Just the right spice BY: Jay Maxwell

March 10, 2012 by Jay Maxwell

LIKE A MUSICAL CHEF, YOU CAN CREATE A TASTY PARTY MIX WITH THE APPROPRIATE “SEASONING” SONGS141-330

The greatest joys in life are often from enjoying the simple things. For me, one such delight is sitting down in the evening to enjoy my wife’s home-cooked meals. Just the other night we had rotisserie chicken, fried squash, and everyone’s favorite, mashed potatoes. The smell alone was exhilarating and it was tempting to not wait until the blessing was over to bring the first forkful to my mouth so my taste buds could connect with the delicious food. It was also the first opportunity my wife had to use her new gravy boat, something that she had wanted for quite some time. Everyone, with the exception of our son Robert, took an ample portion of the brown gravy from the new decorative container to enjoy a tasty topping for the mashed potatoes. Robert, still a picky eater at age eleven, preferred to use ketchup for his tater covering. The conversation that ensued for the next ten minutes included the different options for enhancing an already marvelous dish like mashed potatoes, including how much salt to add or the oft-forgotten dash of black pepper. Thankfully, no meal ever consists of only gravy, salt or ketchup. Those would not be very satisfying served alone, but as duly noted above, they can certainly add flavor to what is actually being served as the main course when added in the right proportions. Too much salt can ruin the vegetable and not enough spice leaves one wanting for a bit more. The same is true for many of the songs on this issue’s list. Playing only these songs at a party would be like serving ketchup, claiming that it is a vegetable. But mixing these songs in just the right amount can add flavor to the evening’s main entree of dance music. A great DJ, like a veteran chef, knows how to pull the perfect spice from the shelf, add it at just the right time, and turn an ordinary event into an unprecedented experience.

Take, for example, some of the most requested songs from the list, “The Chicken Dance,” “Rocky Top,” or “The Hokey Pokey.” These songs are not your typical dance songs, but are at times just the necessary ingredient needed to add a little fun to the event. Although many a bride has given explicit instructions to us that those three songs (and others on this list) are NOT to be played at her wedding reception, some clients, including some brides, have specifically stated that these songs MUST be given a spin sometime during the party, on top of the regular dance songs. Just like some people don’t like gravy on their potatoes and others want to pour it right into the middle of the white mound because they have different tastes in food, people also have different tastes in music.

We give our clients a list of almost 2,000 songs to begin their song selection for an event. Of course, we don’t limit them to just these choices, but we try to get an idea of their taste in music based on their initial requests. Though many of the songs on this issue’s list could also find a home on a different list like country (“I Walk the Line,” “Elvira,” and “Five O’Clock Somewhere”) or a sock hop/oldies format, like James and Bobby Purify singing “Shake a Tail Feather” or “Yakety Yak” by the Coasters, we group them on a page called Just4Fun.

Some tunes have a dance unique to the song. When a DJ plays Sugarhill Gang’s “Jump On It,” those that know the song will mimic the dance moves made famous in the television show Fresh Prince of Bel Air when Will and Carlton entered a dance contest. Perhaps it is only at a youth event that a DJ would want to bring out the limbo pole, but when he does employ the stick, “Limbo Rock” will be expected to shoot from the speakers. Australian singer Kylie Minogue 1988’s “Loco-Motion,” or the original version by Little Eva, can’t be played without a train forming on the dance floor and chug-chugging around the entire perimeter of the room. When a few folks want to kick up their heels and swing, Jump, Jive, and Wail or “Zoot Suit Riot” will wear them out and woo onlookers to the dance floor.

At times during a party, people will request a song, not to dance to, but to sing along to and perhaps raise their glass up high in celebration. “Red Solo Cup” by Toby Keith is one of the newest additions to this category of songs. We’ve all had a red Solo¨ brand cup filled with our favorite beverage at a party before, and now every DJ is getting a request for this new impromptu sing-along that symbolizes the good times associated with the humble plastic container. Only time will tell if this new tune will remain more requested than other time-tested “let’s get in a large group on the dance floor and sing as loudly and as badly as we can” standards like “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” and “Life Is a Highway.”

Being a mobile disc jockey is a lot like owning an all-you-can-eat buffet. We realize that everyone’s tastes are different. While kids like the little wieners in a blanket or chicken nuggets, adults will choose pork chops or a baked chicken breast when they fill up their plate. Some diners will take a heaping portion of mashed potatoes, others will go back for seconds on whole-kernel corn, and a few will wonder who in their right mind likes beets. But regardless of the variety of “meat and potato” offerings available, both the chef and DJ must know what else to offer to spice up the basic servings. Just like the cook in the kitchen must know what type of gravy to have available and what spices to use in cooking up some mouth-watering delights, the mobile DJ must also know what tunes to add “just for fun” when someone orders up a serving of “play something we can dance to!” MB

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Jay Maxwell Jay Maxwell (29 Posts)

Mobile Beat’s resident musicologist since 1992 (issue #11), Jay Maxwell runs the multi-talent entertainment company, Jay Maxwell’s Music by Request, LLC, in Charleston, South Carolina. He is also a professor of Business at Charleston Southern University. His passion for detail and continuous research of clients’ requests can be found not only in this column, but also in his annually updated music guide, Play Something We Can Dance To.


Filed Under: Issue #141, Music