My Brother Jonas is a Chicken
You may know it as the chicken dance, but The Dance of the Little Bird was originally about ducks. Joe and Toby take a look at the origins of this oom-pah classic and demonstrate how it may have inspired The Jonas Brothers to create their latest hit, Only Human.
What we geek out over in this episode: Oom-pah music, Oompa Loompas, Werner THomas, The Duck Dance, Louis Van Rijmenant, Bobby Setter, De Electronica’s, Why lyrics aren’t always necessary, Henry Hadaway, Barry Manilow, Boston, girls named Mandy, Busted, Baby Bottle Pop, Demi Lavato, Black Sabbath, Maxine Nightingale, Nosmo King, DNCE, B2K and Diddy, Swedish hitmaker Shellback
Bonus Material: Classic wedding reception songs that get folks young and old out of their seats and headed to the dance floor.
Play Only Human
Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell.
Joe: Together, we listen to the legendary tracks and the timeless — but sometimes not-so-well-known — songs they sampled from. Toby, what are we listening to today?
Toby: We are listening to Only Human by the Jonas Brothers. It’s their third single off of their latest album, Happiness Begins.
Joe: Toby, your dance moves in the studio while we record has been well chronicled, and I’d like to assure our listeners that we are doing a public service by not live streaming these episodes. But even for you, the moves seem a little off today…
Toby: I think I may know why that is. Why don’t we hop in the Delorean and see what track was sampled to make this hit?
Play Chicken Dance
Joe: Can you take a break from dancing to tell the good people what we are listening to.
Toby: We are listening to a song that goes by many names. Some call it the Bird Song, or the Birdie Song, but most call it the Chicken Dance.
Joe: Did you ever think that we would discuss the Chicken Dance on our show?
Toby: Hey man after you cover Watts Biggers and the Underdog Theme Song, nothing is off the table. You can only get this type of content on Riffs on Riffs!
Joe: Let’s also give a shout out to show listener Dawn, who brought this lovely connection to our attention.
Toby: Absolutely. Dawn is a friend of mine and asked me about these two songs and said that she and her husband had a spirited discussion about whether the Jonas brothers sampled the Chicken Dance for this song. At first I thought … no wayyy
Then I listened to them again… and now i’m like wayyyyy.
Joe: Indeed. And while we are not actually implying that the Jonas Brothers deliberately set out to sample the Chicken Dance for their own hit, the similarities are too close to not at least point out. So why don’t we get into a little bit of the history of the chicken dance.
Toby: The chicken dance is a song that was composed by an accordion player by the name of Werner Thomas in the Swiss town of Davos in 1957. It’s what we call an Oom-pah.
Joe: Oh. You mean like this?
Play Oompa Loompa
Toby: Well, sort of. The Oompa Loompa song does have a similar vibe.
Joe: An Oom-pah tends to include a lot of traditional German, Austrian, Swiss and Eastern European influence. It’s not defined as just one type of music but encompasses a variety of styles, including Polkas, Marzukas, Schottishes, Waltzes and Landler.
Toby: The word Oom-pah is a term to describe the sound of the downbeat played by the bass and tuba, and the offbeats are played by other instruments to provide accompaniment for the melody.
Joe: Let’s get back to Thomas Werner. He composed the song while he worked as a restaurant musician at a Swiss ski resort. He first came up with the melody in 1955 and then spent the next couple of years revising it.
Toby: At the resort he saw countless skiers travel up and down the mountains, and he thought that their movements resembled a specific type of bird. When he was done creating the movements he called it Der Ententanz — The Duck Dance.
Joe: The song was written in 1957 but didn’t become a dance craze until 1981. It has since been recorded in 370 different versions by artists in 42 different countries and has sold more than 40 million copies.
Toby: The song was heard by Belgian producer Louis Van Rijmenant and he had lyrics created through his publishing company Intervox Music. In 1973, Van Rijemenant collaborated with Bobby Setter’s Cash and Carry band to produce the song as a single. Let’s take a listen.
Play Bobby Setter Dance Little Bird
Joe: You know it’s back in the day when you hear synthesizers like that! Apparently, Thomas wasn’t crazy initially about the synthesizers, but I have a feeling that when the single sold over a million copies in a year he might have thought differently.
Toby: The real benchmark for success was in 1980 when a Dutch band by the name of De Electronica’s released an instrumental version as the B side of a single that got some major play in the Netherlands. They called their version De Vogeltjesdans,” or “The Dance of the Little Bird”.
