MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
We often think of the Great American Songbook as being the repertoire of jazz and pop singers like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and others. But many others claim the songbook as well, including doo wop groups in the 1950s. That’s what we’ll be exploring this week. Coming up, we’ll hear songs like “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and “A Sunday Kind Of Love” sung by classic doo wop groups like The Platters, The Flamingoes, and The Dominoes.
It’s Doo Wop Sings Standards, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - THE PLATTERS, “I CAN’T GET STARTED”
MUSIC - THE PLATTERS, “I’LL GET BY”
The vocal group The Platters with two standards. Just now, the 1928 Fred Ahlert and Roy Turk song “I’ll Get By,” recorded in 1956. Before that, the 1936 Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin song “I Can’t Get Started,” recorded in 1958.
MUSIC CLIP - LARRY CLINTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA, “HEART AND SOUL”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, I’m exploring classic tunes from the Great American Songbook as performed by some doo wop groups from the 1950s.
What is doo wop, exactly? The genre emerged out of big cities in the late 1940s and early 1950s, as a style of street corner singing by amateur Black singers. These early doo wop groups were inspired by other vocal groups like the Ink Spots, with their wide vocal range of low bass and high falsetto tenor, but doo wop groups placed an emphasis on rhtythm and words, often simplifying a song’s harmony and melody along the way.
Naturally, many of these groups were drawn to established songs from the American Songbook with simple harmonies, like for instance, the 1938 Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser song “Heart and Soul.” You know the tune—you’ve probably played it on piano. The song’s four chords—I-vi-IV-V, for all of you music theory people—were easy enough for any ensemble to learn. This chord progression eventually became so synonymous with doo wop that its often called “the doo wop progression” today.
Let’s hear two versions of “Heart and Soul” now. This first version comes from a group that’s not technically a doo wop group, the vocal group known as The Four Aces. They were an all white pop group signed to Decca Records, as opposed to the mostly Black doo wop groups that we’ll be discussing this hour. But their 1952 version of the tune, which was a hit just before the doo wop craze took hold, emphasized some of the rhythm of tune and the simplicity of the harmony. You can imagine how a doo wop group could be inspired by this version—if you just sing the bassline instead of playing it on the bass, remove a few more of the jazzier harmonies, and voila, this pop standard is now a doo wop song.
Here’s that song now. This is the Four Aces in 1952 with Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart And Soul,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - THE FOUR ACES, “HEART AND SOUL”
MUSIC - THE CLEFTONES, “HEART AND SOUL”
Two version of the jazz standards “Heart And Soul,” by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser, a song whose chord progression became the basis of so many doo wop songs in the 1950s. Just now, we heard the Cleftones in 1961, an R&B inflected doo wop version that reached number 18 on the charts in 1961. Before that, a traditional pop (and proto doo wop) version from the all-white group The Four Aces in 1952, a version that hit number 1952 on the charts.
When doo wop flourished in the mid to late 1950s, many of the most popular songs were originals. The Del-Vikings’ “Come Go With Me” or The Five Satins “In The Still Of The Nite” were each written by a member of their respective group, for instance. However, according to doo wop historians Tony Gribin and Matt Schiff, the two most frequently-performed songs by doo wop ensembles actually come from The Great American Songbook. And they’re songs you might not expect, either, because neither of them, at least in their original version, feature that classic doo wop chord progression like “Heart And Soul.” The songs are “Over The Rainbow” by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg from 1939 and “A Sunday Kind Of Love” by Barbara Belle, Anita Leonard, Louis Prima, Stan Rhodes from 1946. Gribin and Schiff count at least 20 different doo wop groups that recorded “Over The Rainbow” between 1954 and 1964, and we’re going to hear a version now from 1957.
This comes from the doo wop group The Del-Vikings, an integrated group from Pittsburgh. This is their 1957 version of the standard “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - THE DEL-VIKINGS, “SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW”
MUSIC - THE DEL-VIKINGS, “A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE”
Two American Songbook standards sung by the doo wop group The Del-Vikings in 1957. That was “A Sunday Kind Of Love” and before that “Over The Rainbow.” Believe it or not, these two songs in particular are the two most frequently-performed songs by doo wop groups from the 1950s and 60s.
The Great American Songbook formed an essential part of the repertoire of most of the great doo wop groups from the 1950s. I want to play a few standards from another one of the most influential doo wop groups of the classic period of the mid 1950s: Billy Ward and His Dominoes.
Billy Ward was not himself a singer. He was vocal coach, arranger, and pianist, and he recruited some of the best singers in New York to join his group around 1950. Among them was the excellent lead tenor Clyde McPhatter (who later went on to lead his own group The Drifters in 1953).
Let’s start with a song featuring McPhatter as the soloist. This is Billy Ward And The Dominos in 1953 with “These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You),” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BILLY WARD AND HIS DOMINOES, “THESE FOOLISH THINGS”
MUSIC - BILLY WARD AND HIS DOMINOES, “STAR DUST”
Two songs sung by the group Billy Ward and His Dominoes. We heard Hoagy Carmichael and Mitchell Parish’s “Star Dust,” a song written in 1927. That was sung in 1957 with soloist Gene Mumford, a top 20 single for the Dominoes. Starting that set, the song “These Foolish Things,” written by Eric Maschwitz and Jack Strachey in 1935, sung there in 1953 with soloist Clyde McPhatter.
If any doo wop group can be considered “experimental” in the 1950s, it was certainly the Chicago-based group The Flamingoes. Their style was certainly doo wop, but their vocal harmonies were often more complex, sometimes evoking more of the jazz vocal groups of the 1940s. Like many other doo wop groups, jazz standards played a key role in their repertoire.
