The Tammys' "Egyptian Shumba"
“Let’s take this show to another level!” commands rock ‘n’ roll legend Lou Christie, introducing The Tammys’ 1964 single “Egyptian Shumba” as the current entry in his music blog It Should Have Been a Hit.
Accessible via Facebook or its own dedicated website, It Should Have Been a Hit, which launched at the start of the year, showcases a new old single every couple weeks or so, all unknown or under-recognized gems that Christie happily has stuck in his head and wants to eject and share with others.
“I walk around all the time singing these songs and people ask what they are,” explains Christie. “I’m not even aware I’m singing them, because they’re as much a part of me as breathing.”
But people often accuse him of making them up, Christie adds.
“I tell them, ‘No! I collect them—or they’re in my mind.’ Old 45s like ‘All You Had to Do (Was Tell Me)’ by Chris Montez and Kathy Young, which I heard when I lived in California and it came on the car radio when Dick and Dee Dee were showing me around Hollywood. It was a new record then—only in L.A., maybe—and so haunting.”
"All You Had to Do (Was Tell Me)" by Chris Montez and Kathy Young
The slow Montez-Young duet from 1964 was an earlier It Should Have Been a Hit entry, as were Martha & the Vandellas’ 1971 single “Bless You,” Earl-Jean’s “Randy,” The Skyliners’ “Where Have They Gone” and Christie’s own “Mr. Tenor Man”—sort of a follow-up to Johnny Cymbal’s 1963 novelty hit “Mr. Bass Man.”
“All these songs I think are really great and should have been hits!” says Christie. As for “Egyptian Shumba,” Christie and his late longtime songwriting collaborator Twyla Herbert wrote the song especially for The Tammys, who like Christie, hailed from Pittsburgh.
“They were sisters Cathy and Gretchen Owens and their friend Linda Jones, and were managed by my sister Amy,” says Christie. “They were on some of my own favorite records: ‘Make Summer Last Forever,’ ‘Guitars and Bongos,’ ‘Have I Sinned’ and ‘Back Track’ [all A- or B-side singles that appeared on Christie’s 1964 album Lou Christie Strikes Again].”
On “Egyptian Shumba,” which was recorded and released in late 1963, The Tammys, as Christie states on It Should Have Been a Hit, “bark, yelp, squeal and sing their hearts out” on maybe the most insanely infectious girl group record of the ‘60s: It concerned a dream about being on the Nile and dancing ”Egyptian style” when “the mummies took our hand”—all punctuated by cries of “shimmy shimmy shimmy shy-yi meece-e-deece.”
“It’s a timeless record,” continues Christie, and sure enough, it’s been ranked No. 35 on Billboard’s list of 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time.
“I jump in vocally on the background, too, and it’s always a hit somewhere, through college airplay or little freaks who love it. Every year it pops up in the Top 10 in some country or other.”
He recalls that it was produced by Jack Gold, an notable A&R executive who had passed on a demo that Christie had cut when he was 15, but as he had now scored a hit in 1962 with “The Gypsy Cried,” Gold recorded “Egyptian Shumba” and other Tammys singles, none of which charted nationally.
But “Egyptian Shumba”’s lasting impact is certified by top New York musician/DJ Alix Brown, who when not playing bass in the band Roya or fronting her own band Daisy Glaze, is DJing all over town at events she calls Le Grand Shumba.
“I lifted the name from ‘Egyptian Shumba,’” admits Brown. “I just loved it because the lyrics evoked this imagery of a place I wanted to be, where I imagined cute girls dancing around, screaming and having a great time!”
Christie notes that “Egyptian Shumba,” was like many of his other Christie-Herbert hits.
“Think of ‘The Gypsy Cried,’ ‘Rhapsody in the Rain,’ ‘Two Faces Have I’—they’re all original titles,” he says. “In fact, we always started with a title: [‘Rhapsody in the Rain’ B-side] ‘Trapeze’ was one of the hardest—trying to write a love story about a trapeze! But we liked strange titles and backed into the song from there. And we always tried to find the right chord--one that hadn’t been used in rock ‘n’ roll and was more interesting, like a classical or jazz chord. It made us learn to write songs using our own creativity instead of copying someone else.”
And “Egyptian Shumba”’s “shimmy shimmy shimmy shy-yi meece-e-deece” lyric fit in with the Christie-Herbert goal of coming up with unique background vocal parts, Christie says, also including the “puppy ah-ooh” of his biggest hit “Lightnin’ Strikes.”
“I loved the backgrounds that my sister, Twyla’s daughter Shirley and their best friend Kay did on my records,” he recalls. “We’d sit around the piano trying anything different, and if I was cutting in New York they’d have to come in because we couldn’t teach them to another group—except one time we used The Angels, who had hits like ‘My Boyfriend’s Back,’ and in between, The Tammys.
Christie, who has taped numerous specials for SiriusXM’s ‘60s on 6 channel, spends a lot of time in New Mexico (he titled his 2012 album The Turquoise Trail after the scenic and historic area linking Albuquerque and Santa Fe) and reports interest from an Albuquerque radio station in running his It Should Have Been a Hit posts as a special show.
He explains in its mission statement that “there are plenty of reasons” why great but obscure songs—or “misfit records”—get passed over and don’t become hits. These include not being released as singles, not getting enough airplay, the artist changing labels, bad timing, “shady business deals done behind the artist’s back,” disputes over publishing rights, and payola.
Christie concludes, “We’re here to try to rectify some of the injustice done to good songs [and] to help shine the light on some songs we love and to see if you agree [that] ‘It Should Have Been a Hit!’”