Ten Records That Shook The World ©JCMarion
The following recordings are the ten that I feel were the most important and influential in the development of the style of music we call DooWop. They span the years 1944-1965, so there is a certain case to be made for the longevity of the music and of its practitioners. It has largely disappeared from the scene, but not entirely because like all good things it remains to be rediscovered from time to time. Every so often it comes around again in some new forms (for instance the group Boys II Men). So here are the most important and influential :
1.) If I Didn't Care - The Inkspots (Decca) 1938. In the late nineteen thirties the musical world was stood on its collective ear when they heard this recording. The contrast of Bill Kenny's high tenor lead voice, and the deep bass recitation of "Hoppy" Jones over the smooth harmonies was a sensation. The record sold in large numbers and radio stations were swamped for airplay. The relatively new form of radio programming consisting of playing phonograph records was given a huge boost by the popularity of this tune. Instantly across the country countless youngsters in Black communities saw the possibility of making it with this form of music rooted in the church. From the success of this one record came the foundation of an entire musical form, one whose every recording owes within its grooves, a measure of dedication to "If I Didn't Care". Performers on every level now perfected their "take" on the style and the tune-imitators were everywhere. It culminated in that paragon of middle American groups of the forties, The Modernaires, doing their Inkspots impression on the million selling hit "Jukebox Saturday Night." The group continued to put out hit after hit, almost always staying true to their formula. Even today sixty years later, there is somewhere a version of The Inkspots singing their tunes.
2.) I Wonder - Cecil Gant (Gilt Edge) 1944. Certainly one of the most amazing and sometimes tragic stories in American musical history that is seldom told. Cecil Gant came out of nowhere that afternoon in 1944 in downtown Los Angeles. He was a largely unknown singer-pianist in the wartime army when the opportunity came for him to perform at a war bond rally. He made a favorable impression, enough so that he had a chance to put some tunes on record. A recording of his tune "I Wonder" was released on the small independent Gilt Edge label. He was billed as Pvt. Cecil Gant, The "GI Sing Station". What happened next was unforeseen and unprecedented. The record sold, and sold, and sold-in huge quantities. The numbers will never be known but by some estimates the amount may have reached well over a million. The story of meeting the demand is the stuff of legends. It required clandestine record pressing plants in residential neighborhoods, all manner of secret deals for the supply of shellac (a must for the production of 78 rpm records) which was subject to severe wartime restrictions, and the itinerant record sellers up and down the west coast operating from trunks of cars and roadside stands. It was the right song for the times and it captured the sentiments of a large number of the population as they could see the beginning of the end of the world war. The impact of the success of this record was immediate and forever changed the face of American recording. It proved that an unproven Black artist, recording for a small independent record label, can return huge profits to the owners and entrepreneurs. This was the first time that this had happened and the opportunity was not lost on a number of small time record producers. The result was the establishment of the indie labels which willingly recorded this new largely unheard wealth of talent. Los Angeles was the first area, the birthplace of the R & B independents. There was Modern Music (soon to become Modern and subsidiaries RPM, Flair, and Meteor), Alladin, Specialty, Imperial, and the Black owned Excelsior. The rest of the story is well known as independents sprung up in most major cities and changed the music forever. And it all started with this one record. And Cecil Gant who was there at the beginning ? The story here is anything but happy. He tried again and again to duplicate the success of I Wonder with a string of releases for Gilt Edge. Having no luck he returned to his home town of Nashville for a series of records for Bullet, again with no success. He got one more shot with a major this time- Decca for some dates in New York. Although he was on Gunter Lee Carr's historic cut of "We're Gonna Rock" he came up empty again. He finally succumbed to a combination of depression and the bottle and died in 1951 just 7 years after the release of "I Wonder". Everyone who ever had a hit for an independent label should give a word of thanks for the memory of Cecil Gant.
3.) Choo Choo Ch'Boogie - Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five (Decca) 1946 - Jordan is a seminal figure in the history of American music. He is certainly the major link between the fall of the big bands and the rise of rock & roll. His series of recordings for Decca in the nineteen forties chronicle a changing of the guard in the tastes of the record buying public in this country. He was the very first true crossover artist of major proportions and his success opened the way for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of performers since then. This has been his signature tune and his biggest (although not his only) hit record. Another measure of his importance is the window he opened into the life of the American Black community speaking through his music. Such tunes as "I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts of Town", "Saturday Night Fish Fry" , "Beware Brother Beware" and "Nobody Here But Us Chickens", were bought and enjoyed by people of all backgrounds. This was Jordan's true universal appeal, this taking the ethnic pigeon-holing of music and getting rid of the practice forever. The talent and success of this true musical pioneer made it possible to obliterate the code words "race", "sepia" "Harlem" and any others that were used to categorize the music. Unfortunately in recent years we might be moving back to this very categorization that was such a stigma all those years ago. Just give a listen once again to "Ch'Boogie" and that will answer any doubts of why this record was so important. A further indication of the historical importance of this recording is the fact that the pioneering rock & roll artist Bill Haley and his Comets did a cover of the tune in 1955. They knew the territory better than we ever gave them credit for.
4. )It's Too Soon To Know - The Orioles (It's A Natural) 1948 - This is the true kicker-offer, the real opener- upper of the age of vocal group harmony. It all evolves from this recording. The former Vibranaires from Baltimore with their friend, manager, and confidant Deborah Chessler (the founding Mother) made it all happen in 1948. The impact of this recording and the subsequent releases on the Jubilee label cannot be over emphasized. The smooth delivery of Sonny Til, the warbling harmonies behind him, and the alternate leads of George Nelson influenced a generation of singers. The proliferation of "bird groups" named to approximate the style and substance of this group gave the music a foundation and a place in history. The took what the Inkspots originated and moved it to a new level. The best manifestation of this accomplishment can be seen by comparing some of the Orioles covers of the Inkspots tunes. My personal favorite in this regard is "I Cover The Waterfront". The original is one of the veteran group's finest, but then the O's just seem to juice it up and add their touch and it gives the tune so much more flavor in the top end harmonies, the transition chord changes, and Nelson's lead on the second chorus. By the time "It's Too Soon To Know" was ending its run the word was sent forth-this was the one.
5.) Sh-Boom - The Chords (Cat) 1954 - This is the record that for all practical purposes opened up the rock & roll era to the world. As the popularity of this recording on a new subsidiary label of the independent Atlantic began to zoom, a pale pop cover by the Canadian quartet The Crewcuts was quickly produced. Enough of the general listening public were then unaware of this practice so that the Crewcuts version outsold the original as was the norm at this time in history. This recording by the Chords was in a neutral safe zone-that is, assuredly in a R & B style but certainly had pop music shadings. Peter Potter, at the time a popular music personality at the head of the radio and early TV show called "Juke Box Jury" was aghast at the state of the new trend in pop music. He stated that he could not comprehend anyone remembering the tune "Sh-Boom" in five, let alone twenty years. Well of course it is now 44 years later and the Chords version of Sh-Boom is still close to all of our hearts.
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