The Pop History Dig

“The Loco-Motion”
1962-1988

‘Little Eva’ Boyd of the 1960s shown on a later 2001 U.K. CD of her songs by Dimension recordings.
‘Little Eva’ Boyd of the 1960s shown on a later 2001 U.K. CD of her songs by Dimension recordings.
     “The Loco-Motion” is the name of a 1962 dance song recorded by a young artist named Eva Boyd, then known as Little Eva.  “The Loco-Motion” topped the music charts of its day, and later went on to future fame with two other artists – Grand Funk Railroad, an American rock band of the 1970s, and Kylie Monogue, the Australian pop star of the 1980s and 1990s.  It turns out that “The Loco-Motion” is one of a very few songs that managed to rise to the top of the popular music charts – to No.1, in fact – in three separate decades.

     In 1962, sixteen year-old Eva Boyd was working as a live-in domestic and babysitter for the famous 1960s songwriting husband-and-wife team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin.  King and Goffin were one of the teams that music publisher Don Kirshner had assembled at New York’s famed Brill Building, where a long list of successful pop music hits were hatched in the mid-1950s-through mid-1960s period.  In Little Eva’s case, some of her innocent on-the-job dance moves and singing while babysitting led to a Goffin-King song idea that became “The Loco-Motion.”  According to one 1963 story that ran in The Saturday Evening Post, the alleged “inventive moment” was reported to have occurred as follows:

A 45 rpm record of "The Loco-Motion," Little Eva's No. 1 hit of 1962, on the Dimension record label.
A 45 rpm record of "The Loco-Motion," Little Eva's No. 1 hit of 1962, on the Dimension record label.
“…While the lady of the house [Carole King], a girl only two years the baby-sitter’s senior, walked about the apartment bouncing her daughter to the rhythm of new melodies being born in her head, the baby-sitter [Eva Boyd] dusted, polished, cleaned and picked up to the same bounce.  Sometimes she even learned the songs and sang them almost before her employers had finished writing them…. And one day, as Carole sat conjuring up a new tune, Eva went so far as to invent a dance to it.  ‘What you’re doing reminds me of a locomotive!,’ exclaimed Carole’s 22-year-old husband [Gerry Goffin]…watching Eva dance.
     “Then, poof!  In a cloud of smoke—because Gerry was chained to cigarettes—he used his magic wand—a pencil—to write words on a pad.  Abracadabra!  And lyrics appeared describing Eva’s dance.  Sorcerers Carole King and Gerry Goffin had just conjured up a song called ‘the Loco-Motion’…”

“The Loco-Motion”
Lyrics: Carole King / Gerry Goffin

Everybody’s doin’ a brand new dance now
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
I know you’ll get to like it if you give it a chance now
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
My little baby sister can do it with ease
It’s easier to learn than your ABC’s
So, come on, come on, do the Loco-Motion with me

You gotta swing your hips now
Come on, baby jump up, jump back
Oh well, I think you’ve got the knack
Whoa, whoa

Now that you can do it, let’s make a chain now
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
A chugga, chugga motion like a railroad train now
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
Do it nice and easy now, don’t lose control
A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul
Come on, come on, do the Loco-Motion with me

[Instrumental bridge]
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Move around the floor in a Loco-Motion
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
Do it holding hands if you get the notion
(Come on, baby do the Loco-Motion)
There’s never been a dance that’s so easy to do
It even makes you happy when you’re feeling blue
So, come on, come on do the Loco-Motion with me

You gotta swing your hips now
That’s right
You’re doin’ fine

Come on, do the Loco-Motion
Come on, do the Loco-Motion
[repeat and fade out; background singers]

_____________________

     A somewhat similar account of the Little Eva/King/Goffin moment has been relayed by Vanity Fair writer, David Kamp:

Little Eva:  I wanted to be a recording artist—that was my dream.  Carole had one daughter, Lulu, and she was pregnant at the time [with her second daughter, Sherry Goffin, born in 1963].  And she asked me did I want to baby-sit.  So I said, “Well, yeah, because in between sessions I’m gonna need some money.”

Gerry Goffin:  She would always sing along to the songs we were writing in our little apartment.  I came up with the idea [to have her sing on the demo].  Ethnic voices were what was in.  Unsophisticated voices.

Carole King:  Eva sang, and I sang background with her.  And it was the first in a long line—right up to and including my next album—of demos that become masters.

Little Eva:  Gerry already thought that it would be a hit with me singing.  So he took it in to them to listen, Al Nevins and Don Kirshner.  And they listened to it, and you know, it just hit ’em.

Gerry Goffin:  For a while [after the song became a hit], she said, “Don’t worry, I’m still gonna work for you, I’m not gonna think about being a star.”  And then, two weeks later, she’s touring.

