“Gentleman”, the first single by South Korean rapper Psy, below, since “Gangnam Style”, might yet gain another 1.5bn YouTube views, writes Paul Morley. But there have been plenty of other movers and shakers since pop dance crazes first went international in the early 20th century that have made me wish I could move as fluently.
On the line that led from Cab Calloway jitterbugging and Sammy Davis Jr flashdancing to Michael Jackson moonwalking on MTV, surely there is no choice but Jackson, for blurring all sorts of lines, and blurring his body. Before Jackson, though, there was James Brown, educating him about rousing showmanship. But even before Brown, there was Jackie “Mr Excitement” Wilson, teaching Elvis a thing or two about hip shaking and knee trembling. Nothing since, whether zombie Jackson, all-knowing Prince, slippy, sliding Usher, even Britney Spear’s recklessness and Lady Gaga’s roguery, would exist without Wilson. Things might have got slicker, dirtier, hip-hoppier, but Wilson made up the rules.
For starting a show with a climactic bang, little has outdone the opening to the Ike and Tina Turner Revue in the late 1960s. Shimmying Tina and her three electric Ikettes would blissfully abandon discretion and announce nothing is more important than pulsating performance. Next to Tina, Beyoncé, however well-produced, well styled and well loved, can appear a little too modest.
All boy bands must dance, it’s the law. But for how five singers moving in unison while singing in harmony about love and the like can be sheer genius, nothing beats the 1960s Tamla Motown Temptations. Their fluid, elegantly descriptive moves were designed by Motown’s house choreographer, vaudevillian tap-dancer Cholly Atkins, brought in by label boss Berry Gordy Jr to give racy soul music some reassuring Broadway polish – and to charm nervous whites.
Rock singers avoid choreography: they don’t dance in the traditional sense, but there’s always been great movement: Jagger, Iggy and Plant, the crazy cavorting of Happy Mondays’ Bez. Ian Curtis of Joy Division didn’t so much dance when he sang as desperately use his feet, arms and concentrated mental power to make sure the earth, and his mind, kept spinning.
Jimi Hendrix moved in mysterious ways just as he played in mysterious ways: Pete Townshend leapt out of his skin without missing a note. Chuck Berry’s duck walk inspired a thousand derivations, most notably Angus Young of AC/DC. In 1975, wild-eyed, neck- popping Wilko Johnson of charged up Canvey Island blues band Dr Feelgood careered around the stage like he was chasing demons, transforming Berry’s duck walk into thrilling, demented ballet.
Paul Morley is artistic adviser to ‘David Bowie is’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London