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#askNat – concerning The Beatles covering “The Hippy Hippy Shake”

This week on #askNat I am responding to Roger Tomlin of Augusta, Georgia who you may remember has sent in some really interesting questions in the past. Roger’s question digs into some good Beatles history this time around as well. Here is what he’s written in:

Hey Nat,
One of the greatest and most well known Beatles song never to be officially recorded was “The Hippy Hippy Shake.” Every reference book I’ve ever read or documentary I’ve seen has credited the original version to Chan Romero. And, that’s true. He wrote it and recorded the first version in 1959. However, I recall reading somewhere that Chan’s version isn’t the one that captured Paul McCartney’s fancy. Someone said it was a cover version by an early sixties Italian rocker by the name of “Little Tony.” As you know, every source consistently states the original version is by Chan Romero. But that’s as far as it goes. Do you have any light to shed on this and where would I find such an obscure Italian relic as this? 

Chow pisano,
Roger

Good question Roger! I did briefly mention in one of my Beatles Rarity of the Week posts back in 2010 (see here) that The Beatles might have been more familiar with the Little Tony version of “Hippy Hippy Shake,” but there are two sides of the story and so what follows is a few more details on this little controversy. “The Hippy Hippy Shake” is a great little rocker that Paul McCartney liked to cover with The Beatles (and even afterwards – see here). And yes! Chan is the composer and original performer of the song, having written the song in 1958 when he was only seventeen years old. In July 1959, he recorded it in Los Angeles for Del-Fi Records, who released it as a single in the US, UK and Australia. Australia was where it caught on, reaching #3 on their singles chart. Unfortunately it did not chart at all in the UK, where 16-year old Paul McCartney and his then-struggling band, The Quarrymen, happened to be. So could this mean that Roger is correct? it must have been Little Tony’s version that The Beatles heard first, right? Well, read on…

 

Picture sleeve for Chan Romero's 1959 hit single, Hippy Hippy Shake

Picture sleeve for Chan Romero’s 1959 hit single, Hippy Hippy Shake (click to enlarge).

Little Tony & His Brothers

Little Tony and His Brothers (click to enlarge).

 

During that same year over in Italy, Little Tony (Antonio Ciacci), recorded the song with his band Little Tony and His Brothers. Although he was closer to the home of the near-future Beatles, his version, while also put out on a single, likely remained unheard by the future-fabs either, considering that it failed to chart on the UK’s Melody Maker or Record Retailer charts. So when (and by whom), did The Beatles most likely finally hear it?

Unlike Chan Romero, Little Tony and His Brothers did receive some recognition in the UK soon afterwards. Tony’s hit record “Too Good,” written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman peaked at number 19 on the Record Retailer singles chart and 14 on the Melody Maker chart in January of 1960. Although it is possible, there is nothing to suggest that the moderate success of “Too Good” would have caused Paul or any of the other Beatles to take further notice of any other material by Tony.

The only sixties group to actually score a hit single in the Western World with “The Hippy Hippy Shake” was another Liverpool band by the name of The Swinging Blue Jeans, who took the song to #2 in the UK in Dec. 1963/Jan. 1964 (Record Retailer and Melody Maker charts). In fact, legend has it that in 1963 actress Sue Johnson, of the Brookside soap opera notoriety, bought Chan Romero’s version of “The Hippy Hippy Shake” in Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s NEMS record store, so that Ray Ennis, vocalist in The Swinging Blue Jeans could learn the lyrics. The Beatles didn’t get the idea to use the song in their stage repertoire from these guys though because The Beatles were already performing it much earlier than this.

 

The Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, 1961 (L-R: Pete Best, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon)

The Beatles at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, 1961 (L-R: Pete Best, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon)

 

On February 9, 1961,The Beatles started performing at Liverpool’s Cavern Club and actually opened for The Swinging Blue Jeans (then known as The Blue Genes) at that first appearance. Cavern Club DJ at the time, Bob Wooler, recalls:

I’d been talking to Paul McCartney about American records in my collection and he’d borrowed Chan Romero’s “The Hippy Hippy Shake.” To my surprise, he featured the number on their first evening appearance.

Could Wooler have incorrectly recalled which record he had? I suppose so, but to my knowledge, no one that was around at the time has disputed him. The Chan Romero and Little Tony versions do not really differ much in style anyway, with Little Tony’s version being at a slightly faster tempo and Chan’s being a little more in the vocal style of Elvis Presley. In Philip Norman’s detailed Beatles biography Shout (Fireside Books, 1981), it is documented that “The Hippy Hippy Shake” became one of the climax points of The Beatles’ Cavern Club sets. This reference, along with a countless number of resources, cite the song as a Cavern Club favorite of the time.

The first recorded account of The Beatles performing “The Hippy Hippy Shake” was at Hamburg, Germany’s Star Club in December 1962, one year prior to The Swinging Blue Jeans release of the record. There have been several releases over the years of The Beatles’ Star Club recordings so this is not too hard to find (see a link I’ve included for Amazon listed below), although the fidelity leaves much to be desired. There are five recordings in existence of The Beatles performing the song for BBC radio. One of these, a July 10, 1963 performance recorded for the program Pop Go The Beatles, was released on the recently remastered Live At The BBC collection (Amazon link below). Other versions of “The Hippy Hippy Shake” by Chan Romero, Little Tony and even the 1988 souped-up Georgia Satellites cover can all be found on YouTube. A Paul McCartney version can be found here. Little Tony passed away on May, 27, 2013 from lung cancer. He was 72.

