Retro spin: “And We Danced” and “Johnny B” by The Hooters

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The Hooters are a rock band from Philadelphia, whose eclectic songs have made them popular. The songs from the mid-late 1980s sound made for US college rock stations. With elements of ska, reggae and folk, rock songs by The Hooters tend to sound unlike other bands then or now. And, it is not just the instrumental elements that make The Hooters unique; the band’s lyrical content tells narratives that appeal to people facing a variety of situations. Whether a listener lives in the Rust Belt, or has watched a friend self-destruct in a toxic relationship, or he or she just likes hearing musical narratives about such things, The Hooters would be the band for them. Songs like “And We Danced” and “Johnny B” exemplify what The Hooters have to offer listeners.

The Hooters: The Music Television years

The Hooters formed in 1980. Shortly thereafter, the band’s music began to make its way across America (and eventually the world) thanks to Music Television. The band first made its mark in 1982, when the single “All You Zombies” was released. The song was eventually included on the band’s debut recording, “Amore” in 1983. Because of Biblical references, some people (and radio stations) did not know how to take the song. At any rate, the song broke the Billboard 100 by reaching No. 58. The band’s second and third albums (“Nervous Night” and “One Way Home”) contained the singles “And We Danced” and “Johnny B.”

The Hooters: “Nervous Night”

There is something about the title “Nervous Night” that makes sense to the youth contingent of the 1980s. For those too young to “hang out” the idea of being nervous at night completely made sense, and for those who were old enough to socialize, but not old enough to do so confidently, the title rang true. From that album came the song “And We Danced.” With its harking instrumental portions created by instruments that were perhaps unexpected in rock music at the time, combined with traditional rock elements of guitars and drums, The Hooters made listeners feel as though they were at the dance where the object of the narrator’s affection shook the “paint off the walls.” The song’s lyrics paint the picture of a dance at a “union hall.” For audiences in the Rust Belt, or anywhere in which industry is (or was) a primary employer, this imagery is clear and orients the reader to the class and perhaps background of the narrator and the girl he likes.

But there is a touch of melancholy to the sound of “And We Danced.” It comes mostly at the break, when the narrator is watching the girl walk toward him and then the moment of euphoria when she whispers his name. The almost zydeco sound floats over the rock ‘n’ roll foundation, and the heavy backbeat keep listeners dancing.

“Amore” by The Hooters

From “Amore” The Hooters released the song “Johnny B.” This song is a departure from the all-American weekend nights at the union hall. Instead, this is a rainy night, where a toxic lover waits to make the title character weak. The song’s chorus tells all: “Johnny B./how much there is to see/just open your eyes/and listen to me/straight ahead/ a green light turns to red/oh why can’t you see?/ oh, oh Johnny B.”

The song’s tempo is moody, yet driving. The guitars are menacing, underscoring the evil intent of Johnny B.’s lover. The lyrics mock the pair’s “courtship” rituals. “When you drive her home/is she sittin’ real close?” and “Does she make you weak?/well, that’s the way that she wants you.”

The lyrics tell listeners that nothing good can happen with this relationship. And, this is not Johnny’s first encounter with someone like this. The topic of unhealthy love is a familiar one, but few have the friend giving advice to a friend approach. Nothing is redeemed here. Everything works well in this song. There is no guessing what it is about, or what the narrator’s position is.

Given the talent present on songs by The Hooters, it is curious why their songs did not chart higher in the US. “And We Danced” did reach as high as No. 21 on Billboard. “Johnny B.,” on the other hand, only reached No. 61. Still, The Hooters remain active, and their songs continue to be included on a variety of “Best of the ’80s” lists. In addition, the popularity of the band is also reflected in European rap and metal groups that have covered their songs.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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