Amoeblog

The Doo-Wop Challenge

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 15, 2013 09:24pm | Post a Comment
THE DOO-WOP CHALLENGE


Some years ago, my then-roommate and friend Seth and I dreamt up the Doo-Wop Challenge. I don't exactly remember what the impetus was although the catalyst was undoubtedly cannabinoid. The challenge in question was primarily a test of almost pointless endurance and stubbornness, like a quiet contest. Who can go the longest only ever listening to Doo-Wop when playing music. But we were both genuine fans too, not masochists. I, for one, always got excited when a Doo-Wop act would appear at the no longer extant Be-Bop Battlin' Ball held at the no longer extant Rudolpho's in Silver Lake.


The Moonglows - I Knew from the Start

Of course music is inescapable and a participant in the challenge would hardly be expected to leave a party, movie theater, restaurant, &c just because something other than Doo-Wop wasn't playing. But what would happen if every time you put a dime in the jukebox, chose an mp3 or sang a tune it was Doo-Wop? Would you start dressing differently, speaking differently, being differently? In Jeannot Szwarc's Somewhere in Time (1980), doesn't focusing thoughts on a penny allow for Christopher Reeve's character to travel through time to stalk his fetish?


SH-BOOM

The Chords - Sh-Boom

It was about sixty years ago that the first Doo-Wop song, "Sh-Boom," reached the Top Ten on the pop charts. It was written and performed by The Chords, a Doo-Wop group that featured Carl Feaster (lead), Claude Feaster (baritone), Jimmy Keyes (first tenor), Floyd "Buddy" McRae (second tenor) and William "Ricky" Edwards. The formed in The Bronx in 1951 and were discovered performing in a subway station. They recorded their only hit with Atlantic Records' Cat Records label.


DOO-WOP


The Larks - Shadrack

For the uninitiated, Doo-wop is a vocal-driven but not a cappella style of Rhythm & Blues. The earliest confirmed usage of the term "Doo-Wop" to describe the music (it was a common scat phrase in the music, thus its usage) is from 1961 although the music's heyday was in the 1940s and '50s and its roots trace back considerably further. Doo-Wop groups often took their names from birds and/or sounded like makes of cars and the name "doo-wop" refers to one of the many wordless vocal sounds sung by these performers who are still the highlight of many a PBS fundraising special.


The Titans - So Hard To Laugh, So Easy to Cry

At least as early as the 1860s vocal formed and soulfully harmonized spirituals, folk songs and pop songs like those written by Stephen Foster. The first line-up of The Fisk Jubilee Singers formed in 1871. There were Barbershop hit versions of Tin Pan Alley pop songs like Richard H. Gerard and Harry Armstrong,'s 1903 hit, "(You're the Flower of My Heart,) Sweet Adeline" and Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth's 1908 hit, "Shine On, Harvest Moon" during barbershop's golden age of the 1900s and 1910s. The most obvious direct antecedents of Doo-Wop were the vocal groups The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots, who formed in 1928 and 1934 respectively. Both groups were usually quite mellow and perhaps Doo-Wop is unfairly characterized as an exclusively mellow music. Not every Doo-Wop song was as mellow (not to mention lovely and atmospheric) as The Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes For You." 


The Clovers - Lovey Dovey

Doo-Wop first emerged in East Coast black communities in the 1940s although it quickly found a foothold in Italian and Puerto Rican neighborhoods as well as far off places like Compton and El Monte, California. Doo-Wop continued to chart into the early 1960s when it largely was absorbed by the more commercial soul acts coming out of Motown, surf-pop harmonizers like The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, and baroque 'n' rollers like The Left Banke, The Merry-Go-Round, and The Zombies.


The Platters - The Great Pretender

Doo-Wop never went away completely, however. Its echoes can be heard in Sha Na Na, ShowaddywaddyDavid Bowie's "Drive-In Saturday," the soundtracks to Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Paradise, Elton John's "Crocodile Rock," and Billy Joel's "For the Longest Time." Whether or not you allow yourself to listen to these and others like them during your Doo-Wop Challenge is up to you. When you're done, share how long you lasted and what, if any, effect it had on you. Thanks!

The Cadillacs - Jaywalker

*****



(In which we consider The Ravens.)

Posted by Job O Brother, May 2, 2011 01:37pm | Post a Comment


Last Saturday marked the end of my nearly eight years of employment at Amoeba Music Hollywood.

