The swing craze...WTH was that all about??

Okay, I’ve asked about disco before, how about something a little more recent?

Due to the numerous upheavals in my life during the mid-90’s, there isn’t really much I remember about the period culturally. One thing, however, has always stuck out, and maybe it’s the upcoming Halloween season or whatever, but it just jumped back to the forefront of my memory.

Anyway. I distinctly remember a period of maybe a year or so when swing dancing (and the accompanying music) was absolutely pushed to the moon. Swing bands popped out of nowhere and produced crates of albums, music videos used swing dancers, at least one TV commercial used swing, and on and on. Needless to say, there never was any serious swing movement on a national level, certainly not among the young folks most of the videos et al were aimed at. I do not personally know a single person who’s ever shown the slightest interest in swing music or dancing, including my sister, who put off getting a new job for several months so she could have the time to pursue her art.

How the heck did this happen? Who wanted it to happen? I mean, the Macarena had virtually nothing going for it other than novelty and was good mainly for getting drunk sports fans to act dumb in a manner less harmful than throwing batteries onto the field, but that’s something. Trying to dupe people into putting on old costumes and dance to classic music did…what, exactly? The only explanation I heard was that this was part of some “innocence” initiative, y’know, to get kids to stop having sex and drinking and stuff. But force-feeding some bogus “craze” hardly seems like an effective method. (Besides, I’m not buying any anti-sex movement that women in loose skirts getting turned upside-down. :D)

Gah. Countless folks deluding themselves into thinking that swing was hot in the mid-90’s. The mind reels. (Wonder if these were the same folks that screamed in my ears for over a year and a half that a video game system that I couldn’t buy, couldn’t reserve, couldn’t find, and coulnd’t even freaking see was THE SUPER-HOT SYSTEM THAT EVERYONE HAD TO HAVE!!!)

Apparently there really were young swing enthusiasts forming swing clubs in some big American cities in the early/mid 1990s. (New York? LA?) I believe the media thought this would be the “next big thing” in youth culture and jumped on it. However, it failed to break through to middle America the way they thought it would. No conspiracy involved, they just misjudged things.

That said, there was a reasonably active swing scene in the mid-sized, middle American town I lived in for most of the '90s. I was never involved, but my younger sister and some of her friends took a few lessons and attended dances thrown by the local West Coast Swing Dance Society. Interestingly, there’s an East Coast/West Coast split in swing dancing, just like with rap music.

A couple of my friends are into swing dancing. They began at a swing club here in Melbourne, and eventually formed ‘The Brat Pack’; a subgroup of younger, uni-age swing dancers. I’m not sure how big a movement it is, though. But this more like the early 2000s, so maybe we’re just behind the times here.

I like the music. Yes, I also like punk. And ska. And even “commercial alternative”. But I’m a pilot. I’ve been fascinated by airplanes since I was an infant. Naturally, I liked WWII films that featured airplanes. Swing was part of the era. 1941 had a great swing dance/fight scene in it KPCC (an NPR station in Pasadena) used to have a show called The Swinging Years. I loved that show! I like Glen Miller and Benny Goodman. I never got into the recent “swing craze”, but I did like Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

Swing is high-energy music; the rock’n’roll of its time. As such, it appealed to the people who were growing up then. I think that in the late-1990s kids picked up on the high-energy aspect. And they got to play dress-up. It was fun.

Well, aren’t we better than everyone else? Wow.

Swing is fun - it’s something I and some of my friends got into. The music is outstanding, and it’s fun to go to a band and dance well in an organized fashion rather than in the random gyrations you see at clubs. Not that that isn’t fun in its own way too…

Granted, the spouse and I haven’t gone swing dancing in a while, but I’ve been meaning too. And although it was a bit of a craze, I do know that there’s some organizations in Minneapolis that meet once a week or so for dancing. Sure, it was a fad that passed, but for people who like it, it’s something of a constant.

