Friday, 1 January 2010

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 73

(42/M/London, England)


In the original posting yesterday I started by remembering some important records in my doowop education not yet discussed here. I'd forgotten about the happy discovery, c.1978, of two five-album sets of Roulette-related material in a Glasow record shop with the unlikely name of 23rd Precinct (American, rather than English, culture has always been been big in Scotland; the latter is perceived as imposed, but Country and Western and Rock'n'Roll have been joyfully embraced - to the point of mania, in some cases. We even have a Grand Ole Opry ... but that way madness lies. Keep at least in view of the road...).

Knowing what I now know of Morris Levy, I assume that such compendious sets are commomplace on TV commercials or sold in supermarkets or garages in America, but this was entirely new to me, and I leapt at the giveaway price. One set was ten tracks to a side so I was in an instant possessed of more rock'n'roll than I had ever come across before, and far beyond the usual American-Graffiti-rip-off soundtrack suspects. The sheer bulk of material compromised the recording quality but who cared? It was new and fresh (and cheap) and there was a generous helping of doowop.

I've never seen these kind of albums anywhere since, so maybe there is a divinity that shapes our doowoppin' ends - leading eventually to this series of postings – though the mystical experience angle is admittedly a little undermined by the fact that the record shop - in fact that whole odd little side street - had not mysteriously disappeared the next time I looked for it. In fact it's still there in the year 2000, though there are no more retro records of any sort in the shop, and for someone of my generation a distinctly chilly welcome.

A pity, as it was a great place to waste time. Interesting to speculate about the stages of its cruel metamorphosis - But that way too ... Keep to the road. Think Buick.

With the exception of a single album, also Roulette-linked, which introduced me to Gee, The Teenage Vows of Love and the Flamingos' Lovers Never Say Goodbye, and a series of LPs bought in a newsagent’s for 50p each (cheap even in 1978 for Britain) those two box sets were my main doowop education.

A word about those 50p albums: issued by a British company, President, in truly atrocious tinny sound (no nostalgia factor here), they nevertheless introduced me to a lot of (I presume) Vee Jay-owned material: the Spaniels' Play It Cool, the Orchid's Wonderful Newly Wed - one of the few songs that, like ITSOTN, I'm tempted to sing when in the open air and sufficiently distant from the rest of humankind to avoid causing unecessary suffering.

Incidentally, don't Newly Wed and the Jive Five's These Golden Rings tell strangely telescoped tales of love and loss? Quite apart from the plaintiveness of that lead, the Orchids' singer seems to have been deserted shortly after a honeymoon which gave no warning of what was to come - in fact, he seems to have been settling in for a period of cosy bliss in the new marital home (presumably before having to return to work?): "let the little time pass so slow," if I hear it correctly, then suddenly - BOOM! - "Heart broken, broken in two, Don't leave me here, What can I do?" At least Eugene never made it to the altar; as a former doowopper once put it, "A taste of honey is worse than none at all." Oh, I love that song. (And their You Have Two, I Have None, unissued till the 90s.)

There's always the possibility, of course, that the songwriter didn't think through the sequence of events logically, but I don't have to believe that if I don't want to. Besides; it “feels" logical, has the accelerated momentum of a dream/film sequence.

Blimey! The above was intended as a brief preamble to the discoveries on the box sets - things like the Valentines' Tonight Kathleen and, above all, the Medallions' The Letter. So: Vernon up next. Then I'm done.

The picture of 23rd Precinct was uploaded to flickr in June 2009 so presumably dates from then but the situation seems unchanged. I want to rush in and ask: When? When did you stop stocking those Jelly Roll Morton Library of Congress recordings nd those Roulette box sets? When? WHEN?!
But I won't. A brief summary in The List (a listings magazine, funnily enough) cautions that 23rd Precinct is now "a proper specialist store for proper specialist dance music junkies, as the intimidatingly serious background music, staff (most of them big-name local DJs themselves) and customers make perfectly clear from the second you enter."

There is even a kind of nostalgiac element (although I'm several decades too late) brought about by recent technology, as the listing observes that "as DJs all over the country have traded wax for mp3s, 23rd Precinct has snapped them all up; the shop floor is now an imposing mess of collections, jammed in tight, sporadically-labelled and at super-low prices – one of the best places in the Central Belt for bargains on ultra-rare white labels."

I wish them well, I suppose, in their search for the equivalent of my doo wop bargains ... Mine (as they say in the best Jacobean tragedies) is another voyage.

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