of our previous albums. We made up a dance. But we've really thought it would be funny to bring back an older song. We were just di--ing around in the studio. It was more of just us in the studio screwing around and just being like, hey, what sounds awesome? And we kind of threw it on there last minute."
  • King credits Little Eva for coming up with the famous dance. "Though 'The Loco-Motion' alludes to dance movements, neither Gerry nor I had envisioned an actual dance," King recalled in her 2012 memoir A Natural Woman. "Eva had to invent one for personal appearances. Standing beside a locomotive for publicity photographs, with 'The Loco-Motion' playing on loudspeakers, Eva moved her body that day in imitation of the arm that drives a locomotive, and a dance was born."

Comments: 13

  • Tim from Bloomington, IlAnybody know how they got that heavy sort of smashing tambourine sound with the drums? Did they just stick a couple of tambourines together and set them on the drum kit? It reminds me of a Motown song where they dragged or struck a set of tire chains. Oh, it's Dancing in the Street:
  • Paul Mason from Liverpool, EnglandI have heard a story that the singer was Carole King herself but she was told the song sounded black (African-American )and she decided to ask Eva Boyd to be the "face" of the song. No doubt Eva could sing, and did so live and had a short and successful career. Sadly she only made it to 60. Eva Boyd RIP.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaThanks so much for doing that aritcle. Often wondered who some of the musicians for the Brill Building recordings were. Could never find any info.
  • Babbling Babette from Tulsa OkI love this record by Little Eva. I knew it from my first hubby's record collection. He was much oler than me & he grew up in the Sixties and loved all the dance-crazes (The Bird, Watusi, The Twist, Mashed Potato, Fly, Pony, Twine, Jerk, Monkey, etc.). I recall he was a big Dee Dee Sharp fan & he had her LP "All The Hits By Dee Dee Sharp" that had a much better version of The Loco-Motion on it. As history goes, the song was composed for Dee Dee Sharp in hopes she'd record it, but the VIPs at her label, Cameo-Parkway Records, turned it down. What fools! Then Litte Eva & The Loco-Motion became famous. A lot of history behind this record & song. My ex-hubby got me interested in Early Sixties rock which is definitely different from that of the Late Sixties. I've heard that Little Eva Boyd passed on from terrible health problems, but Dee Dee Sharp is still an R&B star in Philadelphia. And a big thanks to Barry of Sauquoit, NY for all the wonderful background info.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyConcerning the next post below; on the same March 3rd, 1965 'Shindig!' episode Little Eva also performed "Let's Turkey Trot"; it had entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 two years earlier on January 27th, 1963 at position #82; and seven weeks later on March 17th, 1963 it peaked at #20 {for 1 week} and spent 10 weeks on the Top 100...
    Besides this record and "The Loco-motion"; she had two other Top 100 records; "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby" {peaked at #12 in 1962} and "Old Smokey Locomotion" {reached #63 in 1963}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 3rd 1965, Little Eva performed "The Loco-Motion" on the ABC-TV program 'Shindig!'...
    Three years earlier on June 24th, 1962 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #86; and on August 19th it peaked at #1 (for 1 week) and spent 16 weeks on the Top 100...
    And on the same day it reached #1 on the Top 100 it also peaked at #1 (for 3 weeks) on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    "The Loco-Motion" bumped Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" out of the #1 spot on the Top 100; and the trio the Cookies sang back-up on both records (the Cookies biggest hit was "Don't Say Nothin' Bad (About My Baby)"; it peaked at #7 in 1963)...
    And on April 28th, 1974 Grand Funk's covered version of the song also peaked at #1 (for 2 weeks) on the Top 100...
    R.I.P. 'Little' Eva Narcissus Boyd (1943 - 2003) and Jimmy O'Neill (Shindig's host, 1940 - 2013).
