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Little Eva Ruled the Music World 50 Years Ago

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Eva Narcissus Boyd’s big break came when she was recommended for a job as a babysitter by some background singers. Of course it helped a lot that the baby was Louise Goffin, the daughter of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame songwriting team, Carole King and Gerry Goffin.

The future Little Eva (1943-2003) was actuality a singer doubling as a babysitter to earn some extra income. Goffin and King asked her to sing on the demo of a new song they had written, “The Loco-motion.” They chose her mainly because she was available.

They originally offered the song to Dee Dee Sharp, but she turned it down. Sharp’s loss was Little Eva’s gain. Producer Don Kirshner liked Eva’s demonstration performance, plus he had just started a new label, Dimension Records. He chose “The Loco-motion” by Little Eva as the first release for his label and it proved to be a wise decision. It topped the Billboard Pop Singles Chart the week of August 25, 1962 and sold over a million copies. It also reached number one on the magazine’s R&B chart.

It was a cross between gritty soul and smooth pop, which proved just right for AM radio in the pre-Beatles era of the early 1960s.

There were a couple of oddities associated with the release. First, the singers who recommended her for the babysitting job provided the background vocals on the record. Second, it was a dance record without a dance. Little Eva had to make up a dance to satisfy the high volume of requests from music fans.

Little Eva’s career did not last long as all five of her chart singles came during 1962-63. By 1971 she was back in her native North Carolina working odd jobs until she made a comeback on the oldies circuit during the late-80s.

The song itself had a much more successful career than did Little Eva. Grand Funk Railroad took it to number one during 1974, making it one of very few songs to reach the top of the charts by two different artists. It almost reached number one a third time during 1988, when Kylie Minogue’s version peaked at number three.

Little Eva’s career may have been short, but she has the distinction of having had a number one song. Her “Loco-motion” may have only have spent one week at the top, but for seven days she ruled the American music universe 50 years ago this week.

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