on 30 January 2013
Doo Wop is the rock'n'roll equivalent of the love poem: it is how do I love thee, let me count the ways. It doesn't have the aggressive attack of Little Richard, the lyricism of Chuck Berry, the lunacy of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, the self-referencing of Bo Diddley, or the rockabilly of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, or 1954 - 1956 Elvis Presley, or even the borderline folk sounds of Johnny Cash from 1955 - 1958. It's the sound of what was defined as the "Street Corner Symphony", and had its roots in the jump and jive blues/jazz of Louis Jordan.
The beauty of doo wop was that it was centred on vocal groups, and some amazing bands arose in the early/late 50s, with some excellent harmonies, e.g The Penguins, The Five Spaniels, The Platters, The Glades, The Drifters, Gene Chandler, The Chords, The Parris Sisters, The Crests. One of the easiest oxymorons in the world is the title of a Penguins song "Earth Angel".
Doo Wop's influence has been tremendous, what with as far back as 1958, Elvis approximating the Doo Wop sound on Leiber/Stoller's Don't. Elvis also, during the Million Dollar Quartet sessions, in December 1956, referred to Jackie Wilson & The Dominos covering his Don't Be Cruel. Buddy Holly took the lush strings and gorgeous vocal arrangements to create True Love Ways in 1959. Likewise, where would Dion DiMucci's career, with and without the Belmonts, be without Doo Wop, and in turn Paul Simon, and Lou Reed. After all, what is Halloween Parade on Lou's New York, but a 1989 Doo Wop song, or John Lennon's Just Like Starting Over as a 1980's Doo Wopper ? Lou also did a cover of This Magic Moment on a David Lynch soundtrack for Lost Highway. Jerry Lee Lewis also attempted Doo Wop on the Class of 55 album, what with 16 Candles.
What surprises me is Keith Richards, however, as co-producer, but scratch beneath the surface, and you'll find an artist more than familiar with Doo Wop. In 1964, Keith' s main project, the Rolling Stones covered, albeit badly, Under The Boardwalk, after hearing The Drifters' version. Likewise, in the early 00s, Keith worked on a Ronnie Spector solo album, covering Ike & Tina's I Can't Believe What You Say as a duet with Ronnie. So Keith would be familiar with The Ronettes, who originally sang Be My Baby. Phil Spector, with Gene Pitney, also had a hand in unofficially producing the England's Newest Hitmakers, 1964, Rolling Stones album.
Aaron Neville has covered some great tunes in his time, whether it be, with the Neville Brothers, Ten Commandments of Love, or solo, Please Stay, which the Drifters did initially, Save The Last Dance for Me on a Doc Pomus tribute album, Pledging My Love. He also, with Show Me The Way, being one of his first records from 1961/62, would have toured with some Doo Wop acts.
Moving on, the album opens with a rocking, but mellow, cover of Clyde Macphatter & The Drifter's Atlantic classic, Money Honey. Money Honey was written by one of the great unsung heroes of rock 'n' roll, Jesse Stone; Jesse also wrote, inter alia, Don't Let Go, which was subsequently covered twice by Jerry Lee Lewis, and by Jeff Lynne on Armchair Theatre. Money Honey was covered with aplomb by Elvis in 1956, and by Ry Cooder in the 1970s. However, Aaron would have known his way around the Drifters version, and the guitar work from keith and Greg Leisz is a joy. Throw in Dylan's drummer, also from New Orleans, George Reeceli, and Heartbreaker, Benmont Tench, and the sound is excellently understated.
Ruby Baby, another Drifters number, covered by Dion, The Beach Boys, and later Donald Fagan on the Nightfly album, is given some excellent uptempo treatment too. However, the slow Spanish-tinged Gypsy Woman shows just how much Doo Wop was going to mutate into soul. Gypsy Woman was an early Impressions number, composed at about the same time as Mistress & Queen and People Get Ready. It predates the 1968-70 Young Mod's Forgotten Story and Choice of Colours. Prior to Gypsy Woman, the Impressions, with Jerry Butler in place, did the excellent VeeJay label tune, For Your Precious Love: another tune that shows the metamorphosis of Doo Wop into soul. Another little known fact is that The Rolling Stones did a version of For Your Precious Love, in 1989, as a Steel Wheels outtake, and like That's How Strong My Love Is, it's an amazing Stones soul cover. Aaron Neville also covered For Your Precious Love, so both Keith and Aaron are familiar with early Impressions recordings.
Be My Baby is enjoyable different: it's no longer the Ronettes with a huge Wall of Sound, but a nicely stripped down version of a classic. Brian Wilson covered Be My Baby on a live album, but it was just identical to the Spectorized version. Under The Boardwalk, however, erases the memories that Keith may have of the awful cover version that the Stones did on 12 x 5. It's nice to hear an excellent version of a much covered track, that Bruce Willis also destroyed too.
Work With Me Annie is a marvellous uptempo cover of the Hank Ballard tune. Hank was the original author of The Twist, covered by Chubby Checker, and James Brown, in the late 60s, tried to rehabilitate his fading career, in addition to helping the organist Bill Doggett out. Work With Me Annie also caused an excellent response-song, predating her Chess recordings, Roll With Me Henry by Etta James for Modern Records.
I also happen to enjoy the excellent Ting A Ling, a tune written by "Nugetre", Ahmet Ertegun's nom de plume. Nugetre also wrote Ray Charles' first big hit for Atlantic, Mess Around. Likewise, This Magic Moment, from Pomus and Shuman, is excellent, and an excellent Drifters cover. What this album is also doing is tipping the hat to Rudy Lewis, the man vocalist of the Drifters after Ben E King, with Under The Boardwalk. King actually sang on This Magic Moment, prior to going solo with Young Man Blues and Stand By Me. Rudy Baby was a Rudy Lewis effort, too.
Keith Richards would have also known Tears On My Pillow, via his buddy, Tom Waits, who referred to Little Anthony & The Imperials, on Christmas Card from a Hooker, on Blue Valentine, as well as hearing the original. However, the entire album isn't a post-modernist take on these 50s and 60s songs of young love, but a glorious return to a genre that very few, alas, listen to. Buy this album, and you'll discover the love and the flip side to Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On, School Days, Hound Dog, and Jenny Jenny.
Then, consider the source, and locate some excellent Rhino and Bear Family boxed sets.