Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop

 Steve's Kewl Doo Wop Shop was a Yahoo group active between July 1999 and August 2001. 

This page contains all the  posts from a dialogue (dialog, if you're American) with Clarke Davis saved from its messageboard. I hope they may be of interest to former members of that group and doo wop fans in general.

The dialogue  came about after I contributed to a thread about the difference between doo wop recordings and pop (Diamonds vs. Chords etc).


Clarke (now a DJ on rock-it radio) posted a response which triggered a wideranging discussion about doo wop, with other group members contributing occasionally.


These messages have already been posted individually on this blog with extra commentary and pictures. 


But in some cases I got rather carried away with the commentary, so for those wanting to read only the original Doo Wop Shop messages this page may be more convenient, as it has only the basic version of these posts - that is, the original text plus a few compressed pics. This is to help the page load more quickly.


If you do want to see what I've added, click on the first entries in this blog in December 2009 and January 2010.

Okay, let's dive into the ongoing thread about what is and isn't doo wop. The posts aren't dated, because they all appeared over a two week period in September 2000.

pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

It's difficult to give a definition of doowop that won't have people reaching for their keyboards, but I'm going to try anyway, in the hope that thinking about the music may enhance the pleasure of listening; obviously when statements are offered as Holy Writ that's something else again. With that in mind, here goes:

Doowop is (or let's say tends to be) music sung by a quartet or quintet, often male, where the instrumentation, if any, is essentially secondary to the interplay of voices, and is fairly rudimentary: accentuating a beat or subtly enhancing the overall tone, not vying with the vocal display for attention. The voices may be said to mimic instruments - the bass voice can perform a similar function to a double bass, or think of the late Gerald Gregory's great bass saxophone-like intro to Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight - and there's also that trumpet-like sound that Phil Groia termed the "blow harmonies" of the Moonglows.

Sophisticated as these groups are, the appeal is of something homemade, within the reach of everyone: "Music you or your lover could have made," as a Rolling Stone essay said of Earth angel (Penguins version!).

For my money, once vocal group records became productions - ie, once the voices became part of the overall effect rather than the primary focus - they stopped being pure doowop. The Drifters' There Goes My Baby is a great record but the kettledrums and strings mean we admire the producers as much as the group. I wouldn't be so stupid as to say "That's when the rot set in"; it just became something else.

The only trouble is that my definition would include the instrument-emulating Mills Brothers, and I don't think anyone would consider them within the genre. So this brings me to the next, and crucial, part of the definition: the voices must be, to some degree, gospel-inflected. Mills Brothers, Inkspots don't make it; the Ravens and the Orioles, even when singing similar material, do: it's that sense of raggedness, of each performance being alive, new-minted at that moment as opposed to a smooth duplication.

With groups like the Crewcuts I'm reluctant to impose a blanket ban, but they do seem a long way from gospel: the feel matters less than a surface brightness and smoothness, whereas group like the Capris somehow seem to have a sense of flexibility in their performance that (again) has affinities with gospel, even though it's a long way from the raunchinesss of some groups.

But I freely admit that there is a grey area that is down to the listener's subjective impression: I don't much like the Platters but presumably they come from that gospel root, antiseptic as their performances seem to me. Perhaps the best I can say is that the doowop performances which move me display their church roots more prominently.

Which seems a good point to reveal my top 5 doowop (oldies is too difficult):

Golden Teardrops - Flamingos
Sunday Kind of Love - Harptones
All Mine - 5 Satins
Chimes - Pelicans
Crying in the Chapel - Orioles

Finally, on to the Diamonds/Gladiolas debate. Dave Marsh in The Heart of Rock and Soul (1000 records assessed, inc. lots of doowop) says that groups like the Diamonds were basically responding to the institutionalised bigotry of a market which wanted "more acceptable" versions of black hits. And apparently this college-educated group viewed R&B with "dripping sophomoric contempt." (Marsh is a fun read!) But he admits their version is nevertheless "as exciting as it is insincere": "When the thrill's the thing who gives a &*%! about intentions?"

Is it doowop? Don't know; but it's definitely a great example of the trashy wonderfulness of pop and doesn't have the politeness of other white covers. That said, it's the Gladiolas' version I have in my collection, though the Diamonds' version helped turn me on to 50s music as a teenager in the doowop desert of Scotland in the early 70s ...

Whew! What a long posting! Thanks if you've stayed with it - and hope my tentative attempt at defining, for myself, this genre we all love is of use to others.

Tony


Noelsnick
(52/m/Seattle, WA)

Tony,

I enjoyed your post, particularly coming from abroad where you didn't really have "first hand" exposure to what we in the Colonies call "Doo Wop." It's funny, growing up in the fifties in Southern California the term "Doo Wop" was unheard of. DJ's like Huggie Boy and Art Laboe just started calling music from the past "oldies" and this included every genre. You mentioned "Holy Writ", the beauty of this club is there doesn't seem to be any "self proclaimed" experts who push their thoughts on the rest of us as "Gospel". I'm loving this flow of conversation, it keeps us thinking and SHARING.

Seattle Bob


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Bob,

Thanks for your kind comments. Rock'n'roll has always been big in Britain but never really doowop. I became interested in the early 70s, not through American Graffiti but a British film, That'll Be The Day, set in 50s England but the same rites of passage stuff. The soundtrack had some doowop - Why Do Fools, etc - and I began collecting 50s stuff by trial and error. But now, with Tower Records in London and Ace Records (roughly equivalent to Rhino) there's lots of stuff.

I absolutely agree with what you say about thinking and sharing. Listening to music is really a non-verbal thing - especially in doowop the lyrics are just a peg to hang those sounds that emanate from the heart - and it's impossible to convey that experience adequately. But trying to do so can make the experience keener.