Okay – right away I can hear your breathing start to quicken and your heart-rate speed, so let me say right off that I will still be contributing to the Amoeblog. I struck a deal with management that, in exchange for writing my thoroughly researched and factually accurate lies and nonsense as I have been, I will be permitted access to the Amoeba Music break-room for all the free coffee I can drink from the hours of 4:30 pm to 5:45 pm, every Tuesday. Jealous?!?

A lot of people have been asking me what I’ll be doing now that I’ll no longer be working retail. My answer is simple.

Anyway, I want to share some of the sounds that have been weakening my knees for a while now; specifically, harmonizing vocal groups. (To be clear, I’m going to focus on more “popular vocal” groups of yesteryear – doo wop delights like The Flamingos and modern… err… marvels such as Color Me Badd will not be included.)

To start, let’s listen to one of my favorite harmonizing vocal groups of all time, The Ravens.


The Ravens
(...well, actually, it's just a picture of them on your computer)

The Ravens were formed in 1945 by Jimmy “B” Ricks and Warren “The Extremely” Suttles in response to the lack of “colored” acts with bird names, the development of which was seen as imperative in the move towards civil rights for blacks (though historians have since downplayed the importance of connecting African-Americans with any phylum chordata).

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Washed Ashore: It's Always Summer with Carolina Beach Music

Posted by Kells, September 7, 2010 11:53am | Post a Comment

In a hallmark episode of Mad Men Don Draper said, "Nostalgia -- it's delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, 'nostalgia' literally means 'the pain from an old wound.' It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved."

Of course, for all of you out there who, unlike me, don't voraciously follow the AMC series, Don was pitching an ad for a slide projector (nostalgia, indeed) to a potential client. However, I like to think that this quote speaks of yet another rotary mechanism with equal validity, both practically and emotionally speaking, though there may be some folks who'd argue the dingus as obsolete. Well, my record player is still alive and spinning, taking me to new places as often as it swings me back, right 'round, home-bound again like a flawlessly sound-tracked time machine. I can offer no better example of this cyclical sentimental journey than the summer season I spent aboard my little hi-fi this year enjoying an endless rotation summer jams beginning with the fresh sun-soaked (and smog-stained) sounds of Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti, what with the extremely timely June 7th release of Before Today on 4AD, and, now that summer is winding down, rounding out the season with a mess of Carolina beach music 7" singles culled from the belly of the 45's bargain bin at Amoeba Music in San Francisco.

Now, if you don't know what Carolina beach music is, chances are it's called something else depending on where you're coming from, but generally it's strictly "oldies but goodies" any way you slice it, genre-wise. Carolina beach music, also known as just plain Beach music, is a regional genre which developed from various musical styles of the forties, fifties and sixties --- ranging from breezy big band swing to rough and raw rhythm and blues, doo-wop, boogie, jazz, reggae, rockabilly and old-time rock 'n' roll --- that enjoys a close association with a style of swing dance called the shag, or the Carolina shag, due to its official status as the state dance of both North and South Carolina. That said, most of the hits fitting this homey genre feature a 4/4 "blues shuffle" rhythmic structure and a moderate to fast tempo that woos shoes to shag-dancing the summer night away. Think the Dirty Dancing soundtrack meets Myrtle Beach, or, better yet, think Shag the movie (1989), brought to you by the good folks who choreographed Dirty Dancing, starring Phoebe "I cain't go around sleepin' with every boy that likes me" Cates and Bridget "Does anyone feel lah-ike dancin'?" Fonda. Check it out:


Instead of outlining the early history of Carolina Beach music and the sociopolitical context of its popularity with white youth in the pre-Civil Rights Act of 1964, Jim Crow South (where youngsters who wished to hear so-called "race music" flocked to beach clubs where popular R&B ruled the scene), I'd like to offer a personal top ten of beach music jams, which I believe speak for themselves in terms of historic significance considering its enduring shelf-life, forever reminding us that it only used to take one dime in the jukebox to fall in love and that when packing for a trip to the beach selecting the right music is just as paramount as remembering to slather on the correct SPF sunscreen or freeing last year's trapped sand from your swimsuit before putting it through another bout of wipeouts. However, whether or not you actually get off the couch to see what all the fuss is about, the music will take you there, I promise. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.

