#504: Little Latin Lupe Lu by The Righteous Brothers
Robert Lee Hatfield was born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in 1940. Growing up, he worked at his parents dry-cleaning store. He was very athletic and considered becoming a professional basketball player, but decided to pursue a career in music after graduating from high school in 1958. He moved to Long Beach where he entered university at California State. He was in a group named the variations when he met Bill Medley, a member of a quartet called the Paramours. Hatfield joined the vocal group in 1962. However, they decided to change change their name based on a response by an audience member at the end of a concert in Orange County. During a set by the Paramours, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley stepped forward on stage to perform a duet dripping with emotion. As the song ended a black Marine stood up and yelled, “That’s righteous, brothers.”
Bill Medley was born in Santa Ana, California, in 1940. His parents had a swing band and their was always music being played in the family home. In his late teen’s Medley and a friend, Don Fiduccia, formed a duo called The Romancers. They wrote a number of songs, two which were recorded by the Canadian pop band, The Diamonds, who’d recently had a hit called “The Stroll”. Medley and Fiduccia added others to form The Paramours. Their vocal group got a record contract with Mercury Records and three singles were released in 1961-62 with some minor attention, especially in San Bernardino.
From audience responses like the one from the Black Marine, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield seized the moment, left the Paramours and pursued a career as a duo. When Medley was 19, in 1959, he had dated a girl named Lupe Laguna. He wrote a song about her titled “Little Latin Lupe Lu”. Hatfield liked the song when Medley introduced him to it, and they decided to included it on their debut album, Right Now! The song stalled at #49 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it climbed to #4 in July 1963 on the CFUN charts in Vancouver.
Bill Medley wrote “Little Latin Lupe Lu”. In a 2010 interview, Medley recalled that he wrote the song when he was nineteen years old. The song was about a girl he knew in high school named Lupe Laguna. Medley dated Lupe for awhile, and while he was writing his song he liked the alteration in Little Latin Lupe Lu. The girl in the song could have had a different name, but Bill Medley liked Lupe, and thought it scanned well when singing the song. He sang it for Bobby Hatfield while they were in a group called the Paramours. He liked the song at once. Medley also shared the song with Ray Maxwell, the owner of Moonglow Records. Medley has been a backing singer in studio recordings for some of the recording acts with Moonglow. So Maxwell gave the song a listen and wanted to record the song. But after it was recorded, Bill Medley recalls “nothing happened to it.”
Then the Righteous Brothers went to the Rendezvous Ballroom when a lot of surfing music was being played. The audience responded enthusiastically and record stores began having requests from customers to get a copy of “Little Latin Lupe Lu”. The record store clerks would tell the customers they’d never heard of the song. When Bobby Hatfield heard about this situation, he went to one local record store and gave them 1,500 copies. Hatfield told the record store owner, “if you can’t sell them you can make frisbees out of them.” At subsequent nights at the Rendezvous Ballroom the Righteous Brothers told the audience members what record store they could buy the record. Soon all 1,500 copies were sold. Meanwhile, at the time local radio DJ’s were in the habit of calling local record stores and asking what new records were selling well. As Bill Medley recalls the story, Gene Weed, a local DJ on KFWB in Los Angeles, called this record store and asked the lady how many copies they’d been selling of new records. And she said, ‘we sold ten of Elvis, five of the Everly Brothers and some record called “Little Latin Lupe Lu” by the Righteous Brothers, we sold 1,500 of them.’ The DJ said ‘what?'” And the DJ asked her to send him a copy. Gene Weed, like many DJ’s at the time, played record hops at local high schools. While advertising an upcoming record hop, Gene Weed played “Little Latin Lupe Lu” in the background. Listeners called the station to find out what record Weed had been playing. From there, the record took off. It appeared on the singles charts of several LA area radio stations in March 1963.
“Little Latin Lupe Lu” is about someone who is competent, “a high flying baby,” who can do any dances she chooses to perform. These dances include the Hoochie-coo, Watusi, the Shake, the Twist and the Mashed Potato. The Hoochie-coo is shorthand for Hootchie Coochie, a sexually provocative belly dance that was first performed in London, UK, in 1851. The Watusi was a dance popularized by the Orlons in their #2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 “The Wah-Watusi”. “Watusi” is a former name for the Tutsi people of Africa, whose traditions include spectacular dances. The naming of the American dance dates back to a scene in the 1950 film King Solomon’s Mines which featured Tutsi dancers, or by its sequel Watusi. In the classic Watusi, the dancer is almost stationary with knees slightly bent, although may move forward and back by one or two small rhythmic paces. The arms, with palms flat in line, are held almost straight, alternately flail up and down in the vertical. The head is kept in line with the upper torso but may bob slightly to accentuate the arm flailing.
The Mashed Potato was popularized by Dee Dee Sharp with her 1962 #2 hit “Mashed Potato Time”. The dance move begins by stepping backward with one foot with that heel tilted inward. The foot is positioned slightly behind the other (stationary) foot. With the weight on the ball of the starting foot, the heel is then swiveled outward. The same process is repeated with the other foot: step back and behind with heel inward, pivot heel out, and so on. The pattern is continued for as many repetitions as desired. The step may be incorporated in various dances either as a separate routine or as a styling of standard steps.