Joe: That single hit the Dutch charts and stayed there for 7 months, marking the beginning of their international success. If you search Youtube you can actualyl find a video of them using the same dance moves that Thomas made 2 decades earlier. The only difference is that these guys actually wore duck suits.
Toby: Well let’s take a listen to their version
Toby: As you can hear they went back to Oompah roots - no synthesizers! A music producer by the name of Stanley Mills heard the song and liked it so much that he purchased it for American distribution. He figured that the song would be an even bigger hit if he could get some lyrics that worked with it.
Joe: I feel like you and I are lyrical connoisseurs — we appreciate the good stuff, no matter if it’s light and fun or deep and meaningful. What are your thoughts on this set of lyrics?
Toby: Joe- I will save my opinion till after you read them.
Joe: Alright, here’s the chorus: Hey you’re in the swing / You’re cluckin’ like a bird / You’re flapping your wings / Don’t you feel absurd?
Toby: Joe…I gotta be honest. Reading these lyrics was tough, because I’ve heard this song a million times and NEVER knew that anyone would be crazy enough to write lyrics to them. It doesn’t need lyrics. It’s like arguing with your girlfriend. Sometimes you win by saying nothing.
Joe: Truer words have never been said. Which is probably why none of the lyrics stuck despite how many Polka bands included it on their records. Instrumental versions of the song began to get traction in polka friendly cities like Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Austin.
Toby: It was in America where the name of the song transitioned from Ducks to Chickens. In 1981 during the Oktoberfest in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an actual chicken costume was donated for use at the festival. From that moment it was known as the Chicken Dance.
Toby: So basically you’re telling me that if I came to the studio with a tiger outfit and a Riffs on Riffs shirt on on… I could call the moment TigerRific…
Joe: oh boy…. Now you sound like a commercial for Frosted Flakes.
Toby: Well my name ain’t Tony, but there’s no question that I’m grrrreat!!!
Joe: Easy tiger. Ok, we mentioned how the song became a dance craze in 1981. That’s when Henry Hadaway produced an instrumental version called "The Birdie Song" and released under the band name The Tweets. It reached number two on the singles chart in October 1981, which is the highest it’s ever charted.
Toby: The fact that his charted at all once again makes me question the listening public. Regardless, let’s listen to The Birdie Song, and get ready to dance people!
Play The Birdie Song
Joe: What do you say we move on to our second featured artist, the Jonas Brothers, and work our way to their Chicken Dance connection?
Toby: Good plan. The Jonas Brothers formed in 2005, and no surprise here, are comprised of actual brothers Jonas — Paul Kevin Jonas II, Joseph Adam Jonas, and Nicholas Jerry Jonas.
Joe: They grew up in New Jersey, and I’m sure their exploits outside of music have been well documented on social media. We’re going to focus on the music part of their career, starting with their debut single in 2005. Let’s listen to the song Mandy.
Play Mandy Barry
Toby: Um, Joe, I don’t think that’s the Jonas Brothers. That sounds an awful lot like Barry Mannilow. It is a song called Mandy, and it was Barry’s first #1 hit in 1974, but the Jonas Brothers are a little more rock sounding than that.
Joe: My bad, I think I pulled the wrong audio. Let me get the right one cued up. You said more rock sounding, right? Here it is.
Toby: Again, great song, but not the Jonas Brothers. This is Amanda, not Mandy. Also a #1 hit from the band Boston in 1986. But wrong track.
Joe: I got it this time, I mean it. Here’s the Jonas Brothers debut, Mandy
Play Mandy Jonas
Toby: There we go. Thank you. I hadn’t realized Mandy was such a popular name until now. It’s about time you got the right track, which also happens to be the name of the Jonas Brothers 2006 debut album on Columbia Records — It’s About Time.
Joe: The album didn’t do poorly, but it didn’t do great either. It reached #91 on the charts, and I guess that wasn’t good enough for Columbia as they were promptly dropped from the label.
Toby: They then signed with Hollywood Records and released their second album, simply called Jonas Brothers, in 2007. On this record, they also re-released the single “Year 3000”, which is a cover of the same song by the British band, Busted.
Joe: First let’s hear that Busted track from their 2002 debut album of the same name. This song was inspired by the movie Back to the Future — something I wish more songs took inspiration from — and reached #2 on the UK charts.
Play Year 3000 Busted
Toby: Now let’s hear how the Jonas Brothers covered the song. This version went to #31 on the charts.
