The 6 best songs from the '90s swing revival
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For a brief moment during the ‘90s, we did swing. The swing revival is one of the more curious music movements in recent memory. Born out of thrift shops and hopeless, romantic nostalgia for an era that a generation grew up venerating, the swing revival burned short, but bright. It was a time in history that hearkened back to when, in order to dance at the club, you needed the stamina and strength of an Ironman competitor and women’s legs were called “gams” for some reason. Also, we got bands with names like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. It was a weird time. But we can still look back at the best songs from that era. Below we ranked the 6 best songs (yep, all six of them) from the swing revival.

6. Lou Bega - “Mambo No. 5”

Released: 1999 PGC (Post Gap Commercial)

How “money” the song is on a scale of 1-5 (scale based on the hit 1996 film “Swingers” starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn):

Pretty money, commercially speaking. Lou Bega is still probably the most successful Ugandan-Italian in the history of music and “Mambo No. 5” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. From the viewpoint of a swing revival purist, though, the song isn’t money at all. “Mambo No. 5” is negative money. In fact, you’re probably wondering why “Mambo No. 5” is on here in the first place because it’s technically not real swing revival. Well, to be completely transparent, it was between Bega and the khaki Gap commercial, which isn’t fair because Gap used next level “Matrix” camera work and deployed the heft of a major corporation to commodify every pure intention the swing revival ever harbored in the pursuit of selling as many khaki parachute pants as possible. So. Much. Khaki. “Mambo No. 5” gets the nod and the last spot on the list.

5. Cherry Poppin' Daddies - "Zoot Suit Riot"

Released: 1997 BGC

How “money” the song is on a scale of 1-5 (scale based on the hit 1996 film “Swingers” starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn):

The band with the most unfortunate name to emerge from the swing revival, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ hit song “Zoot Suit Riot” also registers pretty low on the money scale, clocking in at about a 1.5. The song is offensive on several levels, and it’s tough knowing where to begin. There’s the video, which is just a cartoonish parody of any charm swing might’ve had as a cultural movement and genre. Then there’s the fact that the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies weren’t even a swing band. They began as a ska band and once the swing revival took off, cashed in by releasing their more swing-oriented songs on a separate album, which included the ham-fisted “Zoot Suit Riot.” And then there’s the fact that they made a goofy song out of violent events girded by discrimination and racism, boiling the Zoot Suit Riots down into oversized suits, b-movie bar fights and dames.

4. Big Bad Voodoo Daddies - "Go Daddy-O"

Released: 1997 BGC

How “money” the song is on a scale of 1-5 (scale based on the hit 1996 film “Swingers” starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn):

Swing revival historians (not to be confused with just swing historians) often say that the swing revival died when the Gap released The Commercial. There is probably some truth to that, but the swing revival was truly done and dusted when Big Bad Voodoo Daddy performed “Go Daddy-O” during the 1999 Super Bowl halftime show. Ask New Kids On The Block, the Los Angeles Super Drill Team, M.I.A., Elvis Presto, Jessica Simpson and LMFAO, once you reach those heady heights as a tertiary headliner at the Super Bowl halftime show, the only way to go is down. To Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s credit, they bolstered their rep by appearing on the “Swingers” soundtrack, so on the official “Swingers” money scale, they earn a respectable 3.

3. The Brian Setzer Orchestra - "Jump, Jive An’ Wail"

Released: 1998 ???

How “money” the song is on a scale of 1-5 (scale based on the hit 1996 film “Swingers” starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn):

As much as we want to get away from The Commercial, everything in the swing revival universe ultimately revolves around The Commercial, and so “Khakis Swing” and Gap returns. While Gap apparently knew what they were doing by jumping on the swing revival movement, they also knew that as money hungry khaki merchants, they had to come across as authentic participants in swing revival to push their product. They did this by not selecting a swing revival staple for the commercial, but by dusting off a real swing classic in Louis Prima’s “Jump, Jive An’ Wail” from 1956. The same year that Gap infiltrated thrift shops and swing dens of ‘90s America, Brian Setzer released his breakthrough record The Dirty Boogie which featured a cover of Prima’s song. As such, because of The Commercial and The Dirty Boogie’s proximity in release, it’s hard for swing revivalists to discern whether Brian Setzer’s cover boasted the requisite swing cred to be considered authentic swing revival. The history books are notoriously murky on this. Was Brian Setzer’s “Jump, Jive An’ Wail” money? Does its close relation to The Commercial automatically preclude it from any swing revival discussions? Only time will tell. Until then, Brian Setzer’s respectable cover, which isn’t as painful as Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ travesty gets a 3.5 money rating.

2. Royal Crown Revue - "Hey Pachuco"

Released: 1996 BGC

How “money” the song is on a scale of 1-5 (scale based on the hit 1996 film “Swingers” starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn):

Very money, about a 4 to a 4.5. One of the OG swing revival bands and forefathers (2nd generation forefathers?), Royal Crown Revue gets placement this high because they got in at the ground level. Like any movement, being present during the formative stages is crucial in establishing clout and also absolving you of any wrongdoing when it comes to questionable decisions down the road. The theory applies to swing revival revivalists and Royal Crown Revue. Swing revival revivalists (speaking for all revivalists, here) are willing to overlook the band’s appearance in the Jim Carrey vehicle “The Mask” because it’s RCR, baby. We wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for them. We’ll allow it (even though it's arguable that "Pachuco" is as offensive as "Zoot Suit Riot").

1. Squirrel Nut Zippers- "Hell"

Released: 1996 BGC

How “money” the song is on a scale of 1-5 (scale based on the hit 1996 film “Swingers” starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn):

The reason why Squirrel Nut Zippers’ music has endured long after the swing revival died down is that SNZ have never been too pastiche or derivative. Their music reveals its influences like all bands do, but they never solely relied on it. Their swing arrangements (when they went full-blown swing) aren’t bastardized versions from the ‘40s, nor were they lazy. It’s like SNZ were one of the few bands who actually got the point of the revival: Creating something that extends beyond romantic, rose-tinted nostalgia. Listening to “Hell” now, it’s actually surprising how well the song holds up. It’s still fun to hear, the dizzying horns still sting and the arrangement swings with an understated urgency. “Hell” still jolts and it’s still hot, a crucial aspect of swing music that went missing so frequently during its revival. So money.
 

Squirrel Nut Zippers will bring their genre-spanning music to the City National Grove of Anaheim on Friday, March 31. Find ticket information here.