The Shake was a dance of mid-1960s, characteristic of “tense jerkiness” of limbs and head shaking, basically with no particular danced moves or steps. It superseded the Twist in popularity by 1965. It was an individualistic dance, with no steps, legs trembling, arms arbitrarily gesticulating and head shaking. No partner was necessary. The Twist originates in the late fifties among teenagers. Hank Ballard, of the Midnighters, saw teens in Tampa, Florida, doing the dance. He wrote a song called “The Twist” in 1958. Chubby Checker covered the song in 1959 and in 1960 it became a number one single, repeating the feat again in early 1962. The Twist is performed by standing with the feet approximately shoulder width apart. The torso may be squared to the knees and hips, or turned at an angle so one foot is farther forward than the other. The arms are held out from the body, bent at the elbow. The hips, torso, and legs rotate on the balls of the feet as a single unit, with the arms staying more or less stationary. The feet grind back and forth on the floor, and the dance can be varied in speed, intensity, and vertical height as necessary. Occasionally one leg is lifted off the floor for styling, but generally the dance posture is low and with the feet in contact with the floor with very little vertical motion.
Not only can Lupe Lu master the Twist, the Shake, the Mashed Potato, the Wahtusi and Hoochie-coo, in the Righteous Brothers’ song Lupe Lu is described as “groovy.” Groovy is a slang word that comes from “groove,” and was derived in the United States from the jazz phrase “in the groove.” Synonyms for groovy by 1937 were “excellent” and “first-rate.”
“Little Latin Lupe Lu” peaked at #2 in Indio and Palmdale, #3 in San Bernardino, #4 in Los Angeles, Akron (OH) and Vancouver (BC), #6 in Pittsburgh (PA), #8 in San Francisco and #9 in Cincinnati (OH). While “Little Latin Lupe Lu” got the Righteous Brothers some attention in California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vancouver (BC) and a few other radio markets, the song didn’t capture the essence of what the duo were about. However, “Little Latin Lupe Lu” was subsequently recorded by a Minnesota surf rock band called the Chancellors, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, the Kingsmen, Paul Revere & The Raiders, and other bands.
The Righteous Brothers next five single releases drew on R&B sounds with uptempo tunes like “Try To Find Another Man” and “This Little Girl Of Mine”. None most these were hits. Both Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield were capable of exceptional vocal talent. Both had mastery of their vocals, combining an excellent vocal range with control and tone. As a duo and as soloists, they were able to stand out from other vocal duos of the era. Medley’s baritone voice and Hatfield’s tenor were a unique combination. But they were still waiting for a breakthrough hit.
That breakthrough hit came in 1965 with the release of a song penned in 1964 for the duo by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann titled, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”. In 1964, Weil and Mann heard The Four Tops sing “Baby, I Need You’ve Lovin’”, and it inspired them to use it as a template for composing a song for The Righteous Brothers. Medley and Hatfield asked Phil Spector to produce the song. Spector added suggestions to the lyrics and helped Weil and Mann with a bridge in the song that began, “Baby, baby, I’d get down on my knees for you, if you would only love me like you used to do…” Spector also proposed that Bill Medley sing the first verse solo. Bobby Hatfield was upset with the suggestion and wondered what he was supposed to do while Medley sang a solo of the first verse. Spector replied, “You can go directly to the bank.” The song went to #1 across North America and in the UK. Over the decades “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” had become the most played song in radio history with over eight million broadcasts. Cher, of Sonny & Cher, was one of the backup singers on the recording.
Initially, all the lead vocals for the duos’ songs were by Bill Medley. Radio listeners got used to hearing Bill Medley’s deep voice as signature of the Righteous Brothers. Then “Unchained Melody” became a hit. Bobby Hatfield recalled, “It was the B side of a Carole King/Gerry Goffin song “Hung on You”, and all of a sudden the disc jockeys flipped it over and I had an accidental hit. It was kind of cool because Bill was singing lead on all of the songs then, so it was like, ‘Wow, who’s that little shit with the high voice?’”
Several top selling singles later the Righteous Brothers were looking for a follow-up to their number 1 hit, “(You’re My) Soul & Inspiration”. They chose to do a cover of “He Will Break Your Heart”, a #7 hit for Jerry Butler in 1960. In addition, Butler’s recording spent seven, non consecutive, weeks at #1 on the U.S. R&B singles chart. Subsequent cover versions of “He Will Break Your Heart” were released by artists Freddie Scott and by Tony Orlando & Dawn who had a #1 hit with their version in 1974. The Righteous Brothers version peaked at #91 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 and at #7 in Vancouver.
Righteous Brothers, Tour Dates, Righteous Brothers.com.
Bill Crandell, “Righteous Bros’ Hatfield Dies: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Singer was Sixty-Three,” Rolling Stone, November 6, 2003.
Bill Medley, The Time of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir, (DeCapro Press, 2014).
Mike Anton, Remembering a Blue-Eyed Soul Brother, LA Times, Los Angeles, CA, 2003.
Scott Iwasaki, Righteous Brother Bill Medley will share stories with Park City, Park Record, Park City, Utah, June 24, 2014.
Bill Medley, “The Story of Little Latin Lupe Lu,” Music Starts Here.org. June 23, 2010.
Hinkley, David. Boxed set booklet liner notes, Phil Spector: Back to Mono (1958-1969, ABKCO, New York, NY, 1991.
Peter Jensen Brown, “The “Kouta-Kouta” and the “Coochie-Coochie – a History and Etymology of the “Hoochie Coochie” Dance,” ESNPC.blogspot.com, July 4, 2016.
“C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, July 13, 1963.For more song reviews visit the Countdown.