heard on the wire

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Doo-Wop

It’s almost impossible to conceive that the tuneless witterings of a generation of boy bands are but the latest phase of a rich musical tradition that dates back to the 40s and the rise of doo-wop.

This vocal-based rhythm and blues music developed in African-American communities in a number of US cities and was widely popular in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The Ink Spots were among the genre’s first exponents and their lead singer, Bill Kenny, is often called the father of doo-wop for his introduction at the beginning of the 40s of the “top and bottom” format used by most doo-wop groups: a high tenor lead vocal contrasting a “talking bass” in the middle of the song.

The Ink Spots :: If I Didn’t Care

Audio MP3

Fi-Tones are one of doo wop’s least succesful groups. They emerged in New York in 1956 but a lack of chart success curtailed their career almost before it had started. There’s no accounting for popular taste.

The Fi-Tones :: It Wasn’t a Lie

Audio MP3

Just a few months later another New York band began to trouble the fringes of the US top 50, but it wasn’t until 1963 that they had their biggest hit. Worth waiting for, I think you’ll agree.

The Classics :: Till Then

Audio MP3

By then doo-wop’s popularity was in decline; pop had been invented while soul music was the new sound of African America. But the form left us with some incredible records, perhaps the best of which was this 1958 release by Little Anthony and the Imperials, one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking songs of all-time.

Little Anthony and the Imperials :: Tears on my Pillow

Audio MP3

That, however, wasn’t my introduction to the genre, which as far as I can remember came from John Peel and a track that he included in the set he played at London’s Fabric. This later version features quite the most astonishing vocal (and suits) the wonder of which even the awful backing track cannot diminish.

The Capris :: There’s a Moon out Tonight


Photo: Doo Wop neon sign by Brent Moore ; some rights reserved

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