Play Year 3000 Jonas
Joe: In case you were wondering why Busted was ok with having the Jonas Brothers cover their song, here’s a quote from Busted bassist/vocalist Matt Willis:
“Dude, they paid my mortgage for four years, I’m stoked to bits. Thank you very much Jonas Brothers.”
Toby: You can be ok with a lot of things as long as those royalty checks keep showing up. By 2007, the Jonas Brothers were branching out. They started doing jingles, including this one for Baby Bottle Pop.
Play Baby Bottle Pop
Joe: I didn’t know this was a thing. I suppose if you are a baby and don’t have teeth, you can’t rot your teeth with pop?
Toby: That is not an ADA approved message folks. I’m pretty sure Joe is in no way qualified to give dental hygiene advice.
Joe: That is a true story. Well, besides making jingles, the Jonas Brothers were collaborating with Miley Cyrus and doing cool gigs like singing the national anthem at the White House. All of that time in the limelight led to them developing a rabid fan base and paved the way for their musical success.
Toby: That’s evidenced by their third album, A Little Bit Longer, debuting at #1 on the charts. Let’s take a listen to the first single, Burnin’ Up, which reached #5 on the Hot 100.
Play Burnin’ Up
Joe: This album had another track that charted inside the top ten, let’s hear the song Tonight.
Toby: The Jonas Brothers were happy to share their talents with other artists, including fellow Camp Rock star Demi Lavato. They co-wrote and produced 6 tracks for her debut album, Don’t Forget, which peeked at #2 on the Billboard 200.
Joe: The success continued with their next release, the 2009 album Lines, Vines, and Trying Times, which also debuted at #1 on the charts. Let’s hear the single Paranoid from that album.
Play Paranoid Sabbath
Toby: Um, Joe, I’m starting to question your show prep buddy. This is not the Jonas Brothers. This is Black Sabbath and their 1970 song Paranoid. You can tell the difference between Ozzy Osbourne and the Jonas Brothers, right?
Joe: I think so. But as Ozzy — and Mark Twain — have said, of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most. Ok, here’s the Jonas Brothers version of Paranoid.
Play Paranoid Jonas
Toby: Thank you, I appreciate your attempt to keep it real. Which is also the name of one of the tracks on Lines, Vines and Trying Times. Let’s hear that.
Play Keep it Real
Joe: In case you’re wondering why that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s eerily similar to the 1975 song from Maxine Nightingale, Right Back to Where We Started From. Let’s hear that.
Play Right Back
Toby: And if you feel like you’ve heard that song before, maybe you are familiar with the 1960s Northern Soul movement in the UK. There was a band called The Javells led by a guy named Stephen Jameson that released this track in 1974. Let’s hear the song Goodbye Nothing to Say.
Play Goodbye Nothing
Joe: Side note, Stephen Jameson went by the moniker Nosmo King, which was a reworking of the No Smoking signs backstage, and also the name of a popular 1920’s variety artist. Random, but that’s what we do here on Riffs.
Toby: What’s not random is the continued collaboration between the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lavato. In 2009 they released the single Bounce, where Demi pays homage to the Black Eyed Peas. Let’s first hear how Fergi opens their smash hit, Let’s Get it Started
Joe: Now let’s hear how Demi does pays tribute at the beginning of Bounce
Toby: By 2013, the brothers had reached the bane of all bands existence — “creative difference”. They canceled a bunch of tour dates and went their separate ways. Nick did a couple of solo albums, and Joe formed the group DNCE, who had this hit in 2015.
Play Cake By the Ocean
Joe: Cake by the Ocean is what we like to call a euphemism. We’ll let the audience determine for what, exactly.
Toby: Whatever differences the brothers had seemed to have been patched up, because in February of 2019 they announced their return on social media. The Jonas Brothers were back together, and their first single, Sucker, also became their first #1 hit. Let’s hear that.
Joe: The album, Happiness Begins, once again debuted at #1, and that lead single, Sucker, was the first #1 by a boy band since 2003. I was surprised at that, and even more surprised at the band and the song from 2003. Let’s give it a spin, and see if you can tell me who it is.
Play Bump Bump Bump
Toby: That’s B2K and Diddy and the song Bump Bump Bump. Man, I’d forgotten about that track, too.
Joe: Well now we get to our second featured track Only Human. To be clear, we are not suggesting that the Jonas Brothers deliberately set out to sample the Chicken Dance, but the similarities were too good to pass up having a little fun with.