For me, above all, listening to doowop is about entering another world, where emotions can be on show, however awkward and gauche, and the pangs of adolescent, idealised love are given a kind of dignity (think of the Dells' Sweet Dreams of Contentment). I'll never forget the excitement of seeing a doowop group for the first time in the mid 80s - 14 Karat Soul; known in US? - I went night after night, thinking: "This is it; this is exactly what I want." You're lucky having such free access to live doowop in the States. And cheaper CDs! Though I suppose a free health service is a minor consolation ....

Tony


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

Tony,

I just read your latest posting, and feel you have achieved a true understanding of what this genre is all about. Explaining these values represented in song to people who haven't lived it, is difficult. Today's world is a far different place than in the simpler times that spawned the tidal wave of intense and honest emotions reflected by this music.

The range goes from elegant (Golden Teardrops) to the ultimate good time party music, (Rama Lama Ding Dong) with so much more in between. Varying degrees of sophistication and naivete weave in and out of this florid genre, with spellbinding results at times. The values reflected, loving someone forever, unabashed weakness in power of another, and achieving a "nirvana" here on earth, with the vehicle for arriving at all this being the drive of the id to express itself in good measure. Is it any wonder this is music that will not go away?

The style of life conjured up by most of the doo wop mentality is one which lives on in the hearts of those who were there. Much like the literate dialogue that permeates film noir of the 40's, lyrics of the 50's takes a lofty notion, and brings it down to street level. A jukebox, a pretty girl, a darkened venue, dancing close to romantic falsetto tinged vocals drenched in harmony ... what more could a teenage boy wish for? Flashy cars, black leather jackets, macho tough swagger, are a perfect foil to the aforementioned romanticism. What a great time to be a teenager in America!

To think that you were able to recapture the essence of all that while living in London decades later, shows the power of evocation this music presents to those who have the talent and sensitivity to appreciate It. Cheers Tony for bringing all this out. This is truly a remarkable genre of music, that like its ideals, will go on for eternity, as long as there are torchbearers like you, who understand what it was all about, to pass it along.


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

Many thanks - I'm touched by your kind comments. I wrote a radio play about a doowop group - the first piece of serious writing I did - and during that process tried to articulate what it was about the music that moved me so much. One thing which I didn't mention in my previous posting is the male bonding thing - that these emotions which couldn't be articulated directly to each other by adolescent males are "safe", able to be exposed and shared when turned into this rough, vital art form.

I'm also fascinated by the contradictions: the Dells, self-professed "stone hooligans" outside the studio yet capable of that achingly tender, ridiculous yet touching song I referred to. And the idea of the spontaneous, direct outpouring of emotion – can’t remember the source but the image of a group singing at a corner, the lead turning to see a girl go by and launching into "Gloria" became the starting point of the play: the protagonist's unreal dreams of this girl and the gradually unfolding reality of the less than perfect relationship he develops with the flesh and blood woman.

And the poignancy of a frozen, perfect moment also seems at the heart of doowop for me: One Summer night, In the Still of the Night: I think Fred Parris had to add "(I'll Remember)" to avoid confusion with Porter's song title but that parenthesis is a clue to that sad pleasure in this music: its importance, its transience, and therefore its preciousness, is only fully appreciated in retrospect: "I never realised," sings Sollie McElroy in Golden Teardrops. Even that Dells song: sweet dreams "bring back the memory of you." As you might deduce I go for the ballads ...

A final thought. Doowop, lyrically, is often ridiculously naive - and I'm aware my distance from it both in time (b.1958) and place lends enchantment/romanticisation. But (much as I feel about the music of Donovan at his best) it's about looking at the world, at the possibility of love, with a sense of wonder rather than cynicism. Back to Dave Marsh: he tells of a hip record store customer mocking the Students' I'm So Young. Marsh says: "That's somebody' life. Who cares if it's corny and misshapen?" Amen.

Tony


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

A brief postscript to finish off my thoughts on the subject: the sentiments in doowop may be difficult to sustain - the reality collides with the ideal. So it's not how life is. But it's how life ought to be: who we are at our best, if only for a moment.

Okay. Now I'm done!

Tony


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

While Donovan was trying to "Catch the Wind" while avoiding being "A Universal Soldier", we were still doo wopping it up over here, although on a much reduced basis from the Golden Days of the fifties.

I am floored by the tragic beauty some of the early through late fifties doo wop music exposes. The Flamingos (the ultimate group name in my opinion) cut some sides that were breathtakingly beautiful. Swallows, Ravens, and other birds of a feather, just sang their hearts out. The music is truly ethereal, transcendant, if you will, and to this day can transport one into the realm of the angels.

I think it's this ability to enter another world with a member of the opposite sex, which promotes bonding of an extraordinarily high order. When two lovers can share sips of champagne, delight in each other's physical prescence, and enter a magic world of spiritual delight simoultaneously via aural sensation, it is indeed memorable.

You can say all you want about the "trips" the sixties generation promulgated. Some of them were indeed fantastic, but I think the general state of pure pleasure via one's thinking apparratus was at an all time high in the fifties when doo wop was rampant . And all you needed as a chemical stimulant/tranquilizer was a little wine.


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Yes, I'm keenest on Donovan at his simplest, just with a guitar, not the full blown psychedelic stuff.

And I totally agree about the groups you mention: Ravens' There's No you; Flamingos: "... a voice like mission bells that chime..."

Heard Chimes by the Pelicans for first time recently - now in my top 5. Or Ravens' version of Bless You for being an Angel ... at time like these I really feel the lack of being unable to send or receive sound files ... and what about 5 Keys' Be Anything But Be Mine ...

Tony


philmorew
(55/M/Wayne, N.J.)

