“The Loco-Motion” is a 1962 pop song written by American songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King. “The Loco-Motion” was originally written for Dee Dee Sharp but Sharp turned the song down. The song is notable for appearing in the American Top 5 three times – each time in a different decade, performed by artists from three different cultures: originally African American pop singer Little Eva in 1962 (U.S. No. 1); then American band Grand Funk Railroad in 1974 (U.S. No. 1); and finally Australian singer Kylie Minogue in 1988 (U.S. No. 3).
The song is a popular and enduring example of the dance-song genre: much of the lyrics are devoted to a description of the dance itself, usually done as a type of line dance. However, the song came before the dance.
“The Loco-Motion” was also the second song to reach No. 1 by two different musical acts. The earlier song to do this was “Go Away Little Girl”, also written by Goffin and King. It is one of only nine songs to achieve this feat.
King and Goffin wrote “The Loco-Motion” in hopes to have it recorded by Dee Dee Sharp who had a smash hit with “Mashed Potato Time”. Sharp passed on the song leaving the opportunity open for Eva Boyd who had recorded the demo. Her version was released and her name was changed to Little Eva. Boyd was actually Carole King’s babysitter, having been introduced to King and husband Gerry Goffin by The Cookies, a local girl group who would also record for the songwriters. “The Loco-Motion” was the first release by the new Dimension Records company, whose releases were mostly penned and produced by Goffin and King. There are two common versions of the song in circulation; one includes handclaps during the verses, the other has no handclaps. King performed the backup vocals in the recording.
In the United States, “The Loco-Motion” was the sixth most successful single of 1962 according to Billboard. It was also the third most successful single of 1962 in South Africa. In March 1965, Little Eva sang the song on the ABC-TV series Shindig!, and this is the only known video of her singing this song. A cover version of the song was recorded quickly by British girl group The Vernons Girls and scored the chart the same week as the Little Eva version. The Vernons Girls’ version stalled at No. 47 in the UK, while the Little Eva version reached No. 2 on the UK charts. It re-entered the chart some ten years later and almost became a top ten again, peaking at No. 11. The Little Eva version of the song was later featured in the David Lynch film Inland Empire (2006). “The Loco-Motion” is ranked No. 359 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
“The Loco-Motion” Myth
The widely believed story of how the song “The Loco-Motion” came to be is that Carole King was playing music at home and Eva Boyd was doing some chores and started dancing to it; the dance The Loco-Motion was born. However, this is not true. Eva Boyd was introduced to Goffin and King and they realized she had a good singing voice, so they had her record “The Loco-Motion”. Carole King stated this during an interview on National Public Radio (NPR) shortly after Little Eva died.
As the song came before the dance, there was no dance when the song was originally written. When the song became a smash hit, Eva Boyd ended up having to create a dance to go along with the song. Carole King stated this in her “One to One” concert video. In live performances of the song, Little Eva can be seen doing her version of the dance.
Another bit of the conventional lore is that she had received only $50 for “The Loco-Motion”. However, although she never owned the rights to her recordings, it seems $50 was actually her weekly salary during the years she was making records (an increase of $15 from what Goffin and King had been paying her as nanny). In 1971, she moved to South Carolina and lived in obscurity on menial jobs and welfare, until being rediscovered in 1987. She died of cervical cancer in 2003.
Top-40 DJ Dan Ingram has been quoted as saying that he believes the original “The Loco-Motion” was recorded by Carole King herself. Producer Pete Waterman has also stated he believes it is King singing on the recording. King can be clearly heard among the backing singers on the Little Eva recording.