Girl Groups No: 7 the Dixie Cups - Iko Iko / Chapel of Love
In the dead winter in we're heading for the sultry heat of summer in the deep south to New Orleans and the Dixie Cups.
They are interesting as they seem to be the complete opposite of Phil Spector's groups, often delivering a kind of deadpan vocal, as opposed to the Ronnie Spector or Darlene Love exuberance, deadpan that is underpinned by a kind of smouldering sullenness and ATTITUDE, baked in the midday heat of a hot Louisiana summer. The legend is that during a break in recording, lead singer Barbara Hawkins starting singing a song that had been taught to her by her mother, and people just grabbed the drum sticks and empty cups and started playing along and then someone suggested running the tapes. Half an hour later they had recorded the wonderful "Iko Iko".
Many, many people have recorded this since, many people have argued over what the words mean, even what language they're in - is it red Indian, New Orleans Creole, or central African patois, all of which have their exponents? - or who originally wrote it - there have been endless lawsuits over this too, but none of this adds to or takes away from the pure joy of listening to what sounds like a group of fourth grade Southern girls looking at you, challenging you, and singing a simple song that catches your heart, maybe because you feel there might be some deep historical reason why you don't understand what it means and they do.
Their biggest hit was, of course, the very famous "Chapel of Love", a US number one. This track was written by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry for the Ronettes, but at the last minute they decided to try their hand at being record producers themselves. Their inexperience shows, but the lack of production polish, coupled with the relative listlessness and attitude of the Dixie Cups' singing (already mentioned) produce a record of infinite innocence and simplicity but which still has that girl group sense of self-determination from the start as they sing unaccompanied:
Going to the Chapel and we're going to get married
Going (fingerclicking starts) to the Chapel and we're going to get married
Gee (intro light band and pair of horns) I really love you and we're going to get married
Going to the chapel of love
(Drums enter )
Spring is here, the sky is blue
Birds all sing as if they knew
Today's the day, we'll say "I do"
And we'll never be lonely any more
And on we go, we're all on the back seat of the school bus in New Orleans, swaying back and forth to the lilting melody, and we'll live happily ever after, and no-one's gonna stop us. Heaven! And ooh that smouldering heat again. You can almost hear the flies settling on the screen door.
Thank God Phil Spector didn't get hold of it or he'd have ruined it with overproduction!