Hey now! I can’t get over how disapproving the OP sounds (probably listens to nu-metal or boy bands), but I was a big fan of the late '90s swing revival. In Gainesville, Florida, a relatively small Southern college town, we had quite a nice little scene going, with multiple clubs having swing nights. The OP might have been surprised to see so many great-looking young people dressed to the nines, out on the town in suits and vintage-looking dresses, dancing close and having a great time. Unlike most forms of “club” dancing, swing dancing actually lets couples touch each other and interact in ways more than just grinding and shaking to the music. In that regard, it was EXTREMELY sexual, what with the girls flipping and skirts flying upside down and all that. I actually DJed some swing dances for the Episcopal church in town–a pretty progressive organization–and that’s where my screen name started, Big Bad Voodoo Lou from the band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

The 1998 movie Swingers had a lot to do with popularizing that scene. It was about a bunch of young aspiring actors experiencing the L.A. nightlife, complete with retro clothes and hip swing music. It was very influential and made Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau into well-known names. L.A., along with New York and a few other major cities, already had strong swing scenes going on, and some of the most popular bands were Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (Ventura, CA), Royal Crown Revue (L.A., as seen in the movie The Mask), Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (Eugene, OR), Squirrel Nut Zippers (North Carolina), Mighty Blue Kings (Chicago, IL), and the Brian Setzer Orchestra (a big band led by the former Stray Cats frontman). The bands were often made of ex-punk rockers who loved rockabilly, jazz, and swing, and combined all their influences on stage, putting on zoot suits to cover their tattoos. In addition, everyone got a little more interested in the classic big bands from the '30s through the '50s. Say what you will, OP, but those musicians are technically gifted, and the music is a lot more complex than the majority of pop out there. And best of all, it was FUN and TIMELESS.

Unfortunately, the swing revival was not timeless. Anything like that is already doomed to be cyclical, and the music and fashion had already came and went half a century earlier. But people were having a great time listening to bands with horns play speeded-up versions of songs their grandparents loved, wearing great retro clothes, and holding each other while they danced for the first time… ever. You may not get it, OP, but a lot of people did. A lot of people were into that stuff long before there was swing dancing in Gap commercials and MTV–and a lot of us still are.

Why did the Macarena get really big but swing music didn’t? Simple. The Macarena is easy to do even if you have no rhythm and with little practice but swing dancing requires lots of practice and some skill.

Wanted it to happen? Dupe people? Do you think that all fads come from the media up on high? That’s not how the mid-90’s swing revival went down – the media actually came very late to that particular party.

The craze may not have reached you and your immediate cohort, but it certainly wasn’t bogus – it was just fractured. There were parts of the country where the swing revival was huge. There were also places where the revival was marginalized, but vibrant. And then there were places where swing made no real inroads at all. Such is life.

I think I’d disagree that the swing revival was aimed at “kids”. I remember it as more of a thing for mid-to-late twenty-somethings.

And many of the images associated with the scene were anything but “innocent”–usually pin-up girls of the Bettie Page variety in sexy gowns or retro lingerie, complete with the ubiquitous high heels and fishnet stockings. Furthermore, many of the newer swing bands’ lyrics embraced drinking, and the music scene went hand-in-hand with a resurgence in Rat Pack-esque “cocktail culture”: the revival of the martini as a “hip” drink, and all sorts of retro cocktails that young people had previously never heard of, much less ordered in bars.

Others have already pointed out that the swing craze was a real craze and I’d just like to add that no one could find a PS2 because it was THE SUPER-HOT SYSTEM THAT EVERYONE HAD TO HAVE!!!

And if you couldn’t reserve it then you obviously didn’t try.

I was living in Denver in the late 1990s. It seemed like swing was huge there in 1999. Trendy clubs in LoDo hosted swing nights; Brian Setzer, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Royal Crown Revue and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy were overplayed on more than a few radio stations; and it seemed like swing was everywhere. “Swing dancing” became as much of a cliche in women-seeking-men ads of the era as “candlelit dinners” and “strolls in the park.”

I’ve always assumed the revival of swing was a spinoff of the lounge movement, which was popularized by the movie Swingers.

This is just my theory but I think the retro-Swing craze of the mid 90’s started when our culture’s nostalgia-reflex kicked in after a lot of twenty-somethings picked through the old clothes and records of their grandparents shortly when the oldsters either moved to a retirement community or died. Of course, if you think about it, the “Swing Era” of the late 30’s and 40’s was overdue for cultural recycling. At the time, 50’s nostalgia had been done over and over several times since 70’s; 60’s nostalgia refused to go away; 70’s nostalgia had peaked; and it was still too early for 80’s nostalgia. Retro-Swing also combined nicely with the aforementioned “lounge/cocktail culture” (which had existed as a cult movement since the 80’s and had a heavy element of ironic-appreciation behind it).

