Friday, October 17, 2014
Hula-hoop songs of 1958-59
When the hula-hoop craze took off in 1958, the ensuing marketing (and buying) frenzy was compared to the Davy Crockett craze of 1955, which had every child in the nation wearing coonskin caps. In the grip of hula-hoop mania, county fairs held hula-hoop contests, novelty toy manufacturers sold wind-up hula-hooping monkeys, and recording artists piled on with records that were designed to cash in on the public's hunger for anything related to the hula hoop. The hula-hoop craze in music lasted only a few months, but hula hoops have been a standard item in toy stores ever since.
Although hoops like the hula hoop had been around for millennia, the Wham-O toy company introduced the plastic hula hoop in the summer of 1958. The toy's name coincided with a surge of interest in Hawaiian music and reflected the similarity of hoop users' gyrating hips to those of hula dancers.
Hula hoops were an instant smash and quickly became a benchmark of success in marketing. In 1959, a number of manufacturers optimistically touted their products as "the next hula hoop." In 1960, in advertisements for Ray Bryant's hit "It's Madison Time," Columbia Records described the dance of the same name as "the biggest epidemic since the hula hoop." Rolf Harris' "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" was also advertised in 1960 as the biggest thing since the hula hoop. None of these things was as big as the hula hoop, but the claim made for good ad copy.
The highest-profile hoop records were also among the first ones to appear. Georgia Gibbs recorded "The Hula Hoop Song," which gave her one of the last Top 40 hits of her career. The song was practically an advertising jingle for hula hoops and asserted that even 110-year-old people could use them. When I interviewed Gibbs, she was dismissive of "The Hula Hoop Song." "I had no say" in recording the song, she said, and expressed a dislike of novelty material in general. (She preferred to sing ballads.) Teresa Brewer covered "The Hula Hoop Song" and siphoned off some of Gibbs' sales. In France, Billboard reported, Gibbs' record was used "as an instruction guide to using the hoops."
Betty Johnson, who'd had an earlier novelty hit with "The Little Blue Man," cut "Hoopa Hoola (With a Hula Hoop)," which referenced a number of other hit songs of the day and reached Billboard's Hot 100. Steve Allen recorded a song called "Hula Hoop" and premiered it on his NBC-TV show in a lavish choreographed production. Maureen Evans gave hoop songs a whirl with her own version of "The Hula Hoop Song" and included a cover of Johnson's "Hoopa Hoola" on the flip side for good measure.
Pop vocal music wasn't the only genre in which hula-hoop songs could be found. Johnny McDowell and Grady Boles recorded the instrumental single "Hula-Hoop Boogie" b/w "Beat of the Hoops." The recordings were probably given those titles to capitalize on the craze rather than to reflect any real connection with hula hooping. J.D. Orr and the Lonesome Valley Boys entered the ring with a country boogie that was also titled "Hula Hoop Boogie" but was a vocal number; the lyrics said that the hula hoop was overtaking rock and roll in popularity. The Platters, an R&B group, recorded "Hula Hop," and the Frank Woharowski Orchestra served up some hula-hooping polkas on the album Hula Hoop Polka (pictured at the top of this post). David Carr Glover wrote a beginner's piano piece, "My Hula Hoop," that was sold as sheet music in 1958.
The hula-hoop craze wasn't confined to the United States, either. A number of hula-hoop songs appeared around the world in 1958. In Germany, Angèle Durand recorded a German-language version of "Hoopa Hoola" as "Hula Hopp," and rocker Ted Herold offered "Hula Rock (Roll, Rock 'n' Roll That Hula Hoop)." Austria's Hedi Prien (later a member of the Honey Twins) recorded a version of Teresa Brewer's "Hula Hoop Song" that was titled "Hula Hup." In France, Annie Cordy recorded "Houla Houp." In Finland, Olavi Virta released a two-sided hula-hoop single that included the song "Hula Hula Hula Hula Hula Hoop." And in Italy, Teddy Reno released a two-sided hoop disc that included the song "Tempo Di Hula Hoop."
As Christmas 1958 approached, the inevitable hula-hooping holiday novelties hit the shops. The Pixies (with Thurl Ravenscroft!) had "Santa's Too Fat for the Hula Hoop," which was released in December, with Thurl providing the booming voice of Santa. In the Chipmunks' chart-topping hit "The Christmas Song," released the same month, Alvin the Chipmunk expressed his desire to receive a hula hoop for Christmas. The Night Owls released "Loop the Hoop" on the NRC label, and Billboard's review called it a "[s]omewhat tardy" entry in the hoop sweeps.
The fad for hoop songs had mostly run its course by the end of the Christmas season, but a handful of hula-hoop records trickled out in early 1959. Hal Singer released "Hula Hoop Rock" on Time Records in the U.S., but most of the remaining hoop records appeared in other countries. Ana Maria cut "La Canción del Hula-Hoop," and Giorgio Gaber cut a version of "The Hula Hoop Song" for Italy. Thereafter, hula-hoop records were few and far between. Dave "Baby" Cortez released "Hula Hoop (Shoop Shoop)" in 1967, but—musically as well as thematically—it seemed like a song that had been recorded years earlier.
I can't immediately think of another popular toy that inspired such a rash of novelty songs. Neither the Slinky, the Frisbee, pet rocks, nor lawn darts made appreciable dents in popular music (although Ed's Redeeming Qualities recorded a great song about lawn darts). The actual "biggest epidemic since the hula hoop" in music would be the Twist craze, which dominated music from 1960-62 and continued to generate the occasional hit for two years thereafter.