Clarke,

I agree 100% with what you said about the Flamingos. About two years ago when Zeke was alive they appeared on Staten Island at what I believe was the Lane Theater. Doug McClure, who is now a preacher in Conn. but who had sung with them from the late 50's til the mid 70's and had not seen Zeke in 25 yrs. found out that they were singing nearby and surprised Zeke by showing up at the theatre for afternoon practice.

I don't know if he actually sang at all with them in the afternoon but at night during the concert Zeke stopped the show in the middle of his performance to recognize Doug. He then called him onto the stage and had Doug do his lead on I'll be Home. I'm dead serious. It was a religious experience. My date was crying her eyes out and people all over the theater were reaching for handkerchiefs. I have often wondered since Zeke, the last original died shortly after Doo Wop 50, if anyone has tried to get McClure back with the group for special appearances. I'm going to have to get some video tapes of their performances.

Walt


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Walt,

Your message reminded me of hearing one of the Carey cousins (can't remember which) being interviewed on an oldies station when the Flamingos came to London around 1990 (I BITTERLY regret not going). He was asked by the DJ why he thought the music had stood up so long and I remember one key word in his reply: “cohesive." Which seems a good word to apply to the Flamingos themselves – their longevity, their amazing consistency.

It was very moving to read you description of that night - wish I'd been there - and I hope lots of people share their thoughts about, memories of, this greatest of all groups in this thread. Incidentally, I know that London gig was videoed but I've no idea where to obtain it.

Tony


pamelas22
(F/Connecticut)

Wait & Flamingo fans, I too was at that show on Staten Island at the Lane Theatre. It was my first and only time to see the Flamingos and was truly an unforgettable experience. At first. I thought that it would be a Las Vegas type show because they opened with Besame Mucho complete with straw hats. I soon realized that they were setting a mood before each song. On many of the songs, Zeke talked before the song setting a very romantic mood. I recall that the group stayed on after its alloted time to entertain the audience. I wish I had waited for the crowd surrounding Zeke to thin out so that I could have expressed my appreciation of the Flamingos and their music. ......Pam


shboom1943
(57/M/Ashtabula, Ohio)

[to Clarke]

In reference to your comments to our friend Tony
I might have used different words but I could not of said it better, certainly not with the feeling you did. That wasn't written to me but I read it like it was. Thank you my friend
Doug V.


kewl_steve
(55/M/San Diego, Ca.)

I agree with you Doug. It was nicely written. I'm enjoying the dialog both Clarke and Tony have going here.


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

Tony, the source you couldn't identify where there is a group on the corner who sees a girl walk by and jumps into an acapella rendering of Gloria when she passes is the beginning of a play called Blood Brothers. Pet Clark starred in it on Broadway, and it was extremely fine.

Regarding the idealized versus the actual in that era. Having lived through some of it (the later part), I can only say that it was only in retrospect that one could recognize that it was indeed a fleeting moment in time. At the time, it was as if each of us had all the time in the world, and there were infinite "girls next door" with pony tails and warm lips.

The record hops, or dances at the local High School Auditoriums were amazing Friday and Saturday night events. They actually turned the lights way down low, if not virtually off, in order to give the right atmosphere for the lovers/dancers. Teachers rarely acted as more than shadowy chaperones just there to keep an eye out. And it wouldn't be unusual to actually walk up to a girl, say hi, ask her to dance, and have an instant new girlfriend! Compared to today, isn't this an amazing description of a high school dance? The DJs were local radio personalities, and if a record was number one on the charts, you might hear it four times that night. This was a very peaceful scene usually without any fighting, except once in a while, two guys would be after the same girl, and something would break out after the dance.

And speaking of after the dance, well, legends are made of those nights. Autumn nights under the stars, parked at the beach with the moon shining down with your favorite girl sitting beside you in the middle of the car seat, because bucket seats were just not in vogue then. Doo Wop tunes swimming around in your head, all excited because your girl had her hand on your leg the past ten minutes you were driving. A moment frozen forever when you managed to actually kiss your dream girl. A trip to the moon, by simply brushing your lips against those of another. Back to the music......There's a moon out tonight...sounded like it never sounded before when circumstances such as those framed its playing on your favorite AM radio station. Forget about limited bandwidth, and static. The music jumped out of the speakers anyway, and became a living entity attaching itself to your brain for the rest of your life.

Special music for special times? You bet. A Golden Era of Rock n' Roll? You bet. But not when you were living it at the time. It was just another weekend night out having a good time. Who knew how very special those days and nights would become as the world would change and romance would diminish on those terms. Of course, romance did not die, just changed form, reflected by a culture that was more self-oriented, and weighted toward individual success as a barometer of attraction.


clarkedavis 9/21/00
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

Tony, there is a mistake in the first paragraph of my previous post. I got my plays mixed up. The Pet Clark play was not the one that contained the streetcorner group launching into Gloria. Instead it was a play called Kit and the Kats, which I also saw on Broadway. Somehow I mixed the two up. I think both plays were big in London as well. Cheers!


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

That is a big relief. I saw BB but couldn't remember that ... think Kit postdates my memory - maybe they got from same source though presumably a doowop cliché anyway? Tony


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

In response to your main posting the words of Thomas Hardy seem right (hey, I'm an English teacher, people - these things are forced upon me!):

Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam -
But we were looking away!

(...or as Ral Donner, following in Hardy's footsteps, put it, You don't know what you got...)

Your description of the dances and afterwards is amazing - really powerfully evocative. I went to a Jesuit-run school in Glasgow and at the dance, c.1975, get this: the hired deejay was told not to play any slow tracks - smooching or "snogging" not allowed – there was even suspicion (and I’m not talking Terry Stafford) if you were in a darkened corner.

