The Mistake That Immortalized Cannibal and the Headhunters


At a career that comprised signature songs including “In the Midnight Hour” (which he wrote) and “Mustang Sally,” it’s surprising that Wilson Pickett’s biggest success was 1966’s “Land of 1000 Dances,” a cover of Cannibal & the Headhunters’ hit from the previous year naasongs.

Cannibal & the Headhunters were East Los Angeles garageband rockers who used music to flee their challenging neighborhood. Lead singer Frankie Garcia got his identifying name as his brother has been filmed “Big Cannibal.” Frankie, of course, became “Little Cannibal.”

The group’s raucous noise has been accomplished by packaging the recording studio together with people, for example, countless girls that followed closely the band. Recording engineer Bruce Morgan set arrows in the front of those girls, that whined the “naa na na na naa” background vocals. Cannibal captured his vocals by another audio booth.

However, the Headhunters’ “Land of 1000 Dances”

itself a cover; the original was written and first recorded in 1962 by Chris Kenner, a hard-living longshoreman and R&B shouter who had previously hit with “I Like It Like That.”

But for all the dances mentioned, the title of the track is never heard in the lyrics.

The famous “naa na na na naa” chant so identified with the song was not heard in Kenner’s original. The song’s most memorable phrase began because Kenner’s litany of dances was so difficult for Cannibal to remember. It was at a performance that Cannibal, who’d lost track of the many dances, instead substituted “naa na na na naa.” It sounded so good that the phrase stuck.

The song became a staple of garage bands as it was so easy to sing and play. Dozens of artists have covered the song, including Tina Turner, Patti Smith and Tom Jones. Cannibal’s “mistake” was comprised from the Pickett struck and turned into the song’s signature.

On his Rockaeology internet site, Lee Jensen unearths the secrets behind the writing, recording and production of the wonderful strikes of soul, rock, doowop, both the British Invasion and Rhythm & Blues.

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