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,
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."