Maybe this explains my love of ballads: a past I never had but wanted to have. How lucky you are to be able to link the music and experience so intimately - the brasher sounds of early 70s disco was often the backdrop to my teenage romance, though I do recall Eddie Holman’s Hey There Lonely Girl the night, thrust into each other's arms by friends who had seen our timidity at a party, this school dance girl and I first kissed. (OK, not doowop but the sensibility is the same. And now, 25 years later, I'm compiling a doowop tape for the same girl, having recently got back in touch ...) But doowop for me has often been a solitary pleasure and that's why I really value the opportunity to share thoughts in this forum.

Tony


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Thanks Steve. And it's good to know that this dialogue is being shared by others in the group - Tony


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

Tony,

The verse from Thomas Hardy is perfect. I think the doo wop mentality and the sense of spirituality has been around a long, long, time. But it was never articulated so profoundly for the common man ... I can imagine the communication between privileged concert-goers in Vienna seeing Mozart perform. Lead East, Europe in the "real" old days.

Seriously, the feeling two lovers must have felt when sitting next to each other, perhaps holding hands, listening to romantic strains of a concert orchestra, must have been akin to what doo wop evoked for us. It's the quality of communication, and the sharing of something special that creates the bond.

There are those still among us, who lived through the highly romantic forties. Songs like Where or When, Again, A Tree in the Meadow were versions of songs made popular a decade or more earlier. The forties produced a heightened sense of romance coupled with the danger of annihilation (World War II) which forged premature relationships to blossom, due to time constraints of soldiers.

Romance and sophistication went hand in hand in the elegant forties, and some of that spilled over into the doo wop era. The sensibilities that allowed the awkward and the raw, to emerge as acceptable, if true of heart, successful commercial entities was truly what the fifties allowed. So we have the Moonglows Secret Love next to Rosie and the Originals Angel Baby on the jukebox. Sublime to almost ridiculous, with both garnering respect, because of where the music was coming from, in both cases, the heart and soul.

I am very pleased we were able to have this communication, begging the indulgence of others who might think this a bit off base for a board of this nature.


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

I'm also enjoying this and am prompted by your message to add a little more. Thinking about memories and the kind of double exposure you're talking about (40s songs with all those associations heard in the 50s) makes me think of the now multilayered experience of hearing groups today: songs predating their youth, sung in their youth, now sung in the dignity/poignancy/slow decay (select according to today's mood) of late middle age.

I'm thinking of two live experiences, one on record, one I was lucky enough to witness. First is the Dion and Belmonts' 70s reunion album: when Dion sings "some things that happened for the first time... " and you hear the audience's palpable joy at that moment, acknowledging the collision of time zones: it's then AND now, and if Dion's still alive then that part of themselves hasn't wholly died (...and what a great love song that is, incidentally...)

The other experience is seeing the Spaniels in London 1992. I’m of Irish descent and can't remember when I first heard Danny Boy but have always loved the directness of that song. Pookie Hudson introduced it as a song they sang in the locker room at High School in 1952 (or whenever). Great acapella rendition, true both to the Spaniels' style and the song - not all the acts that night sang like it still meant something - and for me something incredibly moving that 40 years on, there they were - or the same nucleus, anyway - and it couldn't be the same, could it? Not 15 any more. But it still felt real and vital and connected: "That which we are we are,' as the aging Ulysses says.

So seeing doowop singers, if you want to get pretentious about it, and I'm in pretty deep already, in their autumn years singing those same songs of idealised love puts us in touch with our own mortality and the needs and desires still in us - almost like Pookie or Dion is the priest in this religious ceremony, bestowing a blessing on us and making us whole, past and present in one ...

I think I'm done. I hope readers other than yourself will be indulgent and realise this comes out of the great love we all share for this timeless music.


bdbopper
(18/M/Lawrenceville, GA)

Clrke &All:
IMHO, here, but I believe 'dis is perfect material for 'dis board. For everybody here, 'dis is 'da music of our youth (even mine). I think we should be able to reminisce about our experiences with 'da music at anytime anyone wants to. 'Dis is 'da closest thing to actually being alive during 'da 50's-60's era, for me. I've done plenty of reading about it. However, I love hearing 'da first-hand experiences. It's not like a writer reasearched 'da topics of 'da 50's lifestyle - I'm actually hearing a first hand account of how it reallly was like!
LET'S KEEP 'DIS CONVERSATION GOING AS LONG AS IT CAN!!! :)

In Harmony
From 'Da Bop Shop,
Brian “Picksburgh's BD Bopper”


kewl_steve
(55/M/San Diego, Ca.)

Not only that, Brian. I'm printing it as it goes along. This is too good not to.


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Thanks for these words of encouragement. The only thing that bothers me is I keep being prompted to add more when I'm meant to be working on a play. But as the central character is a security guard who's a doowop fanatic, maybe I need to trust this is all relevant as well as being displacement activity...Tony


kewlsteve
(55/M/San Diego, Ca.)

Maybe it is, Tony. Maybe it is.:-)


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

Tony,

Sorry, can't close this out without mentioning the "country cousin” of doo wop, namely Rockabilly. It's the missing part of the equation of fifties music equals cosmic bliss. The farm boys in the south and midwest weren't going to be left behind. So grab your guitars, buy a drum kit, and let's rock!

The rural equivalent of urban inspired doo wop, rockabilly tore a swath up and down the hinterlands like wildfire. Thousands of small labels emerged for one or perhaps two releases, which were subsequently scooped by by roving hordes of Europeans decades later and now valued in the stratosphere. The ethereal quality of doo wop was counterparted by a raging frenzy of pumping piano, "teenage" lyrics, and frenetic energy laden guitar riffs.