Toby: Please tell me you made a little mash up of the two songs.
Joe: You know I did. Here you go buddy.
Play Only Chicken
Toby: It’s got a good beat, it’s easy to dance to, I give it 5 stars! I have to say, Only Human has a nice little Oom Pah beat to it.
Joe: It sure does. It’s that laid back, offbeat reggae feel. I’d never put reggae and oompah music together before, but dang if it doesn’t work.
Toby: That’s the beauty of music my friend. Like we always say, it’s a universal language.
Joe: Speaking of which, I think we need to throw a little love to Sweden. I don’t know if people realize how much that country influences music hear in the states.
Toby: I think you might be talking about the Swedish producer Karl Johan Schuster, better known as Shellback. He produced the Only Human track for the Jonas Brothers, but that’s not the only hits he’s been a big part of.
Joe: Shellback has co-written and produced ten #1 singles, another fifteen singles that reached the top ten, and has won four Grammys. I’d bet that if you weren’t in the industry you’ve never heard of him.
Toby: What do you say we listen a few of those #1s and do a little “listen and tell”?
Joe: Good idea. Let’s go back to 2008 and begin with Shellback’s work with Pink for the song So What
Play So What
Toby: Now let’s jump to 2011 and the song Moves Like Jagger by Maroon 5 and featuring Christina Aguilera.
Play Moves Like Jagger
Joe: We all know Taylor Swift is a gifted songwriter on her own, but she’s also turned to Shellback for some hits. Let’s hear her 2014 #1, Shake it Off.
Play Shake it Off
Toby: Last one, this from Justin Timberlake for the movie Trolls. Let’s hear the 2016 hit Can’t Stop the Feeling
Play Can’t Stop
Joe: What’s equally awesome to me about this is the fact that Shellback started out as singer for the Swedish hardcore band Blinded Colony. Let’s hear his work on the song My Halo from their 2006 album Bedtime Prayers
Play My Halo
Toby: That is a far cry from Taylor Swift!
Joe: Right? That’s what’s so cool. Shellback had met songwriter and future collaborator Max Martin, who wondered how his metal sensibilities would translate to pop music. That set him on the path to becoming a well-regarded hitmaker.
Toby: Once again, proving that music is music and we should be a lot less concerned about what label it’s filed under.
Ok Joe, before I even knew where the Chicken Dance came from, I knew the dance. It’s silly but yet it’s infectious. I used to cater weddings with my mom at the Edison Club in Toledo and I can’t tell you how many times the Chicken Dance was played and how happy people were when they heard it.
Joe: I bet! And I’m sure you heard a ton of other songs that got the crowd hyped and bootys shaking on the dance floor. How about we hear some of those for our bonus material? Let’s hear a few tracks that you typically hear at family reunions or weddings. And you know we like weddings for one reason.
Toby: Darn str8 buddy! We love weddings for the cake!
Joe: I prefer my cake by the ocean. But I digress. Let’s start with a lil Boogie Wogie.
Let’s take a listen to Electric Boogie by Marcia Griffiths and see if we have room to slide around in here.
Play Electric Boogie
Toby: So let’s continue with line dancing theme- here’s another track that was big back in the day for boot scootin’. Let’s check out Billy Ray Cyrus’ 1992 hit Achy Break Heart.
Play Achy Breaky Heart
Joe: You know who you call to fix your achy breaky heart?
Toby: Lil Nas X?
Joe: Close. Think more diapers and arrows.
Toby: Baby Hawkeye from Avengers?
Joe: No my friend, Cupid. Let’s get our Cupid Shuffle on in here.
Play Cupid Shuffle
Toby: I’m going to one up you on Cupid and go to the man himself. What do you say we go back to 1989 and get personal with Jesus, courtesy of Depeche Mode?
Play Personal Jesus
Joe: Alright, I can’t top that, and thankfully we are out of time so I don’t have to. Can you tell the good people all that we covered today?
Toby: Our first featured track was none other than the Chicken Dance, and we connected that to the Jonas Brothers and their 2019 single, Only Human. Then we worked up a little sweat in the studio and listened to some popular group dance songs for our bonus material.
Joe: Good stuff. What do we have lined up for our next episode?
Toby: We are going to go around the way and maybe stay up all night long with the girls.
Joe: Oh my. You got me shook up shook down shook out just thinking about it. Well, until then, thanks as always for listening. We’ll catch you next time for Riffs on Riffs.