31 December 2009

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 32

(M/Dover, New Jersey)

Just a quick note for everyone who has read Tony's post on Golden Teardrops. I am playing that tune tonight during my broadcast starting at ten p.m. Eastern time, if you want to hear for yourself what all the "shouting" Is about. Sans guitars!

Clarke very kindly sent me a CD of the show so I was able to share the experience, albeit at one remove. When I listen to the overdubbed Golden Teardrops now, incidentally, the guitar seems more intrusive, as I have become used to the 1953 version which has been used on every CD compilation I've come across - but the situation is perhaps complicated by the fact that I only have the overdubbed version on an elderly vinyl album rather than a scrubbed-up digital copy. Spoilt by Rhino, am I reacting to the strumming or the surface noise?

On balance, I suspect the guitar doesn't really serve any useful purpose other than providing a bit of unnecessary underlining of
the original instrumental backing which had been so careful not to overwhelm this loveliest of all vocal arrangements that it's almost felt rather than heard; in Marv Goldberg's highly recommended Flamingos article (I bow before that man's industry), Sollie McElroy is quoted as saying: "If you listen to the background, there is very little music. It was almost a capella."

Whether adding that reinforcement can be artistically justified, the context of sending a 45 out into a crowded market in 1961, hoping (I presume) for a crossover hit perhaps meant that it was the right decision commercially - and whatever you feel about the overdub, if it meant more people got to hear the record, maybe that wasn't altogether a bad thing.

Having talked about it so much, perhaps now is th
e time (that guitarist apart) to namecheck those musicians who contributed by stealth (is that what's meant by negative capablility?) to the original Chance label classic (above). A a pdf file of a 1999 edition of Stop-Time, published by the Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College, Chicago, has a feature on the Chance label by (who else?) Robert Pruter and Robert L. Campbell. The relevant passage is as follows:

An August 1953 recording session brought the Flamingos into the studio again with the Red Holloway band (including Al Smith on bass, Horace Palm on piano, Al Duncan on drums,an unidentified trumpeter, and the ever reliable Mac Easton on baritone sax). The best of the four titles recorded at the session was "Golden Teardrops." The beauty of this song is marvelously enhanced by the intricate harmonizing,especially the way the voices are dramatically split in the intro and the close. McElroy's impassioned vocalizing helps immeasurably in in giving "Golden Teardrops" its reputation as a legendary masterpiece.

And finally, from the Marv Goldberg article already cited, Sollie McElroy's full acount of recording Golden Teardrops:

"We had a gentleman by the name of Bunky Redding who wrote the song, but we added a little bit here and there. [Bunkie Redding was a friend of the group; actually, he and Johnny Carter wrote the song.] We started rehearsing that song at my mother's apartment on 46th and Langley. I never will forget it. We rehearsed and we rehearsed. And we changed it and changed it and we were trying to get a beginning. And we began to put the song together like a puzzle. It took us about three months to do that song. Then we finally got it. If you listen to the background, there is very little music. It was almost a cappella. You could hear the notes, the blending of the voices. We rehearsed a long time on that song. In fact we were almost ready to give it up. We couldn't get it like we wanted to. And Johnny started bringing in that tenor and it started fitting in. And so when we felt like we were comfortable with it, we recorded it. We never sang it in public [before it was recorded]. Once we got it together, we went to the studio and recorded it. We never did pre-sing our songs to see how the audience would accept it. We rehearsed it and went to the studio."

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