As far as the last part of Roger’s question concerning where to find a copy of Little Tony’s version of the song, I’ve noted that it doesn’t seem to be in print in the US at this time. I have located an mp3 version that can be downloaded from Amazon.com and I’ve included a link for it below (Amazon link #3).

That’s all I have on this one Roger. Thanks again for a great inquiry and to all for reading. I invite anyone to join in if you have something to add in the comments section below.


Thank you to everyone who has sent in their questions! Keep #askNat going by sending your questions to me in any of the following ways:

1) There is a contact form that you fill out right on the website where you can give your name, location, email address and submit your question. The form is right here and is the same form used to submit requests for BROWs (Beatles Rarity Of The Weeks).

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4) For you Twitter users, www.twitter.com/beatlesrarity gets you to the right place. Post your question and be sure to add “#askNat” somewhere in the tweet.


Here are some Amazon links to read more on, or purchase music related to this post:

1) Live At The BBC (Remastered) – 2013 2-CD/3-disc vinyl remastered 1994 compilation of Beatles performances on the BBC, including a great version of “The Hippy Hippy Shake” recorded for the Pop Go The Beatles program.

2) Hippy Hippy Shake – 2006 CD compilation of Chan Romero hits. The CD opens with his original 1959 version of “The Hippy Hippy Shake.”

3) Hippy Hippy Shake – download version of Little Tony’s rendition of “The Hippy Hippy Shake.”

4) Live at Star Club 1962 1 – CD collection of Beatles live performance recordings made in December 1962 at Hamburg Germany’s Star Club. Includes “Hippy Hippy Shake.”

5) 25 Greatest Hits – 2007 CD hits compilation by The Swinging Blue Jeans. Includes their #2 UK hit version of “The Hippy Hippy Shake.”

6) Essentials – 2006 hits compilation CD for the Georgia Satellites, featuring their 1988 studio recording of “The Hippy Hippy Shake.”

7) Beatles/Beatles-related Music: The Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

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5 Comments

  • Jim Peliksza says:

    Hi Nat,

    I agree with Bob Wooler’s memory, in that it was the Chan Romero version rather than the Little Tony version, for a few reasons.

    Firstly, Chan’s version is in the same key as the Beatles’ version. Since cover bands often learn from the records, they will typically choose the same key so they can get all the guitar licks right. Plus it is just a rush to be able to recreate what you are used to hearing and love. Sure, there are cover bands that do their own interpretations, but judging from the Hamburg and BBC recordings, it seems that The Beatles tended to go more for the reproduction rather than the interpretation.

    Secondly, there are a couple of vocal things that Chan does that Paul really nails almost perfectly in at least a couple of the BBC versions. The very beginning vocal of the song is phrased in a way that is really uncanny to Paul’s take on it. It’s something about the way he says the “for” in “for goodness’ sake”. I can’t put my finger on it, but when I first heard Chan’s original recording it really resonated with me. In addition to that, there is this “whoo” that he kind of “laughs” through a couple of times in the breaks. It is particularly strong at :43 seconds in and also at 1:24 of Chan’s version. Paul also does a fantastic job of capturing this little quirk when he performed it. Little Tony tries to do it as well, but comes nowhere near as close to Chan’s version as Paul does.

    Thirdly, and most glaringly, the guitar solo in The Beatles’ version is very close to the original Chas version, while Little Tony’s is only vaguely similar and very different in feel.

    Lastly, I think the fact that Bob Wooler actually had that memory should speak pretty loudly on the subject. I know our memories fade over time, but coupled with all of the above, I think I would tend to go with Bob on this one.

    I’d love to know your thoughts on it, given my observations. I have always loved The Beatle’s take on this tune, wherever they got it from.

    Keep doing what you are doing, Nat. Your posts and podcasts are fantastic!

    Jim Peliksza
    Atlanta, Ga.

  • Happy Nat says:

    Some good points indeed Jim. Thanks! Hopefully someone will ask Paul about this one of these days and we can settle it. It’s on my list of questions if I ever happen to get the opportunity.

  • Msm says:

    I just wanted to mention that, in 1958, British TV producer and impresario Jack Good saw Little Tony perform in Milano, at the Teatro Smeraldo, and was impressed enough to take him to England. Here Tony had his first UK hit with “So Good” and remained for a few years. In 1960, he even became a stable guest on Good’s “Wham!” show on ITV, where he appeared 9 times. So, maybe, it is possible that either live or on TV Paul saw Little Tony perform “The Hippy Hippy Shake”…

    Just some little food for thought, and let’s hope that one day Paul will settle this one.

  • Roger Tomlin says:

    Hi Nat,

    What a great response to my question. I wasn’t aware of the Bob Wooler connection in this. For me, that pretty much answers it. “Hippy Hippy Shake” was the one song The Beatles never recorded that would have been just the best. With a polished George Martin production, the results would have been in the same league as “Long Tall Sally”, “I’m Down”, “Dizzie Miss Lizzie” and many other rave-ups the boys did. However, it was never to be. I’m just glad, as all Beatle fans are, that we at least have several live performances to appreciate and enjoy. Thanks Nat for a great site with an always very informed view.

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