Straight into a quick swinging solo drum rhythm, bouncing back and forth between low and high toms in a manner that has my toe tapping almost immediately. A guitar takes over at bar four, riffing downwards. A snare roll, and the big brass sound kicks in just before bar five with the whole band behind it, transporting me away to a place where nothing matters but the soul of the swing beat.
Zoot Suit Riot is a strong catchy title track that kicks off the start of the album Zoot Suit Riot: The Swingin' Hits of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. With three albums already released by the ska/punk band, this fourth album was compiled in response to the audience at live shows asking which of the band's CDs had the most swing songs on it. It was a fair question to ask the ska/punk band, as they played mostly swing at their live shows. Thinking it would be silly to create a "best of" album after only three previously released albums, and not having the funds to create an entirely new album, they instead chose to do a bit of both. Zoot Suit Riot was one of four new songs written to go on the compilation album, along with Brown Derby Jump, No Mercy For Swine, and When I Change Your Mind.
Zoot Suit Riot was written by Steve Perry, the frontman and vocalist of Cherry Poppin' Daddies, inspired by his love of jump blues, boogie and the Pachuco culture of 1940’s Los Angeles. Written in the musical style of 1940s jump blues, the lyrics concern the zoot suit riots of that era. Sailors on leave would attack people who were "unpatriotically" wearing zoot suits, as the large quantity of material used to create zoot suits went against the War Production Board rationing regulations of 1942. Steve Perry wrote in late 2016; "To me, the simplified duality I used as I wrote the song was: we swingers were in solidarity with our counter cultural ancestors the 'Zoot Suiters' and we were opposed to the 'sailors' who represented the squares who weren’t yet hip to our growing communal jive."
The new songs for the album Zoot Suit Riot: The Swingin' Hits of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies were recorded in late 1996 on a shoestring budget. The mixing process was hurried out of budgetary necessity, with single takes used often, including the vocal track for Zoot Suit Riot. The album was originally released independently in March 1997 on the band's own Space Age Bachelor label, but was re-released shortly afterwards in July 1997 on the Mojo Records label in order to achieve national distribution. In October 1997, Mojo Records found the album sales had been consistently steady, and they decided to release the title track as a single and get it playing on radio stations. The band protested strongly, as they believed that a swing song would never receive airplay on mainstream radio and that they would likely have to recoup the costs of its marketing. Mojo Records went ahead anyway, and the band was pleasantly surprised when the song received regular airplay on college and mainstream radio, catapaulting them into mainstream awareness.
With regular radio airplay and the Cherry Poppin' Daddies starting to tour again, CD sales of Zoot Suit Riot: The Swingin' Hits of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies took off. The album reached gold status in June 1998 with 500,000 copies having been sold. Platinum status came shortly afterwards in August 1998 with over one million records sold. With over two million copes sold, double platinum status was reached in January 2000.
Despite the questionable band name, and the lyrics having a punk lean and mentioning things like abusive drunk fathers, all of the music on this album is so catchy that I always find my mood lifted after listening to this album, even after just the title track. From the moment I press play and that quick swinging solo drum rhythm kicks in, my toes tap, my mouth smiles, my head bops, and I dance in my chair.