The genetic mutant that this music was (part country, part rhythm and blues) spewed forth the ultimate teenage idol. Elvis, king of the teenage universe, bar none. An explosion like none before, (only to be duplicated a few years later by you know who, Liverpool's finest) he personified everything cool at the time, only to be outshined for a brief moment by a film renegade named Dean. Put James Dean and Elvis together, and you have the penultimate fifties persona on the male side. Marylyn Monroe ruled the distaff side of the coin. Add hot rod cars, late night drag races in remote (and not so remote) locales and voila, instant legendary esteem forever. Moonlit nights by the Lake (every town has one) with motors revving in the wee hours, alongside discarded beer bottles, and other ubiquitous "teenage" contraband, littered the physical landscape.

On the interior, emotional landscape, both doo wop and rockabilly were musical cheerleaders pushing the boundaries of acceptable social and personal behavior to the limits. Or beyond the limits to the parents of some of the "juvinile delinquents." How much influence did the music have on the actions of young people then? How much influence did the young people have on the music then? No matter the answer. We all know what has evolved from that reckless, turbulent but highly romantic scene.

Tracing popular music history back to this turning point gives us insight into the reference points the Baby Boomers of today maintain. With such a rich tapestry of personal history, who could blame them for turning away from what is on the current musical pedestal for idolization. Backstreet Boys? Ho-hum. Madonna, no thank you, I don't think so. Rap? Are you kidding? Can you blame them?


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Ah yes: "Dan got happy and he started raving - jerked out his razor but he wasn't shaving." I go way back with Carl Perkins, loving those economic guitar solos (possibly because I could hear George Harrison in them - Beatles were of course Numero Uno in my early years, listening to the records my elder brothers bought, our father's disapproval bonding us further). Can anything be simpler, neater than the solo in Movie Magg? And (maybe unlike doowop) a sense of writing more directly from experience. There's also a very strange Perkins track, Her Love Rubbed off on Me, done when he was drunk (according to biog Go Cat Go) that is confusing but conveys the sense of real, unedited experience - and a lot of songs were originally improvised in the tonks, book says. I think it was Ringo who said that when Carl sings you believe him.

And those Sun sides, like Elvis Scotty and Bill, are so basic, seeming to bubble up out of the joy of being young, feeling that strength and power for the first time: Elvis' whoop on Mystery Train. So sad it didn't last in either case: CP's Columbia sides seem like imitations of himself, like MGM mishandling Laurel and Hardy, and nothing - nothing - in the Presley cannon is the equal of that spontaneous outpouring. (Not that there isn't some cornball stuff on those early sides: I don't care if the sun don't shine ...)

With Carl Perkins (as I also feel about the voice of Louis Armstrong - incidentally he started off singing in a vocal group as a kid) it's a voice that's known to me: like Ringo, I trust it. Like a friend or family member. And the fact that Blue Suede Shoes is still infectious when other records have dulled ... What I've avoided saying is I'm not omnivorous when it comes to rockabilly. Too much else seems like a pale echo (though others in England lap it up). But Elvis and CarI - well, it's not a bad choice, is it? And linking it to doowop, there is a kind of purity of heart about some of Carl's stuff, as well as the raunchier, hellraising Dixie fried ... analogous to the uptempo doowop with the leering bass voice: Sixty Minute Man or Gerald Gregory's invitation on the Spaniels' Housecleaning. Devil or Angel? We've got both in us...

Tony (Ok Steve, click on PRINT...)


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

I've really enjoyed this business of our bouncing ideas off each other. This thread feels like it's drawing to a close - I need to get down to the serious business of annoying our returned friend Korrie with trivia and redirect my energies to the play I've been avoiding - but I want to reflect a little on what has been a pleasurable experience, especially for someone who has only been on the net for a month. (So glad I alighted on Steve's kewl site and not somewhere else.) And just as other people seem to have got something from our discussion, maybe this attempt to articulate what I've got from the internet/this dialogue may ring a few (mission?) bells.

The biggest thing is that, satisfying as putting all those thoughts into words over our series of postings has been, I wouldn't have been prompted to develop those ideas without your response - ie, just throwing them onto the net, hoping that someone might notice. So even though a lot has come out about our different life experiences, this has been a genuinely interactive experience. Some people bitch about Paul McCartney's revision of history, apparently trying to appropriate credit for songs they'd prefer to think sprang fully formed from John Lennon's unconscious. From working closely with another writer in the past (on our separate projects) I know how integral someone's comment or suggestion or example can be to one's own work. Not that I'm comparing us to the Beatles, but you brought out the best in me because of your own willingness to go the extra mile. And kind comments both here and in my personal mail suggest other people enjoyed that process and felt part of it.

Which brings me to my next point: that despite qualms about its not being appropriate for this forum, or too exclusively between us, actually it is public and appropriately so. When Doug V. said of one of your postings that it wasn't written to him but it felt like it was, that hit the nail on the head. For me, this is the conversation I'd always wanted to have about doowop but never had a partner and an audience to bring out in me. For me the audience is important: personally revealing as our exchanges have, to some extent, been it wouldn't have felt right for me on email, but it still needed the one to one of our dialogue in order to bring out something that has been meaningful for others too. It's the paradox I find as a writer: the more personal you are, the more you can give to others, if honestly exploring your own feelings as opposed to just displaying yourself. I have a writerly vanity (or, more charitably, sense of self worth) and the knowledge that more than one person might be reading this is part of what impels me to type all this in despite the discomfort of a keyboard like a GI Joe accessory, but it’s also the stimulus of seeing you going for it, no holds barred, and wanting to respond in kind. It seems to me that this odd mix of the public and private and the immediacy of contact (you type it up and it's out there, giving a momentum a newspaper correspondence could never have) is unique to the internet, so this has been a wonderful introduction for me. Credit, too, of course, to Steve for creating a supportive environment for everyone and to "Picksburgh's Own" for keeping postings fizzing along. We haven't spoken much, Brian, but I reallv apreciate vour incredible enthusiasm - and knowledge at only sev - sorry, EIGHTEEN.

