by Tony Maygarden
Updated 1/20/15 -- two new LPs added!
The Limbo craze took America by storm in the
early '60s. You couldn't go to a party
during this time without being forced to do the Limbo, or at least watch someone else do it (or try to do it).
The Limbo was often characterized as a dance, but it would be more accurate to call it the combination of a line dance
and an exercise set to music. You need good balance, strong ankle and leg muscles, and a willingness to embarrass
yourself in front of others to do the Limbo.
To throw a Limbo party, set up two
vertical poles with a horizontal bar, movable up and down,
between them. Like a high jump, except you're going under the bar, not over it. Start the Limbo music, form a
line (boy, girl, boy, girl), spread your legs, hop forward and go under the bar (your hands can't touch the ground).
As one might imagine, as the bar gets lower it starts to get pretty hard. If you touch the bar (or fall on your butt),
you get kicked out of line. Whoever goes under the lowest setting, wins, or is the life of the party, or whatever.
The Limbo purportedly started in Trinidad in the 1950's, and spread like
the plague to the USA, the UK and
and the rest of the world by the 1960's. Did the dance have its roots in slavery? From the liner notes to the LP
Limbo/The Latest Party Dance Craze (reviewed below): "The Limbo originated over a hundred (sic) years ago aboard the
ships transporting slaves from West Africa to England, the West Indies and America. Captive slaves were crowded into the holds
of the ships; their hands and feet were bound in chains which were, in turn, attached to an iron bar.
To limber up their stiff, cramped limbs (thus the term "Limbo"), the slave men and women devised a competitive exercise
to see who could pass beneath the iron bar without touching it." There is no source given for this rather unbelievable account.
According to the scant article on
the word may be a West Indian English derivative of the word "limber" (which you certainly need to be to do the Limbo),
but it may also have origins in the spiritual "limbo" of the Catholic Church.
The uncredited and unsourced liner notes of Chubby Checker's Limbo Party LP (see below), say the Limbo
dance was a ceremonial ritual whereby the dancer represented the soul of a recently departed friend or
relative on their way to heaven (or hell). Each pass under the bar meant a good deed that person had performed in life,
and put them closer to heaven. If the dancer falls early on in the dance, well...
Below is a look at Checker's Limbo Party, and nine more LPs released
to cash in on the Limbo
phenomenon, as well as a couple of historical curiosities:
Limbo Party - Chubby Checker
Checker had a Top 10 hit single with "Limbo Rock" (which kicks off side 2 of the LP) in 1962, and the Limbo Party LP was released that same year. "Limbo Rock" is credited to writers Sheldon-Strange. Other songs on Limbo Party include the Mann-Appell originals "La La Limbo," and "When the Saints Go Limbo In;" Calypso war-horses "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" and "Jamaica Farewell;" and a couple odd balls like "Desafinado" and "La Bamba." There are no producer or session player credits. In 1963 Checker released a less successful follow-up single, "Let's Limbo Some More," and an LP with the same name.
Limbo - Joe Houston
Saxman Houston released numerous dance oriented R&B LPs in the late '50s and early '60s, most of them on cheaply pressed budget labels like Crown (the Limbo LP above) and Tops. He also wasn't bashful about cashing in on pop music crazes -- in 1963 he released Surf Rockin' on Crown along with Limbo. There is some effort to come up with a shuffling beat that you could do the Limbo to, but some songs sound like R&B retreads with a "Limbo" title like "Limbo and the Blues " attached. "Limbo World" is a blatant re-working of Checker's "Limbo Rock." That song, and a couple of others including "Everybody Limbo," features Calypso style group vocals. The rest, including "Limbo Organ, " are instrumentals. No band, producer or songwriter credits.
Calypso Party - various artists including Frankie Anderson,
Calypso Mama, Lord Composer and The Mighty Panther
Limbo Party - "Ivy" Pete and his Limbomaniacs
Limbo - Lord Jayson and his Limbo Gang
Limbo Dance Party - Ernie Freeman
Edmundo Ros Plays the Limbo - Edmundo Ros
Limbo Rock - The Tides with The Merry Melody
Fire Down Below soundtrack - Muir Mathieson
Released in 1957, and reportedly filmed in Trinidad and Tobago, Fire Down Below features the song "Limbo Like Me" (not credited to Mathieson or anyone else). There's a fairly detailed description of the Limbo dance in the LP liner notes. I haven't seen the film (reportedly a real stinker), so I don't know if the Limbo is depicted on screen (one could only hope star Rita Hayworth gives it a shot). The rest of the soundtrack album features Mardi Gras music, the title song sung by Jerri Southern and star Jack Lemmon playing the harmonica!
Nina and Frederik - Nina and Frederik
This LP by the Danish folk duo (released in Britain in 1960 but recorded in 1958) contains the song "Limbo." It's essentially the same "Limbo Like Me" found on Fire Down Below, but with more political lyrics. The rest of the album contains songs that would become Calypso/folk standards like "Man Smart, Woman Smarter," "Jamaica Farewell," "Banana Boat (Day-O)," etc. According to the LP liner notes, young Frederik attended Trinidad University in the mid '50s to study agriculture, which is where he picked up his love of Calypso music.
Limbo Party - Southern Troipical Harmony Steel Band
Limbo rhythms played by a steel band. Great flaming crossbar cover! The graphics below are from the back cover.
Limbo - The Trinidad Serenaders
Another steel band outing. Right off the bat, the most striking thing about this LP is the one-legged Limboer in the cover photo. I'm sure the model really had two legs, but it looks like the right one may have been inadvertantly cropped out of the picture.