FREDDIE & THE DREAMERS: "Do The Freddie"
No, I'm not kidding.
Listen, man: The Greatest Record Ever Made doesn't have to be deep or meaningful. It can be; pop music is capable of transcending its commercial trappings and money-grubbing origins, able to soar into the heavens with a sound that thrills, a message that inspires, lyrics that open the mind, atmosphere and artistic accomplishment that touch the eternal soul. It can be art. It can be timeless. But it can also just be something that sounds nifty on the radio. The Greatest doesn't have to answer to any silly preconceived notion. It's great because it's great.
Virtually no one would list "Do The Freddie," a throwaway novelty number by the lower-tier British Invasion group Freddie & the Dreamers, among rock 'n' roll's essential singles. If some fluke in the rulebook mandated a Freddie & the Dreamers song for such honors, the selection would default to "I'm Telling You Now," a bubbly and irresistible pop confection that a ton of casual listeners would incorrectly attribute to Herman's Hermits. There would be no grassroots groundswell of support for something as trivial and inconsequential as Freddie Garrity doin' the freakin' Freddie.
But when the song plays...!
Maybe it's just me. Fine. It is just me. I don't care. When "Do The Freddie" appears on a nearby set of speakers, I want to turn the volume up to magnetic North. From its simple brass riff to its (mocking?) nyaa-nyaa backing vocals and its deceptively (if ersatz) soulful backing backing vocals, the chirp and bounce of "Do The Freddie" takes complete control of my world. No other song exists. There is but The Freddie. There is only The Freddie.
Freddie's band the Dreamers--guitarists Derek Quinn and Roy Crewsdon, bassist Peter Birrell, drummer Bernie Dwyer--had a gawky, awkward look and stage presence, seeming less like a rock 'n' roll combo and more like a bunch of guys from the office pickin' up instruments to play an inept but earnest approximation of The Big Beat at the annual company whoop-de-do. Rawk! On the other hand, leader Freddie Garrity appeared as a giddy, gleeful pixie, leaping about and laughing maniacally, a sugar-/caffeine-/adrenaline-/amphetamine-/magic razzafrazzin' dust-powered second cousin to comedy icon Jerry Lewis, but without Lewis' sober restraint. On stage, Garrity's stodgy but game co-workers the Dreamers did their level best to keep up with the goofy madman in front, kicking their feet up, swinging their arms up too, moving their heads both ways like they'd see him do.
Was it parody, a post-Merseymania (albeit from a Manchester group) lampoon of the choreographed moves of legendary British rockers The Shadows, an across-the-pond kin to uber-Caucasian Canadian act The Diamonds' willfully condescending hit bleaching of The Gladiolas' R & B ditty "Little Darlin'?" Was it all in good fun, a winking, amiable, self-aware update of Andy Hardy puttin' on a rockin' pop show? Neither? Both? I concede the plausibility of Freddie as parody, lean toward the hope of Freddie as celebration, and concede that reality may kick its own feet up somewhere in the middle.
Freddie & the Dreamers were stars in England, with three Top Ten hits--"If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody" (# 3), "I'm Telling You Now" (# 2), and "You Were Made For Me" (# 3)--in rapid succession from 1963 to '64, and a # 5 hit with "I Understand (Just How You Feel)" later in '64. Only "I'm Telling You Now" crossed the Atlantic for pop success, hitting # 1 in 1965. Freddie and his Dreamers made the rounds of American TV programs, doing the Freddie on Shindig!, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Merv Griffin Show. They made their U.S. television debut on Hullabaloo, a lip-synced performance in England, introduced by The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein. "I'm Telling You Now" was Freddie & the Dreamers' only Top Ten hit in the States.
"Do The Freddie" was the only other Freddie & the Dreamers 45 to invade the upper half of Billboard's Top 40, peaking at # 18 in 1965. It was not even released as a single in the U.K. It was plainly a cash grab, a mere novelty, cobbled together to capitalize on the hoot-inducing appearance of Freddie & the Dreamers doing whatever the hell it was they were doing while they warbled "I'm Telling You Now" on the telly...er, the tube. It was America, after all. The song was concocted by the American songwriting team of Lou Courtney and Dennis Lambert, and it wouldn't surprise me if you told me the recording itself was made in America, possibly with just Freddie Garrity and Yankee studio guys. The single would seem to be the very epitome of product.
Greatness can be more than its basic, unassuming intent. It can rise above questionable origin, become more than the crass sum of its nondescript parts. I do not mean to be an iconoclast when I confess that, on most days, I would rather hear "Do The Freddie" by Freddie & the Dreamers than any version of anything written by Bob Dylan (with the possible exceptions of The Byrds' sublime covers of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "My Back Pages"). And on some days, I would prefer "Do The Freddie" to any other great, great rock 'n' roll record. I remember once doing the Freddie with Maura Kennedy at a Screen Test show, giggling with delight as the group performed "I'm Telling You Now." I remember moaning with disappointment when my future wife Brenda recalled that she'd owned Freddie & the Dreamers' Do The "Freddie" LP when she was a kid, but that her copy of the album was long, long gone by the time of our courtship. I remember finally scoring my own copy of the song on the one-half of a double-LP British Invasion collection I dug out of the used bin at a Yonge Street record shop while honeymooning in Toronto in 1984. (Record shopping on my honeymoon? Well...duh.) I still have that. Even as I've since acquired a CD set of the best of Freddie & the Dreamers, I still have that second-hand partial Britboom retrospective, that incomplete treasure that first allowed me to play "Do The Freddie" again and again on my own turntable.
And I did indeed play it again and again.
Chubby Checker did a tie-in song called "Let's Do The Freddie." The Beas referenced the Freddie in their under-appreciated girl-group rockin' pop classic "International Girl" ("It's a hullaballoo and a shindig, too/Are you ready now to do the Freddie now?"). The "Freddie & the Dreamers" brand name would later be applied to "Susan's Tuba," a fab proto-10cc record with Garrity vocals. I love all of these, especially the Beas record. But "Do The Freddie?" Man! Hear the happy feet dancing to the beat of the Freddie. Don't be ashamed. Just laugh, and dance. It's the thing to do, kids will envy you, so do the Freddie.
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