This seems to be acquiring the air of a farewell address. I'm not going anywhere, but I will be striving to cut down for the reasons indicated. I just wanted to acknowledge formally that this has been an enriching experience for me, and to thank you, Clarke, and our faithful readers. I know I'll never fully unravel the mystery of a song like Golden Teardrops (who would want to?) but it's been fun trying; and thank you for encouraging me, by example, to write at the top of my voice.

Tony


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

Tony,

I don't think those are your final thoughts. Glad for the question mark there. I am pleased others seem to respond favorably to our exchanges.

The world of music is an art form unto itself, with so many twists and turns, nooks and crannies, and while never an artist myself, I have recognized that my role is that of a responsive audience attendee. I do not possess the talent to actually make music, but that does not render me incapable of understanding it. I know the distance one must go to appreciate most ambitious works of art, whether it be a painting, symphony or written word. The harder one must try to access the work, the more rewarding the understanding achieved. When I don't immediately enjoy a song, for example, I give it another listen later. I am amazed at how many songs do not hit me on first listen, that have gone on to become profoundly memorable. The strange thing Is, I can listen to a song and not enjoy it, yet realize there is something of value there. With proper attention, later, it can come to me bringing with it something really worthwhile.

Example: You are Irish. James Joyce. I really couldn't just hop in and "enjoy" his writing. There's so much going on, I have to take a deep breath, and step back a little. The same could be said for appreciation of some of the harder-tinged rhythm and blues offerings from local stops like Detroit, or places in the south. The Falcons, for example are not smooth, except maybe on Goddess of Angels and You're So Fine, but their other work is of value, if you go "the extra mile" to access it. Nathanial Mayer and the Twilights are not a group that jump right off the radio at you, except for Village of Love. Their work is worth the effort to explore.

Some of the highly regarded groups do have the luxury of being immediately accessible to lots of people. Moonglows, Flamingos, Dells, and other Chicago groups seemed to have jukebox appeal right out of the box. This does not diminish their worth in the slightest, but it does not make it of higher quality.

The dialogue we have is a little like that. Maybe it takes a little effort to find out what's going on, but ultimately it may open a window for someone to see a glimpse of something of value.

Thank you Tony, for sharing with us, your thoughts from London. And to any board readers who may have shared in our "revelations", please do not hesitate to post your own. We are listening.


barbara15146
(F/Pittsburgh, PA)

Tony and Clarke, The dialogue you've been engaged in, over the past few days, was most fascinating, and very entertaining. You have managed to conjure up sweet memories of my youth. The music of the times had such a major impact emotionally on my teenage years. A time that seemed pure and innocent, but was it really???

Barbara Ann


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

Sparked off by what you were saying about difficult records, I want to take one and play about with its significance for me.

Dave Marsh is a great model: a thousand mini-essays in The Heart and Soul of Rock'n'RolI, no set pattern: three lines about a 45 or two pages; a wholly personal memory or a discussion of the recording date - no rules: it's whatever you want to say about a record, the only idea being it'll make people want to search it out - the whole point of this notice board, after all. Cause the record isn't just the record; it's you - your memories – the group then and now: "Cohesive," as Jake (or Zeke) said.

And the song I want to talk about is ... Golden Teardrops. My major doowop thrill.

Odd as it may seem, it wasn't that accessible to me when I first heard it. On a poor quality oldies compilation, c.1978, with muddy sound and a dubbed on guitar (Veejay version). Adjoining tracks, like Sonny Knight's Confidential or the Spaniels' Baby It's You, seemed far better: I got the point. But this - this was Ink Spots territory, wasn't it? That guitar. The Harptones' I Almost lost my mind, also on the LP, that was emotion; the Flamingos seemed out of reach, unfocused, somehow. I couldn't take the whole thing in on one listen.

And if all this seems odd to Americans, remember I had a very limited frame of reference: doowop was the brightness of Frankie Lymon or (dare I say it?) the Diamonds' version of Little Darling. And it's what you were saying, Clarke, about not getting a record on first hearing.

I don't particularly recall a moment of piercing clarity. But at some point the elements made sense - tremulous falsetto, out-of-tune-sounding yet absolutely right lead, odd lyrics (why "a cottage by the sea"?) and above all that sense at the beginning that we're being ushered into a holy place, cavernous and echoing as a great cathedral, and then drawn together in a moment of collective stillness, as though calmly taking stock of the sadness in things (Iacrimae rerum, appropriately enough: "the tears in things") before there's a collective sigh - at what life is?- and Sollie McElroy comes up to testify or confess: "Swear to God I'll stray no more ..."

But it's too late: although at one point he addresses the lost love directly - "Darling, put away your tears," – the burden (and howl) of the song is about regret: all he can do is try to take in fully the time he hurt her enough to make her cry: the time, now gone, when he mattered to someone, and the knowledge bearing down upon him that he's going to be carrying that memory to the grave and beyond: "Until the end of time, And throughout eternity - " Golden Teardrops. Cried, by her, for him. And the rest of the group, or congregation, seem to grab him there - we're almost at the end of the song now - try to hold him in that moment when he feels the enormity of what he's done. Maybe the wisdom will last. Who knows? But the sad, sweet pain - he was once loved - undoubtedly will, if the falsetto that weaves in and out of the reiteration of that painful vision of her tears at the end is anything to go by.

I've said before that doowop lyrics don't matter that much: a peg for emotions. They'd be trite enough here if read on their own (Ditto Danny Boy.) But they give the group a clarity of focus that inspires them to a height they never quite attained on any other song, for me. If any of you reading this haven't heard Golden Teardrops, download a file, buy a CD (Rhino), do something. It is, quite simply, the loveliest and the saddest of all doowop records. In his autobiography Chaplin talks of the day music entered his soul, or words to that effect . Golden Teardrops, like Danny Boy, seeped into me on some unknown date. But I never tire of it and always hear it afresh; for me it holds the whole mystery of doowop: it's religious, it's secular, it's... beyond words, actually.