Let’s hear two ballads by this group now, both recorded in the same session in 1959. We’ll begin with a George and Ira Gershwin standard written in 1937. This is the Flamingos with “Love Walked In,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - THE FLAMINGOS, “LOVE WALKED IN”
MUSIC - THE FLAMINGOS, “I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU”
The doo wop group the Flamingos, in a recording session for End Records in 1959, with two jazz standards. Just now, we heard their top 20 hit “I Only Have Eyes For You,” a song by Harry Warren and Al Dubin from 1934. Before that, the Gershwin song “Love Walked In,” originally written in 1937.
MUSIC CLIP - ANDRE PREVIN, “I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU”
In just a moment, we’ll hear more songs from the Great American Songbook, as interpreted by doo wop groups. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - HERB ELLIS AND RED MITCHELL, “BLUE MOON”
MUSIC CLIP - BIG JAY MCNEELEY’S BLUE JAYS, “THE DEACON’S HOP”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been listening to some doo wop groups of the 1950s and 60s this hour, as they perform some of the well-known songs from the Great American Songbook.
One particular songwriter whose work was interpreted several times by doo wop groups was Jerome Kern. It’s a bit surprising because Kern was often known for more complex melodies and harmonies, and doo wop groups are known for their simplicity of melody and harmony.
Nevertheless, here are a few. This first one comes from The Ravens, an R&B vocal group that started in the late 1940s, years before doo wop really took hold. There’s more swing to the Ravens’ sound than most later doo wop music, but they certainly created much of the doo wop blueprint. Not only did were they one of the first groups to feature the bass voice prominently, but The Ravens were also the first of many “bird-themed” doo wop groups, a musical aviary that later included The Orioles, The Robins, The Crows, The Larks, The Flamingos, The Penguins, and at least a dozen or so more.
Let’s hear them now. Here are The Ravens featuring bass Jimmy Ricks in 1948 with Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s “Ol’ Man River,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - THE RAVENS, “OL’ MAN RIVER”
MUSIC - THE PLATTERS, “SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES”
Two doo wop songs with music originally written by Great American Songbook composer Jerome Kern. Just now, one of the most successful vocal groups The Platters in 1958 with their number 1 hit version of Kern’s song “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” And starting that set, The Ravens, a proto-doo wop group in 1948 with “Ol’ Man River.”
Let’s hear another Jerome Kern song now in a doo wop style. This one comes from singer Johnny Maestro, who sang for many years with the doo wop group The Crests before going solo. The Crests were one of the first racially-integrated doo wop groups, consisting of Black, White and Latino singers from New York City. While doo wop was primarily a Black genre, its popularity spread across racial boundaries. There was an especially large subset of Italian-American doo wop groups that formed in New York around this time. Johnny Maestro, born Johnny Mastrangelo, was one such Italian American doo wop singer. Another famous one was Dion DiMucci and his all-Italian American doo wop group The Belmonts, who we’ll also hear from in this set.
First up, though, is Johnny Maestro with Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - JOHNNY MAESTRO, “THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT”
MUSIC - DION AND THE BELMONTS, “WHERE OR WHEN”
Two jazz standards sung by some Italian-American doo wop singers. Just now, we heard Dion and The Belmonts in 1959 with their hit version of the 1937 Rodgers and Hart standard “Where Or When.” Before that, Johnny Maestro in 1961 with “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Johnny Maestro and Dion DiMucci each left their respective groups (The Crests and The Belmonts) to pursue a solo career. Although they each adopted some more pop elements on their solo records, they kept some of those doo wop elements. A similar thing happened to Frankie Lymon, who started his doo wop career as a teenager with his group The Teenagers. He was still a teenager when he went solo in 1957, and kept some of his doo wop sound while also pursuing a solo pop style.
Let’s hear Lymon now with one of his first solo songs. It also happens to be a jazz standard. This is Frankie Lymon with the Matty Malneck and Johnny Mercer song, “Goody Goody” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANKIE LYMON AND THE TEENAGERS, “GOODY GOODY”
MUSIC - THE FIVE SATINS, “I’LL BE SEEING YOU”
A few more 1930s jazz standards in the doo wop style. Just now, we heard the group The Five Satins in 1960 with the 1938 Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal standard “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Before that, Frankie Lymon in 1957 with the 1936 song “Goody Goody.”
The popularity of doo wop music first declined in the late 1950s, as solo pop singers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Bobby Darin flooded the market. However, in the early 1960s, there was a brief but significant doo wop revival as older singles started to be reissued on “oldies” compilation albums. This ushered in a new wave of doo wop groups, who added more sophisticated recording and production techniques to the classic doo wop tropes.
The revival didn’t last long—the novelty wore off quickly. But the early 1960s revival also saw some of doo wop’s biggest hits, including one Number One single that originally came from the Great American Songbook. Here I’m talking about the 1934 Rodgers and Hart song “Blue Moon,” as performed by the doo wop group The Marcels in 1961. The song’s familiarity was the key to its success. It was recorded at the very end of a recording session, when the producer asked the group if they knew a song that had that famous doo wop chord progression. The song they knew was the familiar “Blue Moon,” which they quickly arranged on the spot, adding in some nonsense syllables and other familiar doo wop gimmicks.
Here are the Marcels in 1961 with their hit version of the 1934 Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart song “Blue Moon,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - THE MARCELS, “BLUE MOON”
An American Songbook classic, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “Blue Moon,” as performed by the doo wop group The Marcels in 1961. Thanks for tuning in to this “Doo Wop Sings Standards” edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - BLOSSOM DEARIE, “BLUE MOON [INSTRUMENTAL]”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow