30th May 04:30
Pitchfork Media Feature: 'My Top 10 Doo-Wop Songs' (head finger reverb love tune)
Now, granted I know that Pitchfork Media has little to do with music
from this era; it typically features cutting edge college radio type
music. But this feature happened to catch my eye this morning.
I read Pitchfork daily and I tend to force myself to put up with the
"we're to hip for the room" mentality of most of their writing staff.
As well as all of the political jabs at anything to the right of Ralph
I do so because I think they have good writers and I love music...
whether it be the Orioles or My Bloody Valentine. I love music.
So I'm reading through this list and I recognize ONE single song. ONE.
I thought I was really kind of knowledgable with Doo Wop... a local
public access show in Memphis (where I grew up) played Doo Wop every
Friday night, late at night. And the guy that did the show didn't just
put the Rhino DOO WOP boxes on shuffle either, he brought 45's, etc.
But I haven't ever heard of any of these artists or songs..with the
exception of the Chantels "Maybe".
Have any of you ever heard these songs? Where can they be found? I
did some quick searching (granted not in depth) at allmusic.com and
found nothing. Were these artists that were on non name labels that
had 200 copies pressed up to play in one market during the summer of
'54 and then disapeared or something?
My Top 10 Doo-Wop Songs,
in Order of Ruggedness
Story by Andrew Whiteman, Apostle of Hustle
Doo-wop wasn't all well-manicured groups of White American college boys
with letterman sweaters on; guys all safe and secure to bring home and
meet la familia. Well, it sorta was. As with a lot of American music,
this image is a watered-down version of what I consider the real deal:
A 50s phenom of both nascent rap (street corner origins, no equipment
neccesary, it's music from yr mouth) and indie (the incredible
variation of labels and groups that were largely skipped by the
mainstream and relied on hands-on distribution, recording, etc.).
I guess many of the people that made this music were early versions of
today's bling set, even though a lot of hardcore doo-wop fans are
probably the "ah, those simple times were better" Republicans. But fuk
'em: The times that spawned this music were undoubtedly as nuanced and
confusing as today. As for the music itself: For me, it haunts.
Drenched in reverb, there is incredible transcendence to be found in
the midst of even the most b**** lyrics. That is a kind of magic. There
is struggle; the "innocence" of this not-so-distant-past is often
merely a mask behind which riveting Lust and Pain and Loneliness
resides. all the key elements are here: melody, killing harmony, and
repetitious rhythms. I'm defining my list as "rugged" because to the
quality of recorded sound, the attitude of the track, or a slightly
off-key-who-gives-a-shit feeling. Plus, my Orioles and Flamingos CDs
were boosted two years ago. Here we go:
1. "This Is Really Real", the Earthquakes
thing, the kind of track that makes people give you the "are you
serious?" eyebrows. Yes, we're serious. Free-form signaturizing against
out-of-tune guitar arpeggs. The 'verb is on everything and not
highlighting only one element, so it's a chunky shower. Plus. the lead
vox are torn out of his throat by this final plea.
2. "The Boy of My Dreams", the Darlings
OK, this pick is based on sonics: Both the incredible room sound on the
backbeat and sax and additional eighth-note slap on top of it makes for
an underwater-style mix. And the melody stays murky and dark,
preferring to weave in and out of the shadows than to go stratospheric
or falsetto. This isn't about convincing-- it's the doo-wop that speaks
in reflection and contemplation, and does its best work like those
cheesy stage-play soliloquies where everything stops for a moment while
the lead character ponders something Deep and Troubling.
3. "September in the Rain", the Royal Jokers
This was produced by my old boss-- Mr. Rhythm, Andre Williams, in
1956--featuring the only bebop sax break I've ever heard in doo-wop.
It's from Detroit, so you know its Hard as Ice. Lead vox = thick oak
throat. Longer fainter reverb, a slight slap. The chordal vox harmonies
are, like the feel of the whole track, all swing saturation. This
drives and reflects upon the past while also seducing it. The singer
lives in "last September" but he's inspired instead of regretful.
There's even some organ breaks in the back somewhere. This is some true
"smoove shit that murderers move with." Must've been practicing a lot
in the cell. Could be the moonlighting Funk Brothers on the backing
track...Andre told me it was one mic, and a few bottles.
4. "Walking in the Rain", the Prisonaires
These guys were convicted murderers and thugs-- they definitely did
practice in their cells. In fact, the lead singer practiced with a
bucket on his head so he could master using reverb! This is another
contemplation song, but its magic is the opposite from "The Boy of My
Dreams." The sounds are gentle, soft, and quite old-timey, but the
absolute alienation and torture the singer complains of is undeniable.
There's an extra bar stutter in between verses, throwing you off, and a
sudden falsetto stab, too. Quiet is the New Loud, yeah. This is an ache
harder than most of us usually feel. Rugged, I guess, b.c it's true.
5. "What's The Matter Now?", the Swan Silvertones
OK, so these guys were a gospel group, yet this could be the fiercest
rock'n'roll song until "Down in the Street" by the Stooges. This record
was stolen awhile ago, so I'm going on memory-- but damn this is An
Intense Track! Loudest, baddest backbeat; the most amped-up clave-guit
pattern, slamming like Bad Brains throwing the moneylenders outta the
temple. "What's the matter now?!"-- a question as to why the church
isn't kicking as much ass as it used to. The best gospel seems to be
not when the singer is thanking Jesus/God/church, but demanding
something of them, e.g. "I Want My Crown" by the Pilgrim Travellers.
6 and 7. "Strolling on the Beach" and "I'll Get By", the Hollywood
The West Coast had its sound too-- and I picked two examples from this
incredible group. While slightly more slick then my usual choices, it's
still not as polished as the Flamingos. Like angels that lead you,
doped up, into a red and shimmering loneliness from which there will be
no escape. The lead carves the melody through thick sheets of reverb,
and the entire effect is like hang-gliding, the texture and terrain of
"I'll Get By" is so detailed. "Strolling" is another chase song, (very
L.A.-specific )-- furious driving drums, catcalling urgency, and best
of all, it's practically a single-chord song. (But that's the subject
of another top 10 list...)
8. "Nite Owl", Tony Allen and the Champs
New York City, on any given night, even today. The track is simply
tough--the fool has become wise, heart breaks and it's a flip of the
finger. The "strolling" vibe is used as a reversal against the nite
owl-- yeah?? Why keep comin' home late?? Well, seeya, "So long, call me
maybe." Casual cover, against the pain. The chorus mocks Tony Allen by
sounding like, uh, owls.
9. "Maybe", the Chantels / "At the Ball", the Unique ****s
Let's give this one to the ladies. A jewel of doubt, a cascade of
echoing waterfall heart-is-breaking-I-refuse-to-admit-it style shit.
(S)he'll change, I know it! I know it. maybe.
And for my little sneak-in...the Unique ****s! One of those songs that
you know is good just because of the name. This is merely a spotlight
on the debt we owe androgynous vocalists!! A Little Anthony
impersonator benefits from unusual vocal stacking that creates some
cool suspended chords in the breaks, organ shots, and two-guitar
10. Bossa Cubana, Los Zaphiros
This is absolutely jaw-dropping, and another example of the "live fast,
die young" romance that true doo-wop encapsulates. These four hoods
from barrio centro en habana recorded some incredible sides before the
lifestyle slowly (or quickly) killed each one of them. Standout track:
La Caminadora-- lead vocal displaying the essential doo-wop quality of
insistence at all costs. Listen to the sound of her sandals down the
street. And after surfing over top of the main part of the song, they
gear-change into an Afro-Cuban "folkloric" feel and the lead vox
dominates with his inspiraciones. A frenzy of voices and ritmos clouds
the final fade out.