The Echo Valley Boys
- Bill Browning
- Art Fulks
- Merl Hoaf
- Jackie Wooten
- Roy Barker
- Marshall Looney
From: Ohio, USA.
Song: ‘Wash Machine Boogie’
Released: September 1957
First heard: in the mid 80s at one of the ‘record hops’ still taking place in London as part of the remaining 50s/60s Teddy Boy/Rocker scene; locations being as varied as a rarely used upstairs function room in a backstreet Brixton pub, to the staff social club in, of all places, Hackney Hospital (not really the place for firing up old British bikes at closing, but that’s what happened!).
Info on The Echo Valley Boys is sketchy at best. They are credited with only two songs; the other being ‘Ramblin’ Man’. Lists of band members sometimes omit the name Bill Browning, while further recordings can be found under the name Bill Browning and his Echo Valley Boys, with Bill said to be the brains behind it all (it’s his name credited on the label for the song, after all). The name is also found listed as the backing band for Russ Wheeler and Ray Ford.
While the washing machine as a home appliance had been around since 1937, 1957 saw the invention of the automatic timer, meaning the process no longer needed each stage of the wash to be manually engaged, intervention from us only required to press start and then empty it at the end.
It seems plausible, then, that the song was motivated by the idea of having more time to boogie while the chores did themselves; though given the term rock ‘n’ roll is often said to have been used as a euphemism for fucking, perhaps that’s what’s really being got at; after all, stopping dancing for a couple of seconds to move a dial is hardly an inconvenience at all.
There might even be something illicit suggested in the liaison too; like, ‘hey baby, let’s get it on while your other half thinks you’re doing laundry’ kinda thing. That or the song writer is a sex addict looking for any and every opportunity modern technology affords them to indulge the most primeval of human pastimes.
Perhaps I’m being unfair and it is only the dancing they’re (obsessively) interested in; the riots that seemed to go hand-in-hand with the showing of the film Rock Around the Clock (1956) only ever started when the dancing in the aisles was stopped; an article from the Observer archive (16th Sept 1956) talks about police appearing in the auditorium of the Lewisham Gaumont (South London) the second someone stood to dance in front of their seat, never mind the aisle; a meat wagon apparently already being outside the cinema waiting for the onset of people doing precisely that.
One day I might try figure out the first song to ever feature an appliance or gadget; in the meantime, a couple of thoughts on those springing to mind:
In 1979, Buggles released ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’, a song that, if anything, laments a fading age more than cheer on the incoming.
But everyone—in my head’s idea of the world, at least—knows that song; so let’s talk about Fat Larry instead:
In 1982, Fat Larry’s Band had a massive hit with ‘Zoom’; in my opinion, one of the best songs of all time. Certainly anyone of my age or thereabouts remembers it as a guaranteed end-of-night-play in any disco worth its disco salt. Though that is possibly only a UK thing, where it reached number two in the charts; whereas in the USA (the band’s home) only eighty-ninth!
While love songs aren’t as a rule my thing, ‘Zoom’ had me grab a copy of the album Breakin’ Out. There I found a different side to Fat Larry in the form of ‘Video’, a song that, for me at least, is bizarre, not to mention a bit creepy; but then, its point isn’t to portray modern tech’s arrival as necessarily a good thing.
Ironically there is no actual video for ‘Video’:
Telephones are perhaps the most popular convenience to sing about. Who could possibly argue about the boon they’ve been? While there’s certainly been a lot of anguish taking place on them—Chuck Berry’s 1959 ‘Memphis, Tennessee’; or Blondie’s 1978 ‘Hanging on the Telephone’ (actually, like a couple of other popular Blondie songs, it was a cover; originally being by The Nerves in 1976 and not sounding all that different at all)—the phone per se isn’t causing the problem.
However, as the phone has become allegedly more convenient in the form of cell/mobile, songs featuring them focus more on the inconvenience they now are; take Lizzo’s 2016 ‘Phone’ in which lyrics tell of losing a phone and not knowing where the Hell it is or how to get home without it.
Or there’s Mura Masa with Slowthai’s relatable—to me at least, what with once living on a massive South London estate—and catchy 2019 tune ‘Deal Wiv It’ in which the problem is one of low battery power; to quote for educational purposes:
One percent of my phone ain’t getting me home, so I’m bopping
Two things are apparent: in olden days the introduction of a new convenience was something to sing and dance about; whereas in the modern, advances to them have rendered us incapable of getting home.
Tying all of the above—rockabilly; covers; phones—together and bringing it all full circle (kinda), UK rock ‘n’ roll revival band Coast to Coast’s 1981 cover of Werly Fairburn’s 1957 ‘Telephone Baby’ in which is sung:
Telephone baby (Do the bop; do the bop)
Bopping, while today used to mean walking briskly, also being the name of one of the dance styles associated with the music of the 50s and 60s.
Wait a hot-damn conspiracy-theory moment:
The whole point of the 80s is finally clear!
Werly Fairburn’s version had ‘Do-wop; do-wop’ as the backing vocals. ‘Do the bop’ was introduced by Coast to Coast. The song, unlike ‘Wash Machine Boogie’, isn’t about dancing, but the contrary: the ‘telephone baby’ being sat with their feet up while on the phone for an hour; the question being, is it a great conversation or a bad line leading to all the time taken? Bringing dancing into the equation doesn’t make any sense just like how mobile phones are meant to give greater freedom but quite evidently don’t.
While the late 70s (‘Video Killed the Radio Star’) saw the olden days lamented, the early 80s were full of forebodings of what was to come. Fat Larry, as Coast to Coast show, wasn’t alone in sending out warnings; neither was it just music: unfortunately even the abundant lessons found with hindsight in the 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial went unheeded too.
‘Wash Machine Boogie’ is featured amongst many other groovy tunes on the latest Kult DIY show with AJ and Vic; it can be listened to directly from here (below) or click/tap the flyer to go to the mix cloud page.
More on music from me, including reviews, here.
Thanks for reading 🙂
N. P. Ryan