Hi-class footwear

As we continue to roll back the British Invasion, an ode (or several odes) to the high-heel sneaker, the footwear equivalent of the Flying V.

Though wedgies are kind of cheating.

(Sneaker link for the e-mail people. Join the happy e-mail people!)

From 1964, Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heel Sneakers” sneaks (hah!) just under the line, time-wise, but I’m throwing it out here because it illustrates a phenomenon that largely went away after the Brits landed: It was recorded by everybody.

Including Elvis (great version):

(Elvis link!)

Jerry Lee Lewis, characteristically raunching it up:

(Jerry Lee link!)

And even the Man, Chuck Berry:

(Chuck link!)

And, according to the mighty Wikipedia, a couple of hundred others have also recorded “Hi Heel Sneakers” over the decades. But Tucker’s version hit number one on the R&B chart and nearly reached the top 10 on the Hot 100 — pretty good for a song that was a bit of a throwback even in ’64, or at least the sort of thing that would soon be shouldered aside as radio fell in love with Brits and the American acts that were swept along by all that new energy.

It’s the simplest of 12-bar blues, as the singer explains how he’d like his date to dress up for the evening:

Put on your red dress, baby
You know we’re goin’ out tonight
Put on your red dress, baby
‘Cause we’re goin’ out tonight
And bring along some boxin’ gloves
In case some fool might wanna fight
(This guy’s quite a catch.)

Put on your high-heel sneakers, lordy
Wear your wig hat on your head
Put on your high-heel sneakers,
Wear your wig hat on your head
Ya know you’re looking mighty fine, baby
I’m pretty sure you’re gonna knock ‘em dead

Repeat the verses once, or, if you like, just keep going around for a while, or forever. It has all the staples of a bar-band favorite: It’s really easy to play and sing, and you can do it in two minutes or jam on it and string it out, do it straight or use the framework to show off some bluesy guitar.

But the most charming, and pre-Invasion, thing about “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” and no doubt also part of its seemingly unlimited appeal to artists, is that it doesn’t mean a damn thing. Which was one of the things about rock ‘n’ roll before the Invasion (and Bob Dylan, of course, it was his fault too): It never would’ve occurred to a fan to take this stuff seriously or to look for any kind of deeper meaning at all. Rock ‘n’ roll was for dancing or, um, romance, and you could always get hold of a guitar and figure out how to play it yourself. (“Hi-Heel Sneakers”? Ten minutes. Eight if you’ve ever picked up a guitar before.)

Now obviously I have been known to take a song or two to heart myself, but if you are embarrassed by loving any rock song, no matter how stupid, or proud that you enjoy a purportedly more sophisticated artist, odds are you’re taking it all much too seriously. Own what you enjoy — either it’s all a guilty pleasure, or none of it is.

I am very fond of Roxy Music and Steeleye Span and the Beatles and the Kinks, and in general love what the Brits and the earnest Americans who followed them brought to rock ‘n’ roll. But I also love “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’,” “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and the non-G-dropping “Rock Around the Clock,” “Her Strut” (I know, I know), and “Levon.” Hey, I even love “Take Me Home, Country Roads”! Remember when that was rock music? Actually, it was country music, even if country radio at the time would rather have set its hair on fire than admit it.

My tiny point is that if you pretend to like something you don’t or, worse, pretend not to like something you do, that’s about the least rock ‘n’ roll attitude you can have. If you like Aerosmith or Journey, that’s your thing, so love it out loud. Conversely, you don’t have to be ashamed if you think Pink Floyd is actually kind of boring.

As Mick Jagger sang about a thousand years ago, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll. And before the Invasion, everybody knew what that meant.

About Bridey

Bridey has been a music nut since falling in love with Elton John's "Caribou" album in grade school (why that one? I was nine). She's a magazine editor by trade who writes regularly about radio, music, and related industries.
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