Ooga-chaka ooga ooga

Ooga-chaka ooga ooga

Ooga-chaka ooga ooga

Ooga-chaka ooga ooga


These nonsense syllables kicked off Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling.” As absurd as the “words” are, this opening chant proved to be a goldmine gimmick for grabbing music-listeners’ attention worldwide.

It’s a meandering path that leads to the “ooga-chaka” we heard so often in 1974, so let’s do a little time traveling.

In 1959, singer Johnny Preston topped the charts with “Running Bear,” a Big Bopper-composed tale of two Native Americans who love each other but are kept apart by their warring tribes. (Shades of Romeo and Juliet!)

Preston’s million-seller started with “ugga-ugga ugga-ugga ugga-ugga ugga-ugga,” a chant provided by both uncredited country superstar George Jones and the session’s recording engineer.

Let’s jump nearly a decade to 1968. Songwriter Mark James has composed “Hooked on a Feeling,” a tune he wrote for his friend, singer B.J. Thomas. (James wrote the song about the thrills of being in love with his childhood sweetheart.)

Thomas took James’s work to No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

We come now to 1971 and Jonathan King, a U.K. music star who had scored a Top 20 American hit in 1965 with the quirky “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon.”

King, who realized the power of a “grabber” introduction on a record, took inspiration from the opening of “Running Bear” to create his own nonsense syllables — “ooha-chagga ooga ooga” — to open his cover version of “Hooked on a Feeling.”

His recording did well on the English charts but went unnoticed in the United States.

This brings us (finally) to 1974. In Stockholm, Sweden, the seven-member band Blue Swede, fronted by Bjorn Skifs, recorded the most popular version ever of “Hooked on a Feeling.” Released on EMI Records, it reached No. 1 in several countries, including ours.

Mark James’s lyrics had claimed that love is like a drug, that one can be “high on believin’” and that he wants to “stay addicted” to the girl who can turn him on. Pretty innocent stuff, really, but Blue Swede wanted to avoid any possible drug references, so they changed a few words:

B.J. Thomas had claimed:


I got it bad for you, girl

But I don’t need a cure

I’ll just stay addicted

If I can endure


But Blue Swede offered:


Got a bug from you, girl

But I don’t need no cure

I’ll just stay a victim

If I can for sure


That awkward change — which never made sense — didn’t hinder the song from becoming a worldwide winner.

P. S. Blue Swede is often dismissed as another “one-hit wonder,” having a lone high-charting disc but no successful follow-ups. Actually, Blue Swede did release a second Top 10 single here, a cover of the Association’s 1967 work “Never My Love.”

Peppy though it was, Blue Swede’s rendition lacked “legs,” as their version didn’t have the catchiness of the smash single that had made the Swedish guys a brief headliner in the world of popular music.


Randal C. Hill is a rock ’n’ roll historian who lives at the Oregon coast. He may be reached at wryterhill@msn.com.

Have questions?

We are just a click away!