So much for stopping... but I've needed to say all this for years.

Tony


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Barbara Ann,

Thanks for your post. Maybe the time was about being young enough to half believe in the sentiments - it seems better to have faith in the purity of love and longing than not, even though we also need an armour against the world. Though there were some raunchy songs among the idealising, remember! Maybe this is a question for Clarke as my memories are in a different key ...

My apologies to you and other readers for the compressed (ie no paragraphs) nature of my last posting, on Golden Teardrops. I had to cut it to fit, so sorry no breathing space.

I also had to cut my suggestion that other people have a go at writing about a particular record, whether it's a few lines or paragraph-guzzling effort like the Golden Teardrops one, but I'd love to read anything like that, just focusing in on one song and saying whatever. If it's an all-time fave, thoughts should just come bubbling to the surface ... Tony


clarkedavis
(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!


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

[THIS POST DESCRIBES THE CADILLACS' RECORDING OF GLORIA IN DETAIL - UNFORTUNATELY THE FIRST SHEET OF THE PRINTOUT HAS BEEN LOST.] familiarity of someone you know, and still love, yet she, having moved on to someone else, still has a lingering affection, which she can't hide from you, and communicates freely. A momentary, fleeting, kiss, perhaps the last you and she will ever have, is being made even more significant, by the Passions singing in glorious, fully realized dynamic harmony.

Doesn't matter what her name is. She really is Gloria at that moment. And she's not in love with you.


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

You excelled yourself on that one. Really lovely, and saying exactly what that feeling is when we hear any version of that song. Yes, this is the Long Goodbye (to be followed by the Big Sleep?) but don't blame me - you will keep insisting on writing about things that strike a chord in me, and I have all this reading and listening and love for the music bubbling up inside me that has never found a place to go. As Beatrice says in View from the Bridge (rather different context, admittedly), "Whatever happens, we all done it." Including our readers for encouraging us. So you can't pin this one on me! Not exclusively, anyway.

Yesterday I missed the writing recommended as a daily limbering up by Julia Cameron for the first time in six weeks. But I realise that these are, in effect, my Morning Pages for the moment: I can't think of anything I want to put down on paper (or up on screen) more strongly than this right now. And I have to trust that other stuff (like the play) is simmering away and that this is part of the process. (Denial? Me?) I certainly do have an ache to be read/heard right now, and the act of playwriting is delayed gratification, bigtime. (Only exceeded by Development Hell in Hollywood ...)

So ... Gloria. Yes, it's the only one l’d personally consider putting up there with GT. It feels more of an archetype, and the many recordings (Vito's a treat as yet denied to me) suggest that as a song, as a blueprint, it's more successful than Teardrops. (Or is it just that other groups realised you can't improve perfection? Even the Flamingos didn't remake it like they did lots of others...)

For me GT, as a performance, a recording, is more personally moving, and feels more "adult" – the knowledge of love and loss, the accepting of responsibility for the great hurt done, despite the attempts at self-exoneration: "I never realised... never knew.. ."

Obviously it's pointless to play winners and losers with two great songs; they're about different things. Gloria is the fiery passion of youthful longing captured to perfection (and yes, that includes a generous side order of self-pity, as you say); in Golden Teardrops, to use Nabokov's phrase about his later writing, "the fire of youth mingles with the ice of experience.... Whatever age Sollie McElroy was, he'd learnt: the chilly realisation that life is about causing pain - not deliberately, but the result is the same- and that happiness, love, isn't hanging around forever, so grab onto it for dear life, even though the odds are it'll go anyway, and you learn that for a moment but you keep forgetting it and putting yourself first and messing up again.

The teenager pining for Gloria has all that to come - oh, his pain is real enough to him, but the man would give anything to change places, to be back at the point where the unattainable idea had not transformed itself into that ugly mirror of his own shortcomings. Or he thinks he would. He can't, now, remember the full taste of that pain, evisceratingly real at the time.

(continues on separate posting)


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

This is not, at all, to put Gloria down: we all forget (perhaps it's an act of kindness) the gale force of those adolescent pangs until the trigger of records like this one.

The full meaning of it came to me when I saw, about four nights running, the great New Jersey acappella group 14 Karat Soul perform it in Glasgow c.1983: the bass, "Briz" (?) loomed as the lead sang, one last time, of his yearnings, intoning over him those doomy notes that spelled out just one thing: You're alone, Bub; get used to it. The bass was reality, just as he often takes over on "baser" group sides (Pookie for the dreams; Gerald for the down'n'dirty), and his notes here were a death knell for the lead's tattered vision of togetherness ("Maybe she'll want me... "), a bell to toll him back to his sole self, alone in the less than tender night.

Briz was singing right into his face, with a sort of evil glee: maybe this message from the Reality Zone had to be given, but he was certainly enjoying the task, and the "teenage" lead was not much liking it, protesting his love and need to the end (similarly, is that last "Gloria!" on the Cadillacs' version - can't remember if same for Passions' - about acceptance of the situation, or a refusal to give up hope?).

This collision of dreams and reality, with that particular performance and image of the bass singer quashing all hope, were very much in my mind as I shaped my play which took Golden Teardrops as a title, and the distinction I've made in this posting (ie inc. Pt. 1) between Gloria and GT comes, I can see, from the way I employed the songs there. As a teenager, the protagonist does exactly the same as in Kat ... newly accepted into a group, he sees a girl walk by and launches into Gloria: "It wasn't her name but it was her."