     Other accounts say the song, or something like it, was first intended for another singer named Dee Dee Sharp, who already had a big hit with her own dance tune, “Mashed Potato Time.” 

Little Eva shown at front of locomotive engine in 1962 studio promo photo with others, from left: Don Kirshner, Al Nevins, Gerry Goffin and Carole King.
Little Eva shown at front of locomotive engine in 1962 studio promo photo with others, from left: Don Kirshner, Al Nevins, Gerry Goffin and Carole King.
     In any case, Eva Boyd was taken to a New York city recording studio.  Originally it was intended that she serve as the singer only for the demo.  However, the demo worked out so well that it was released with a few overdubs as the single.

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“The Loco-Motion” — 1962

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     In short order, Eva Boyd became “Little Eva,” and by July 1962, a new dance tune, “The Loco-Motion,” had hit the streets.  By the late August 1962 the song was No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the R& B charts.  It was one of the top “girl group” hits of its day.  It stayed in the Top 40 for about 12 weeks and went on to sell more than one million copies, becoming one of the top hits of 1962.  Music critic Dave Marsh would later write in his 1989 book, The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, that “The Loco-Motion” was not so much a song as a sound – “some hand-claps, a baritone sax … there’s a triangle in there, and probably a piano, somebody chanting, ‘come on baby’.”  What matters in the end, he says, “is the wholeness of the thing, the unity of the little sounds that add up to one big sound that won’t let you sit still.”

CD cover for a Billboard “Top Hits of 1962” collection, which includes “The Loco-Motion.”
CD cover for a Billboard “Top Hits of 1962” collection, which includes “The Loco-Motion.”
     Back in 1962, meanwhile, Eva Boyd soon had her own four-room apartment in Brooklyn and took home some $30,000 in royalties from the recording (1960s’ dollars).  Carole King and Gerry Goffin also made about the same amount for their “Loco-Motion”songwriting.  Little Eva, however, did not have another No.1 hit, but she did have a few Top 40 hits including, “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” in 1962, also by Goffin-King.  This tune hit No.12 on the pop charts and No. 6, R&B.  (The Beatles performed a cover version of this song in January 1963 for the BBC, and decades later, it was issued officially on the Beatles Live at the BBC.)  In 1963, Little Eva also had another minor hit with “Let’s Turkey Trot” (No. 20 pop,16 R&B) and she also did a remake that year of Bing Crosby’s “Swinging On A Star” in a duet with Big Dee Irwin which hit No. 38.  She continued to tour and record through the early 1960s, but her commercial potential declined after 1964 as the Beatles and the “British invasion” took over the pop charts, ending the reign of many “girl group” acts.  Little Eva retired in 1971, but would later return to the oldies circuit.


Grand Funk Railroad, Classic Masters CD, which includes the 1974 version of “The Loco-Motion.”
Grand Funk Railroad, Classic Masters CD, which includes the 1974 version of “The Loco-Motion.”
Grand Funk’s Version

     In 1970, Grand Funk Railroad, an American rock band, was among the top recording acts then on the scene.  In fact, the group sold more record albums in 1970 than any other American band.  A long-playing hit single that year, “I’m Your Captain,” propelled them to fame with an album of the same name — especially with the help of FM radio stations, then playing longer-length songs.  Grand Funk also became a major concert attraction.  In 1971 they broke the attendance record set by The Beatles’ at Shea Stadium, selling out a concert date there in just 72 hours.  After the band hired musician Todd Rundgren to refine their sound, they produced two successful mid-1970s albums and two hit singles from those albums – “We’re An American Band” in 1973 and “The Loco-Motion” in 1974, both of which hit No.1 on the U.S. pop charts.

Cover sleeve issued in Spain by EMI for “The Loco-Motion” single, 1974.
Cover sleeve issued in Spain by EMI for “The Loco-Motion” single, 1974.
     According to one account, the group recorded “The Loco-Motion” on their Shinin’ On album almost as an afterthought.  Initially, they joked about it, but later considered doing the song as the Beach Boys had done with another older rock song, “Barbara Ann,” intending it to sound like a party recording with lots of hand clapping, etc.,.  Instead, it became one of their most successful singles. 

     Grand Funk’s version of “The Loco-Motion” was released in February 1974, rising to No.1 on the pop charts by March 9th, holding that position for two weeks and then remaining in the Top 40 for another 14 weeks.  Although Grand Funk retired in 1976, they would later re-group with some new personnel,  continuing to record and perform through the 1990s and more recent years.  Videos of the group performing their version of “The Loco-Motion” can be found on You Tube.


