Sunday, 24 February 2013

Are there stars in the sky? I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright. I only have eyes for you...

“I Only Have Eyes for You” by the Flamingoos (1959)
“Why Do Fools Fall in Love” by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers  (1956)

Doo-Wop: The influence from the street corners

An original corner-stone of pop music that we cannot ignore is what we call ‘Doo-Wop’. It was an urban ghetto post-WWII phenomenon. My English teacher would have said that “Doo Wop” is an onomatopoeia I think – words that imitate sounds basically. Yes that was the magic of this genre – bom bom, doobie doobie, shaboom,  oowahoo, shangalang.  They were essentially trying to emulate the gospel/R&B sounds of groups such as the Ink Spots. In fact Bill Kenny of the Ink Spots is sometimes regarded as the ‘Father of Doo-Wop’.

Predominantly African- American vocal group harmony (paralleled somewhat by ‘barber shop quartet’ with its understandable lyrics) could happen anywhere and it did. Why you may ask?
Not everyone could afford to buy or even play instruments. You had your voice – it might be the only instrument you need. Get a bunch of voices together and voila – instant band – a cappella style. You also had hands and fingers, so why not clap and snap the fingers too. Hey it worked.

Usually a tenor had the lead but the bass was important too as were all the supporting voices. The oowaaa sounds were new in replacing what used to be humming as background vocal sound.
Nonsense ‘words’ were used extensively. A good example that I have previously referred to was the 1956 Chips song, “Rubber Biscuit” with it’s totally non-sense lyrics. Maybe much like its older musical cousin blues, there was a little innuendo here and there.

Bands like the Drifters and the Platters were early pioneers with such songs as “Money Honey” and “Only You”.  There were the Orioles (Crying in the Chapel) and the Penguins (Earth Angel). The singers were generally young with a young romantic love idea behind most of the songs. The Five Satins did “In the Still of the Night”, the Flamingos “I Only Have Eyes for You” and the Chords with “Sh-boom”.

Later in the genre it became more commercial (which seems to always be a common theme eventually) and school boy doo-wop gave us Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”, and developing more over time into songs like “Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler with the Dukays.

You could potentially blame doo-wop for some of the novelty songs like “Yakitty Yak” or “Charlie Brown” by the Coasters. Without them maybe we would not have seen the likes of Jim Stafford (‘Wildwood Weed’ or ‘Spiders and Snakes’) or Ray Stevens (‘Ahab the Arab’, or ’Tthe Streak’). 

Then the falsetto and the harmony faded away. It led to a more structured song with real words. The folk wave rose out of the nifty fifties. Getting restless the roots needed to be explored once again. It was  about here in the timeline that we got Bob Dylan and the music world was once again sent spinning with “ Blowin’ in the Wind”.

10 More Doo-Wop Songs I like (in no particular order)

1.       Earth Angel – The Penguins
2.       Sh-Boom – The Chords
3.       Crying in the Chapel – The Oriloles
4.       I Wonder Why – Dion and the Belmonts
5.       Little Star - Elegants
6.       Sixteen Candles – Crests
7.       Blue Moon – Marcels
8.       Sincerely – Moonglows
9.       Only You – Platters
10.   Duke of Earl – Gene Chandler & the Dukays

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