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Production Breakdown: The Canz’ “2010 Hot Steppa”

Posted by Richard on 01/23/10 | Filed under Features, Production Breakdown, The Canz
I have a confession to make: earlier this week, when I was writing my review of The Canz' track, “2010 Hot Steppa,” I was holding out on you. While we all know that the record was a modern revamp of “Here Comes the Hotsteppa,” a '94 single that earned dancehall vet Ini Kamoze his first and only Billboard number-one placement to date, my research (see: wasting time on Wikipedia) revealed that the story behind 'Hot Steppa' – specifically, that of the “Na, na-na-na na...” hook that made the Salaam Remi-produced joint a smash – is quite a bit shaggier than I would have guessed. Not to mention, it's a prime example of a situation in which musical evolution is more than just a convenient analogy.

It all started way back in the early Sixties, when one of the hottest trends in the music game was dance records – you know, club bangers like “The Twist,” “The Mashed Potato” and “The Watusi.” In '62 ,an enterprising soul singer named Chris Kenner had the bright idea to cash in on that trend with a single centered entirely around name-dropping other hit dance cuts. Thus, “Land of a Thousand Dances” was born.

Though the intro, inspired by a spiritual titled “Children Go Where I Send Thee” was definitely creative, Kenner's original (as you may have noticed) was missing a certain key ingredient. Perhaps that's why it was only a modest success, peaking at #77 on the Hot 100. The singer's story didn't get much better from there; other artists were the chief beneficiaries of his two biggest records, “1000 Dances” and “Sick and Tired,” (Fats Domino's cover of the latter single was a success) and Kenner's contributions to the game have, for the most part, faded from the public consciousness.

“1,000 Dances", on the other hand, did make a lasting mark, thanks to the absentmindedness of Frankie Garcia, frontman of bizarrely-named Los Angeles rock group Cannibal and the Headhunters (whose unwholesome-sounding moniker didn't stop them from opening for The Beatles on the rock legends' second American tour). During a live performance of the record, Garcia forgot the words of the song, and came up with the “Na, na-na-na na” hook on the spot. Needless to say, his improvisation stuck, and the Headhunters' 1965 version of the track reached #30 on the Hot 100.

If the story ended there, however, I might not be writing about “Land of 1000 Dances” today. The record's real glory days came two years later, when Detroit rock/soul singer Wilson Pickett released his jazzed-up cover version, complete with Garcia's “mistake” as well as Pickett's own memorable “One-two-three!” intro. As well as hitting #1 on the R&B/pop chart, this version of the record hit #6 on the Hot 100.

Since then, everyone from Roy Orbison to Ted Nugent has put their own spin on “Land of a Thousand Dances.” (for a longer, but probably not exhaustive list, check out the song's Wikipedia page) Some covers dropped Pickett's intro, but all included Garcia's improvisation.

So, there you have it: a song fit enough to survive but not thrive in its musical environment, by virtue of a chance mutation and a few subtler tweaks, grew into a dominating force – and a tremendous reproductive success. In fact, that key mutation proved to be so advantageous that the section of musical DNA responsible can now be found in organisms wildly different from the original. Just like, say, having eyes is helpful to both fish and people, Frankie Garcia's improvised hook sounds just as catchy in Ini Kamoze's “Here Comes the Hotsteppa,” (and now The Canz' “2010 Hot Steppa.”) as it did in “1000 Dances.”

Cool, huh?

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