Friday, 1 January 2010

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 69

(42/M/London, England)

Although the Beatles might have been thought to introduce me to rock'n'roll I don't recall the earlier LPs (with rock'n'roll covers) around the house; instead, my musical life was changed by seeing a Chuck Berry concert on TV c.1972, being forced to buy a Little Richard LP, there being no Chuck Berry available, and suddenly plugging into the excitement of Ready Teddy.

I recall the bewilderment of one elder brother - this was around 1972, the era of progressive rock, and groups like Tyrannosaurus Rex (the small scale precursor of T Rex with incomprehensible but poetic-sounding lyrics) popularised by the "underground" DJ John Peel on Radio One, the BBC station brought in as an answer to pirate radio in 1967. Rock'n'roll was not cool, but I persisted, finding more and more as I explored what LPs, usually deletions, I could afford.

The film That'lI be the Day referred to earlier was the first time I heard Frankie Lymon; a significant moment. I find the song barely listenable now through overfamiliarity but at the time there seemed such a purity and beauty about the way he hit a certain "why" that I was hooked. The soundtrack was mostly oldies rather than doowop and for several years I picked up whatever I could in that general area - in fact I can't place when doowop took over, but happy accidental discoveries like Golden Teardrops on an oldies LP in the basement of Listen Records in Glasgow in 1978, and a very cheap double album, worth taking a risk on, by a group called the ... Dells (luckily it was their Vee Jay stuff) definitely eased me towards it.

There were some ersatz rock'n'roll and even doowop groups hitting the British charts in the early 70s, presumably In the wake of that film and American Graffiti, and I even went to see one in concert: all cheap showmanship and the worst, most surreally out of tune version of Chuck Berry's Rock'n'Roll music I hope to hear in several lifetimes. (Even if it means nothing to you let them be named and shamed: Showaddywaddy. I think they still survive in some form - now available... )

In 1975 I became an art student; discos there were a mix, including a generous helping of rock'n'roll. That now seems a magical time, and more a kind of finishing school for adolescence than a place to work hard, especially after a staid school education.

But to cut a long and painful story short, I didn't progress beyond the second year, and later went to university instead. I still feel regret at the sense of opportunities wasted but the long shadow cast by that sense of failure, despite the later satisfactions of university, would undoubtedly be darker and less penetrable had it not been for the way in which doowop reawakened the creative impulse in me.

... which seems an ideal, indeed almost cornily preplanned, point at which to break again. On the home stretch now ...

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