The early 1960’s in rock ‘n’ roll was famous for their dance crazes, which in many ways was a reaction of the anti-rock hysteria that culminated in 1960’s Congressional hearings over disc jockey payola, a last ditch effort to destroy the music’s commercial prospects.

That campaign was closer to being successful than many people would like to believe, as even the biggest rock acts were drenching their records with string sections and chirpy white female choruses in an attempt to pretend they were respectable artists rather than degenerate rockers.

The dance crazes, led by the twist, helped to break down this opposition to rock ‘n’ roll because it could be passed off as novelties that adults could enjoy too. Since the records were instructing people how to do these dances, there wasn’t much time to complain about the music that went along with it.

But dance-specific records were nothing new, not even for rock ‘n’ roll, and while this one definitely didn’t start in rock, it’s worth noting they did jump on the bandwagon and did their best to hijack that bandwagon and take it across the tracks to the seedier side of town.


Shake A Leg
This is not the place to go back and trace every dance craze in music history if that’s what you were hoping for. Instead it’s simply enough for you to know they existed and more or less could be traced back to Vernon and Irene Castle, dance instructors who were credited with popularizing specific dances with catchy names like the Fox Trot in the 1910’s.

Like most music related fads, this was done in part as a gimmick to sell music, as if you got people interested in learning it, they’d need the music to dance to, whether records, sheet music or frequenting nightclubs.

Maybe some of the early rock dances, like the stroll, were a little more organic in nature, starting as a new way to dance to a specific record that wasn’t telling you HOW to do it, or even mentioning the dance in the lyrics, but by the time Twisting and doing the Bird, the Mashed Potatoes, the Watutsi and the Pop-Eye came along, we were back to them being quasi-advertisements with the dances as the enticement to buy the records.

The Bunny Hop wasn’t a rock-based dance even though it began in 1952 at a San Francisco high school. But obviously those kids were white and didn’t know what rock ‘n’ roll was – a pretty poor education they were receiving, if you ask me! The dance itself is quite possibly the single most ridiculous one ever created, a line dance where you hold the hips of the person in front of you, tap your feet on the floor and then hop forward and do it again.

Bandleader Ray Anthony immediately scored a huge hit with his song by that name, a song that is neither musically or lyrically appropriate for anyone over the age of seven.

However The Bunny Hop that Sax Mallard came up with in an effort to to capitalize on the publicity is a totally different song… for which we can be eternally grateful.

Say what you will about the silliness of ANY record so transparently shallow, but if the song itself holds up then maybe it’ll allow you to forget about the circumstances which brought it to life and allow you to focus on how it sounds instead. That’s a novel concept for these kind of things, I know, but somehow it’s one which Mallard actually manages to pull off and in the process, dare I say, might go down as the artist who kicked off the dance craze record in rock ‘n’ roll.

Nah, we’ll draw the line there, because nobody deserves that kind of slur against their name, especially for an effort this good.

Blood On The Dance Floor
The way this starts out, with Sax Mallard blowing up a storm in a way that’s both rhythmic and melodic, and slightly dirty sounding to boot, has you wondering why THIS record didn’t start an even better fad wherein hip kids stormed Balboa High School and beat the shit out of the dorks who had started the wussy pop-oriented dance by the same name that caught on across the country.

But while Mallard’s song, one he wrote himself no less, is infinitely better than the others under this title, it can’t quite keep up the frantic hellraising spirit it begins with, though it does take awhile for that slight drop in quality to become evident.

The song shifts into a very good grinding riff after that rip-roaring intro and so for the first twenty-five seconds everything is really jumping with The Bunny Hop, but then it starts to loosen its grip on you in a variety of ways.

First the tone shifts from one that has some bite to it to one that’s not bearing its teeth as much. Subtle, but noticeable. Then even as the tonal qualities pick back up, the first solo is too unfocused, blowing in every direction rather than aiming to elicit a gut reaction with something more concentrated.

It’s still pretty good though and at the one minute mark it heads back to more fertile soil for rock thanks to some great drumming and Mallard’s more emphatic blowing, as he’s getting a lot of grit from his alto, making it sound almost like a tenor at times. The squealing long held notes are pretty impressive too, giving you a reminder of the kind of gaudy displays that rock had built its reputation on back in the late 1940’s.

But the one ongoing drawback here are the backing horns carrying the repeating riff which are not forceful enough in their own right to hold their own against the freestyling of the lead. That’s where The Bunny Hop needs more power in its legs because while Mallard’s constantly changing up what he’s playing, their job is to keep the underpinning groove the same and without a deeper bottom to it, one that ironically would compel you to actually start dancing (and not the stupid hopping around either) it becomes more of just a showpiece record for Mallard than a communal record that it, and all dance themed records, claim to be.

But still, to think something this exciting came out of such meager origins shows that there might not be anything rock ‘n’ roll can’t overcome on its road to ultimate power.


Dance ‘Til You Drop
Let’s not get carried away with this, no matter how pleasantly surprised we are by the results.

It’s still a stupid dance and still a record done in response to a worse one popularized by white pop music. The Bunny Hop may transcend both of those things by leaps and bounds, but it’s not as if Sax Mallard – a talented saxophonist but only a sporadic visitor to rock ‘n’ roll over the years – suddenly realized where his best interests lay and was about to throw himself wholeheartedly into our field of endeavor in spite of the good returns he got on this at the time.


The flip side of this for instance, Accent On Youth, was anything BUT music for today’s youth who were increasingly obsessed with rock ‘n’ roll. Instead it was a saccharine tune played as if Mallard and company were wired for electro-shock treatments should they get too rowdy.

Though he’d continue spanning genres for the rest of his career, Mallard’s most inspired playing comes on rock records like this, showing that certain music brings out the best in anyone. We just wish he kept that in mind any time he felt the urge to get respectable.

One last word of advice… if you DO happen to dance to this record, don’t follow anybody else’s instructions on what to do out on the floor, just go wild like Mallard did and you’ll be alright. If you’re lucky you might be able to scare away the uptight white kids who came up with the idea in the first place while you’re at it!


(Visit the Artist page of Sax Mallard for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)