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:
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?
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…
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.
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.
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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.”