A Collection of Essentials
Here is a list of items that are an essential collection for a true devotee of the sound of the R & B vocal groups of the 40s and 50s. First is a number of readily available works that give a good overview of this style of music that is perfect for the fan that is just now getting into the history and esthetics of Doowop.
The Doowop Box - vols 1 & 2 - These two CD collections on the Rhino label offer as good a group of tunes from the "golden era" as would be possible aiming at the general public. Almost all of these are considered "standards" by collectors, but for the newer 'afficianado' they offer a perfect starting point. Most of the hits and style setters are here, and the collections take their place as presenting a wonderful starting point for further explorations of this wonderful music. The close to 200 selections will give the novice listener a pathway to groups and styles that can be discovered by the many group/label/style specific CDs that are now available.
Doo-Wop (The Forgotten Third of Rock 'n Roll) - This book is written by Drs. A. Gribin & M. Schiff and published by Krause. A well written and thoroughly enjoyable vocal group primer. Chapters concentrate on styles, personalities, and history without getting too deep or preachy. It is certainly nowhere near a completist work (the DJ chapter only deals with Alan Freed, Dr. Jive, and Willie Bryant, for example), but it is certainly worthwhile reading. The discology portion is huge, listing over 25,000 vocal group records. As in any undertaking this massive, there are bound to be errors both musically and historically. However this is a worthwhile effort and is a welcome addition to any lover of the style of doo wop music.
The Billboard Book of American Singing Groups - This book subtitled a History 1940-1990, is written by Jay Warner and published by Billboard. Here is a well written and researched book on the entire history of vocal group singing during the era of modern American popular music. It will aquaint the reader with many of the groundbreaking stylists of the 1940s that are so conveniently forgotten today. These include the Deep River Boys, Brown Dots, Charioteers, Basin Street Boys, and many others.This leads into the main time frame of the 1950s. A good portion of well known groups are profiled along with lesser lights such as the Bay Bops, Hghway Way QCs, El Venos, and Rocketones. Pure pop groups are also included (Hi-Los, Chordettes, Playmates ,etc.) but the true R & B groups predominate. The late 60s to the 80s hold very little interest for me but others may disagree. The first two sections are worth the price for an informative and readable history of vocal groups.
Motion Pictures (on video where available)
These movies may not all be available on tape. If that is the case, then watch closely for their showings on TV especially cable channels AMC (American Movie Classics) and TBS (Turner Superstation from Atlanta).
The Girl Can't Help It (1956) - The best movie on rock & roll music made during the 1950s. It stars Jane Mansfield, Tom Ewell, and Mickey Shaugnessy, and is a spoof of the mob control of the juke box industry. The comedy surrounding the rise of rock music as the staple of American youth features bits by many of the original performers of the songs. A nice turn is done by The Platters amid the blasters and rockabillies of the time.
Rock, Rock, Rock (1956) - The best of the Alan Freed quickies made during the 1950s (others were Rock Around The Clock, Don't Knock The Rock, Go Johnny Go, and Mr. Rock and Roll). This film is notable for the original songs done by The Moonglows (We Go Together and I Knew From The Start) and The Flamingos (Would I Be Crying).
American Hot Wax (1976) - Probably the best ever despite the historical inaccuracies. Lots of footage of vocal groups trying out their stuff on street corners and in tiled wall bathrooms for the great echo effects. Tim McIntyre shines as the tormented Alan Freed fighting the good fight. Good music throughout.
Let The Good Times Roll (1975) - A documentary following one of Richard Nader's original Rock & Roll revival shows at the Veteran's Colisseum in suburban Long Island. It has a good cross section of the revival scene and the aftermath of the musicians attempting to relive the past if just for one more moment.
The next issue will feature essentials for the more advanced collector and lover of the vocal group styles of the 40s and 50s.
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