LIMBOMANIA!

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 Wikipedia,
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:

Chubby Checker - Limbo Party LP cover

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.

 

Joe Houston - Limbo LP cover

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 LP cover

Calypso Party - various artists including Frankie Anderson, Calypso Mama, Lord Composer and The Mighty Panther

This LP from Art Records has a 1961 copyright and features "The Limbo Song," by Frankie Anderson, with, according to the liner notes: "...Original lyrics by Leo Rost, entrepreneur and genial host of the world famous BLACKBEARD'S TAVERN in Nassau, Bahamas." Also featured on the LP are versions of classic Calypso songs like "Chinese Children," and "The Big Bamboo." With some risqué lyrics -- "NOT FOR AIR PLAY" cautions a notice on the cover. On the back cover is a mail-order offer for a party ready "LIMBO-RAK" for only $4.98!

 

Limbo Party LP cover

Limbo Party - "Ivy" Pete and his Limbomaniacs

This album is best known for its cover being included on the front of the RE/SEARCH Incredibly Strange Music book. Songs include: "Limbo Man," "Limbo All de Way Home," and over recorded Calypso chestnuts like "Jamaica Farewell," "Mary Ann" and "Man Smart, Woman Smarter." Hilarious, uncredited liner notes, warning: "do not try the flame bit on the pole...that is for real experts or drunks".

 

Limbo LP cover

Limbo - Lord Jayson and his Limbo Gang

Songs include: "Limbo Rock," "Limbo Wobble," "Jimmy Crack Korn Limbo," "Papa Loves To Limbo," and "Ali Baba Limbo." No liner notes, but this is obviously not a genuine Calypso band. It sounds like maybe a Rock 'n Roll garage band goofing around. The front cover photo, depicting integrated Limboers, is credited to the Jamaican Tourist Bureau.

 

Limbo Dance Party LP cover

Limbo Dance Party - Ernie Freeman

Veteran arranger/band leader Freeman tries his hand at the Limbo, west coast style. Songs include "Limbo Rock," "Limbo For Lovers" (based on Brahms' lullaby!), "How Low Can You Limbo, "Out On a Limbo," and a Limbo version of "Raunchy" (which was a Top 10 single hit for Freeman in 1957). Produced by Snuff Garrett. "Dance steps illustrated by Miss Natalia of Arthur Murray Studios, Hollywood, CA."

 

Edmundo Ros Plays the Limbo LP cover

Edmundo Ros Plays the Limbo - Edmundo Ros

Across the pond in England, Edmundo Ros, best known for his Latin pop sound on many British Decca/London label recordings, gets on board the Limbo bandwagon. Songs include: "Limbo Bar" (credited to Keating/Ros), "Chocolate Whiskey and Vanilla Gin," "The Funeral Undertaker," and "Gin and Coconut Water." Back cover has some stuffy liner notes, and photo illustrated directions (with same babe as on the front cover) on how to do the Limbo.

 

Limbo Rock LP cover

Limbo Rock - The Tides with The Merry Melody Singers

Even Nashville cats couldn't resist the Limbo craze. Recorded by veteran C&W producer Shelby Singleton. Songs include "Limbo Rock," "The Banana Boat Song," "Matilda, Matilda," and some odd non-Calypso choices like "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White," "Patricia," "Caravan," and "Tequila." Some Martin Denny-like jungle sounds are even thrown in. Two originals, "Let There Be Limbo" and "Midnight Limbo" have songwriter credits "Bradley, Moore, Harmon, Robbins, Kennedy, Stevens, Herston, Stoker, Randolph, Walker & Matthews" -- likely the session players and singers who adopted the names The Tides and Merry Melody Singers for this outing.

 

Fire Down Below LP cover

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 LP cover

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.