  • Marcus from Columbus, OhAn underground comic book features the story of "The Birmingham Angel" aka Christine McKay, who came to Columbus, Ohio to find an 8 year old child named Michael Mercury & kill him off as a child before he grows up to be her assassin as an adult. One of her theme songs was "Locomotion" by Little Eva. At the final stand off at Garfield's Garage, The Birmingham Angel on November 8, 1963 met her opponents with her Chaos-powered, 1957 Plymouth Fury & Michael took up a partner named Bridget Lundgren, an exchange student from LA & she operated The Bulldozer named "Baby Huey". When McKay's car was totaled by Baby Huey, the last song played on the radio was "Locomotion" by Little Eva. The rest is history. McKay's Racial War was averted but two weeks later The Nation loses a President in Dallas. But "Locomotion" was McKay's favorite theme song.
  • Elmer H from Westville, OkThis was a great hit for Little Eva Boyd in '62. I was a kid back then & my brother bought the 45 rpm single. We saw Little Eva on American Bandstand. Much later I heard that Little Eva became destitute, yet made a comeback and was touring the Oldies Circuit a while. Then I heard she had passed away due to health problems. I loved this song and her follow-up "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby!" Plus, she had "Let's Turkey Trot" (1963) that was on the soundtrack of the great movie "Easy Rider." When I saw that movie, I was so surprised it was included in a late Sixties movie because by then the music "scene" had changed dramatically to more socially relevant music. Still, Little Eva left her mark on rock and roll history.
  • Bubblesk from Memphis, TnI still love hearing Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion" (written by Carole King & Gerry Goffin) from 1962. A #1 hit. And years later I bought Grand Funk's version too which had a funky guitar break. The song sure has a history! I remember hearing that the song's demo was taken to Cameo-Parkway Records in hopes of getting the red-hot singer Dee Dee Sharp to record it. Dee Dee had just hit the top with the 1962 million-sellers "Mashed Potato Time," "Gravy," and then "Ride!" But Cameo turned it down cold. When "Loco-Motion" hit #1 Cameo must've imploded! Not a good decision by Cameo president Bernie Lowe who made some terrible financial decisions later that domed Cameo-Parkway Records. Dee Dee Sharp, however, did record "The Loco-Motion" and included it in her 1962 album of party tunes on "All The Hits by Dee Dee Sharp." I bought that LP too & DeeDee Sharp's version had a bigger bass beat to her recording and since she had a stronger, trained voice she made the song come alive.
  • Barry from New York, NcLittle Eva's vocals sound rather uninspired and rudimentary. Anybody could have sung it better than her.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, Ny
    At the Beacon Theatre in NYC on July 3rd, 1976
    Bruce Springsteen makes a spur-of-the-moment stage appearance at the final night of Carole King's 3-night appearance, singing a rollicking duet with Carole on the evening's encore, "Loco-motion".
  • Tom from Green Bay, WiAs told by Carole King herself (on CBS Sunday Morning, 7/24/05): "Our babysitter (Little Eva) was cleaning around the house, humming and singing. I stopped her and said "We need to write a song for you." So we sat down...and did...and lost our babysitter!!"
  • Rene from Blaine, MnThe locomotion dance was created after the song came out.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

A Monster Ate My Red Two: Sesame Street's Greatest Song Spoofs

A Monster Ate My Red Two: Sesame Street's Greatest Song SpoofsSong Writing

When singers started spoofing their own songs on Sesame Street, the results were both educational and hilarious - here are the best of them.

Steven Tyler of Aerosmith

Steven Tyler of AerosmithSongwriter Interviews

Tyler talks about his true love: songwriting. How he identifies the beauty in a melody and turns sorrow into art.

Boz Scaggs

Boz ScaggsSongwriter Interviews

The "Lowdown" and "Lido Shuffle" singer makes a habit of playing with the best in the business.

Timothy B. Schmit of the Eagles

Timothy B. Schmit of the EaglesSongwriter Interviews

Did this Eagle come up with the term "Parrothead"? And what is it like playing "Hotel California" for the gazillionth time?

Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World

Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat WorldSongwriter Interviews

Jim talks about the impact of "The Middle" and uses a tree metaphor to describe his songwriting philosophy.

How The Beatles Crafted Killer Choruses

How The Beatles Crafted Killer ChorusesSong Writing

The author of Help! 100 Songwriting, Recording And Career Tips Used By The Beatles, explains how the group crafted their choruses so effectively.