"Summertime's Calling Me" - The Catalinas

"Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)" - The Swingin' Medallions


"Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)" - Benny Spellman



"Hold Back the Night" - The Trammps


"I've Been Hurt" - Bill Deal & the Rhondells


"Carolina Girls" - General Johnson and the Chairmen of the Board


"39-21-46" - The Showmen


"Washed Ashore (On a Lonely Island in the Sea)" b/w "With This Ring" - The Platters
 

"Ms. Grace" - The Tymes



"It Will Stand" - The Showmen


SHOUT!

Posted by Whitmore, July 29, 2009 09:59pm | Post a Comment

50 years ago today, one of the most ass kicking songs ever laid down on wax, the classic, seminal “Shout” was recorded by the Isley Brothers for RCA Records. Written by the brothers themselves, the lead vocals were handled by Ronald Isley with brothers O’Kelly and Rudolph singing back up. Even though the song never reached any higher than #47 on the Billboard Hot 100 and never did much on the R&B charts, “Shout” eventually became their first gold single simply on the basis of its lingering popularity. In 1999 “Shout” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
 
The Isleys originally sang gospel, but by 1957 they had switched to doo-wop, left Cincinnati, and moved to New York City where they first recorded for Teenage Records. In 1959, RCA signed the group after catching them as an opening act for R&B legend Jackie Wilson.
 
“Shout” was their second release for the RCA; their first, “I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door” failed to chart. Initially “Shout” didn’t make much of a dent on the national stage, but after being covered by other artists, like a 15 year old Lulu, and the king of the Peppermint Twist -- Joey Dee and the Starlighters -- the song found an audience. RCA re-released the Isley’s original version in 1961 but once again the single didn’t catch on, peaking at #92. With that failure, the Isleys were released from their RCA contract. No problem, they would chart dozens of singles for the next 5 decades for labels like Wand, Tamla, T-Neck and Warner Brothers.
 
As for “Shout,” it has been recorded by a wide range of artists like Johnny O'Keefe (his version reached #3 on Australian charts in November 1959), The Shangri-Las, The Beatles, Question Mark and the Mysterians, Alvin and the Chipmunks (Simon sang lead), Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Joan Jett, and the Temptations used to do it live, as did The Who, Panic At The Disco and Green Day. Of course, the most famous version is by Otis Day and the Knights from the 1978 movie Animal House.

Digging Through the Record Stacks - 2

Posted by Whitmore, April 15, 2008 09:41pm | Post a Comment

Music historians often site The Diablos as the originators and early archetypes to the Motown sound. Formed in Detroit in about 1950 by high school students Nolan Strong and Bob "Chico" Edwards, the Diablos derive their name from, El Nino Diablo, a book Strong was reading for a school report. From the start the group's sound centered on Nolans’s eerily ethereal, lead tenor voice. (Musical talent ran deep in his family: Nolan’s cousin, Barrett Strong, wrote "Money'' and many other R&B standards.) Other original Diablos members included Juan Guiterriez as the second tenor, Willie Hunter singing baritone, Quentin Eubanks as bass with Edwards on guitar, and later on Nolan’s brother, Jimmy, would join the group as the second tenor.

In 1954, the Diablos went into Fortune Records to cut some demos. The owners of Fortune, Jack & Devora Brown, who founded the label in 1947, immediately signed them. Their first single, "Adios My Desert Love" (Fortune 509, 1954), was written by Devora Brown. However, their second single and masterpiece, "The Wind" (Fortune 511, 1954), was written by the group. This ballad has a curiously ghostly quality and takes full advantage of the groups strongest points; a simple guitar line plays with a light vibrato, filling in behind the perfectly sculpted background harmonies singing "blow wind," as Strong's incredibly delicate, smooth as silk lead carries over the top. The atmosphere takes on a rather strange quality during the bridge when, backed by a quirky plate-reverb effect, Strong quietly recites his lines about his missing lover.  All and all, and truthfully, this cut is slightly bizarre but so evocatively captivating.  And, of course, it went nowhere, until some eight years later when "The Wind" was re-released in 1962-- this time it found a national audience, hitting the lower rungs of the Billboard Charts. “The Wind" is now regarded as a doo wop classic and is much sought after by collectors. The Diablos would continue to record for Fortune Records until the mid sixties, though with various lineups, perhaps the reason the last few releases were credited to only Nolan Strong.

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