Cover from Kylie Minogue’s 12" vinyl recording of “The Loco-Motion” released in Australia, 1987.
Cover from Kylie Minogue’s 12" vinyl recording of “The Loco-Motion” released in Australia, 1987.
Kylie Minogue

     The third artist to have a successful hit recording with “The Loco-Motion” — a song that helped launch her into superstardom as a teenager – was Australian TV star and pop singer Kylie Minogue.  During an Australian football club benefit concert in 1987, Minogue performed the song “The Loco-Motion” and was signed to an Australian recording contract.  In 1987-88 the song was released in Australia in vinyl and CD versions as a synth-pop dance single and spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Australian music charts.  It also became the highest selling single in Australia for the 1980s.  Its success sent Minogue to London where she produced more hits and an album, rising to European stardom.  In the U.S. and Canada, however, her initial album did not do well.  But her single, “The Loco-Motion,” reached No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in September 1988 and remained on the charts for 13 weeks, selling more than 500,000 copies. It also hit No. 1 on the Canadian Singles chart. 

Cover of 1987 CD of Kylie Minogue’s version of "The Loco-Motion."
Cover of 1987 CD of Kylie Minogue’s version of "The Loco-Motion."
     In 2002, however, a Time magazine reporter looking back on the Minogue’s recording of “The Loco-Motion,” called it “a singularly unmemorable cover, the kind that gets resurrected a decade later with a visit from VH-1′s ‘Where Are They Now camera crew’.”  Still, the song appears to have played a key role in launching what became a giant singing career, with Minogue becoming something of an “Australian Madonna” in popularity, sex appeal, and business success.  In 2005, however, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but overcame her illness and was soon back on stage. According to the UK’s Times online, by her late 30s, Minogue had sold an estimated 60 million albums worldwide.

     With the song’s 1980s revival, “The Loco-Motion” had come full circle.  Original performer, “Little Eva” Boyd, was interviewed after the success of Kylie Minogue’s version.  Boyd stated that she did not like the newer version.  Yet, the song’s then-current popularity allowed Boyd herself to make a bit of comeback.  She returned to live performing with other artists on the oldies circuit, recorded some new songs, and also did some nightclub performing.  Little Eva continued performing until she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in October of 2001.  She died two years later at age 59.

'Little Eva' Boyd, 1960s.
'Little Eva' Boyd, 1960s.
     “The Loco-Motion,” meanwhile, born first of Boyd’s voice and the King-Goffin pen in the 1960s, had a very good run indeed.  Few songs can claim 40 years of currency and enough appeal to rise to No. 1 in three separate decades.  And beyond the three artists profiled here, a number of other groups have also done cover versions of the song.  Even Carole King, the song’s co-author, who became a famous singer in her own right, has performed the song during some of her concerts.  “The Loco-Motion,” with multiple decades of play and renewed life on at least three continents, is one of those tunes that generated a good return on its initial creative investment — for publishers, record companies, and performers.   Additional stories at this website on the history and business of music in pop culture can be found at the “annals of music” category page or in the archive.  Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 7 March 2011
Last Update: 14 March 2012
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “The Loco-Motion, 1962-1988,”
PopHistoryDig.com, March 7, 2011.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

CD Cover for "Honey and Wine: Another Gerry Goffin and Carole King Song Collection," 2009, Ace Records, U.K., featuring their 1960s’ hits.
CD Cover for "Honey and Wine: Another Gerry Goffin and Carole King Song Collection," 2009, Ace Records, U.K., featuring their 1960s’ hits.
Little Eva record cover for "The Loco-Motion."
Little Eva record cover for "The Loco-Motion."

Greg Shaw, “Brill Building Pop,” in Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke, with Holly George-Warren (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock n Roll, New York: Random House, revised edition, 1992, pp. 143-152.

“Pop Music: The Dumb Sound,” Saturday Evening Post, October 5, 1963.

“The Sound of the Sixties,” Time, Friday, May. 21, 1965.

David Kamp, “The Hit Factory,” Vanity Fair, November 2001, also at David Kamp.com

The Locomotion,”Wikipedia.org.

Little Eva,” History-of-Rock.com.

“The Loco-Motion by Grand Funk,” Song Facts.com.

Grand Funk Railroad, Official Web Site.

“Kylie Minogue and Michael Parkinson Lead List With Heroes of Summer Floods,” The Times, December 29, 2007.

Josh Tyrangiel, “Skin Deep and Proud of It,” Time, Monday, April 8, 2002.

YouTube video, Kylie Minogue, “The Loco-Motion.”

Richie Unterberger, Song Review, “The Loco-Motion by Little Eva,” AllMusic.com.

Dave Marsh, “Little Eva – The Loco-Motion, No. 55,” The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, 1989.

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