In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch learned a lot from watching crowds. In 1974, Casey and Finch were sneaking into Miami clubs and noticing that certain songs that had been tearing up dancefloors were suddenly crossing over and becoming enormously popular. So they wrote and produced “Rock Your Baby” for George McCrae, and that song went on to become the first #1 single made specifically with discos in mind. Two years later, Casey and Finch noticed that a lot of people were shaking their booties, so they wrote a song encouraging you to shake your booty.
KC & The Sunshine Band’s “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” followed two maddeningly, gloriously repetitive #1 hits, “Get Down Tonight” and “(That’s The Way) I Like It.” Those songs had been all hook, no chorus, and they’d drilled their simplistic messages deep into the brain matter of whoever heard them. “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” somehow managed to simplify that formula even more. Over the course of the three-minute track, Casey repeats the word “shake” an astonishing 96 times. (I counted.) “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” is still the only #1 single to repeat a word four times in its title.
Talking to Songfacts years later, Finch explained that he and Casey had been hitting the clubs, watching people do the Bump, trying to figure out how to write about it: “We’d pay attention to what the people were doing, either body moves or body language, and try to transfer that back into the next production. As soon as we got back off the road we’d go right into the studio with that freshly captured energy, start recording, and not try to think too much.”
But when Casey discussed “Shake Your Booty” with Fred Bronson in Bronson’s Billboard Book Of Number 1 Hits, he tried to get more philosophical about it: “To some, it was a nonsense song. But it had a lot more meaning and depth… There could be several connotations to ‘Shake Your Booty.’ It could mean to get off your can and get out there and do it — in every area, not necessarily dancing. In your whole life.” Casey tried to think about it too much.
As with every Sunshine Band hit, the strength of “Shake Your Booty” isn’t the message. It’s the sheer shamelessness of the groove. Casey and Finch knew how to make a beat work. “Shake Your Booty” starts off as a lush, fast variation on spidery James Brown funk, but with more sustain on the pianos and less depth in the riffage. When Casey sings, he surrounds himself with either backing singers or multi-tracked versions of his own voice, making up for the thinness of his voice by turning himself into a massed army. And as soon as he hits the chorus — which he hits again and again, for practically forever — the horns come bursting in joyously behind him.
“Shake Your Booty” is a nonsense song, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s part of a long, proud lineage of nonsense songs. “Shake Your Booty” betrays no awareness that it could ever be anything other than a nonsense song. It almost works as propaganda, badgering anyone who hears it into dropping all defenses and having fun. Everything Casey sings is one kind of encouragement or another: “You can! You can do it! Very well! You’re the! Best in the world! I can tell!” This is a near-Andrew W.K. level of singleminded exhortation. And for what it is, it works.
It might also be sneakily influential. “Shake Your Booty” is not the first song specifically about butts to hit #1; Johnnie Taylor’s “Disco Lady,” for one, got in there earlier. But “Shake Your Booty” is purely about butts, and about what you should do with them, in a way that so many future songs would turn out to be about butts. About a decade after “Shake Your Booty,” in the Sunshine Band’s hometown of Miami, an entire rap-music subgenre dedicated entirely to butts would rise up and change the world. Unless I’m forgetting something, no Miami bass singles will appear in this column. But plenty of singles directly inspired by Miami bass sure will.
As for “Shake Your Booty” itself, the song isn’t as lively or brute-force catchy as “Get Down Tonight” or “(That’s The Way) I Like It,” but it’s cut from the same cloth. You could argue, with some justification, that it’s really just the same song. But in 1976, with disco suddenly taking over the world, that was a song that people wanted to hear. KC & The Sunshine Band will appear in this column again. And so will the booty.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the bit from a 1994 episode of The Simpsons where a robotic Richard Simmons dances to “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty”:
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the scene from the 2002 film Austin Powers In Goldmember where Beyoncé sings “Hey Goldmember,” a song that interpolates both “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” and “(That’s The Way) I Like It”:
(Beyoncé will eventually appear in this column.)