In any case, while it wasn’t a huge mass movement, the retro-Swing fad was big enough to be on the pop culture radar for a few years.

I think this is the key. With most club dancing any more, there’s no structure at all. Anything goes, so there’s no room for skill. On the other hand, something like the Macarena is completely structured, with no room for creativity: If you’re doing something creative, it’s not the Macarena any more. Folks were ready for a style of dance which had a structure, but which allowed freedom within that structure. Now, of course, there are a great many such styles of dance to choose from, but swing just happened to be the one which caught on.

I was writing for a local music magazine at the time, and covered quite a few bands of this genre that came through town. And I got to be friends with a guy who owned a swing-flavored club. He said that it might have been getting more media attention, but a significantly large amount of proponents/fans/whatever have always existed. The fad, he believed, was the media hype, not the music/dance itself. He was surprised to find an instantly crowded club the night he opened.
A lot of bands that played swing are also big into rockabilly, and that seems to have as big a following.

It’s still on, thru streaming Internet audio, Long Beach KKJZ. I believe it airs on Sunday mornings.

I was a big fan of the swing craze. I love the music. How can you listen to it and not want to dance? And as Big Bad Voodoo Lou pointed out, the dancing is very sexy. Holding your partner, letting a stranger lead you, looking into their eyes as you dance…mmmm, that’s nice. Plus, I love costumes and dressing up, so the fun clothes were another benefit.

Just because it’s not your cup of tea doesn’t mean that other folks don’t get genuine pleasure out of it.

This does not appear to have reached the UK in anywhere near the same way as described in this thread in the US. Instead we had pop-reggae (e.g. Chaka Demus & Pliers and CJ Lewis) in 1993-4, Britpop (Oasis, Blur, Elastica etc.–indie pop) in 1995-7 and to a lesser extent line dancing. :confused:

The first time I heard them on radio (on an Alt-rock station, of all places!), I loved the Squirrel Nut Zippers. I had always loved Dixieland-style jazz, but all the best recordings of that music were old and scratchy. Now here it was presented in pristine, digital sound. The music was original and very very well written. The musicians weren’t nearly as good as Louis Armstrong’s bands, or the Dukes of Dixieland, or Count Basie’s bands, but they were tight and enthusiastic. They made me smile, and I went to hear them play live that week. This was before the ‘swing craze’ hit, and most of the people at the concert were just standing and listening (I assume most of them didn’t know how to swing dance, or didn’t want to). It was a good show and I bought their CD (titled Hot). I practically wore out that CD and I bought all the others they released and enjoyed them all. I never got into the dancing, just listening for my own enjoyment. I never particularly liked any of the other popular ‘swing bands’ that were out at the time. SNZ remain one of my all-time favorite bands. The Zippers just, well, struck a chord with me. :slight_smile:

“Swing Craze” is something of a misnomer actually. From what I’ve seen, the musical focus of the swing craze was what’s usually called “jump blues”, and not so much classic swing in the tradition of Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. Jump blues was basically a big-city fast paced style that developed after WWII, with the bands usually featuring brass sections accenting the music in tight chord formations. I’ve been listening to a lot of early Ray Charles, lately, and actually I think that music sounds a lot like it. In my opinion early swing hits of the 1930s, like “Swing Swing Swing” were heavy, powerful pieces that really were the hard rock of their time, but the movement quickly smoothed out the rough edges and turned into a diluted pablum that was suitable for, and saleable to, the general public. The bands hired gentle crooners and the wild drumming and improvisation receded into the corner.

Totally true. There was a major shift between the “hot” swing bands of the '30s and early '40s, and the “sweet” swing bands that came around in the mid-'40s. One rationale was that with many soldiers home from World War II, couples wanted sweeter, slower music for romantic slow-dancing, rather than fast, fiery, exciting up-tempo jazz. Jump blues came along around this time, with smaller combos (maybe 5-8 musicians rather than the 20-piece big bands), wilder songs, and definitely faster tempos. It is easy to see where jump blues, rhythm and blues, rockabilly, and early rock and roll all merged in the early '50s, and this is largely what the late-'90s swing bands drew from stylistically. Louis Jordan is probably the best of the late-'40s/early-'50s jump blues singer/bandleaders.