Do you now see why I'm impelled, at least for the moment, to go on with this correspondence? Because there is so much of it - correspondence in our writing, that is. Which suggests we're trying in our different ways to work the same things out, and that in turn makes it likely that as we're connecting then others, whether content to look over our shoulders or join in, are too.

This is a bit of a digression from what I was going to expand upon in the play, but in a way this dialogue is a mirror of the doowop process: the initial, half-formed idea (vague thoughts of composing a song); the need to be inspired to greater heights by someone else (the group); the need for a wider connection, touching other lives (records and performing).

Maybe if I could carry a tune I wouldn't need to do all this but, as you say, the member of the audience has a role to play, whether it's bringing their rapt attention to the concert hall or - but this is the same thing, really, isn't it? It's saying to those groups: We really listen. And we care. Going back to 14 Karat Soul, maybe nobody else apart from the other group members noticed the night that the lead really tore into Annie had a Baby during that residency in Glasgow, making it a cry of anguish that far surpassed Hank Ballard's version, when I eventually heard it.

But I was there. I did.

(continues)


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

(continued)

The girl in the play, who becomes the woman the singer marries, is only referred to as Gloria," a fact which regally pisses her (. ..off, as we say in UK) - decades on, he still can't see the reality of her, just as he can't accept he's on the skids in his career.

As you know from earlier postings, I'm fascinated by the collision of past and present, and I kept thinking: what is it like to be singing those songs, especially the Gloria-type yearning ones, forty years on? Assuming you're not just the musical equivalent of a cab for hire, presumably part of you buys into the myth: the audience's need for the comfort of illusion is no greater than your own. And there is, as I've said re Dion and the Spaniels live, a dignity and a grace about sharing those needs, those vulnerabilities, with an audience, if you can see them for what they are. Brit playwright Dennis Potter (Pennies from Heaven) said you should look back at your past with "tender contempt," but stressed the importance of both parts.

But what if you're too caught up in those dreams - the grown man, as it were, still singing Gloria without that sense of distance? So I decided to make my lead character a fantasist who desperately needs those songs as a retreat from understanding life in the here and now, not a way of integrating the man and the boy.

Some details I took from the chapter on Ben E King in [Gerri Hirshey’s] Nowhere to Run, but King seems to me a very grounded individual: I saw him, reunited with the Drifters in the early 80s (pre the moderate resurgence of fame with the reissue of Stand by Me), and while the late Johnny Moore and the others were comporting themselves like so many manic starfish, projecting like crazy throughout, King sort of hugged himself as he quietly, naturally, sang his hits: "Hey, I can't be that person anymore," he seemed to be saying, "but this is as much as I remember. I'm not gonna embroider or patch it up, but what I tell you will be true for me now. If I made it any bigger, I couldn't feel it, so what would be the point?" And it worked; I remember the sense of him giving himself as a real person that night.

But that play was also a variant on my attempt to do the impossible earlier on this board, ie to pin down in words the experience of listening to Golden Teardrops and the mystery (to me) of its coming into being. Without any attempt to reflect the little I knew of the Flamingos as people (ie virtually zilch) I imagined the guy hurting his wife by some thoughtless remark, seeing her tears welling up, and being torn at that moment between the wish to comfort her - and the idea that is suddenly welling up, insistent, inside him. The idea wins; he assembles the guys - the stairwell they used to practise as kids - and Golden Teardrops bubbles joyfully into being: "We got together on a key and just - floated." They rush on to the prearranged session, he comes back late that night with an acetate of the song, exuberant, thinking she'll understand, be dazzled by the sheer beauty of this guilt-framed apology ... and she's gone.

There's not much else to say, except that the enormity of what he's done to her hits him at the end, as he hears GT properly for the first time. It’s about selfishness as well as love, two sides of him. A lifetime away from that first fine "Gloria" ...

Tony


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

Tony, Now I know how the guy who opened Pandora's Box felt. LOL! Seriously, I need a little time to digest your latest post, and pose a proper response. You obviously have given this subject much thought, prior to my coincidental subject matter parallelity. You said a lot, and I want to respond with something more than just an off the cuff retort/response. I would love to hear your radio play. Do you have a recording of it?


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

I didn't intend to write so much - I suppose I'm still in the process of discovering how much I need to say, though I think that having disgorged such a gargantuan chunk the worst may be over ... I was also lucky enough to have a free, sunny (and silent) morning to get those impacted thoughts out uninterrupted rather than losing focus over some longer, more disjointed period.

So doing that was right for me but please don't feel there's any urgency about the speed (or length, come to that) of your reply as a result. Knowing that there is someone reading this, that I'm not flinging my words into a void (unless I press the wrong button) is the most important thing. You most of all, of course, as my fellow conspirator but also our invisible audience (whom I thank if they lasted the course with my three-parter. No skimming!)

What really extended it was I wasn't just rehashing stuff I'd written down at the time of the play but suddenly seeing more clearly why that play was the way it was through the enhanced sense of the music which has come from this happy struggle of trying to articulate my responses during our conversation. So not just our different backgrounds: two separate ways within me of coming to an understanding of the music (a four way conversation if you include our vocal audience!).

On the Gloria front, I can see that I haven't even gotten on to the fact that it appeared in a different guise some years earlier, sung by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers (presumably not the Drifters guy ... Brian, can you help?) and covered by the Mills Brothers.

I think there's a grey area about whether it's the same song - vaguely remember reading about about Esther Navarro's name being whipped on, or off, the credits for reissues of the Cadillacs' version, but I'll need to dig out my Doowop: Forgotten Third ... book to check. Think they've got lyrics too. (Has anyone reading, possibly a native Picksburgher, heard either of these Gloria Mark Ones? Is it the same tune?) When I've checked the lyrics, it'll be interesting to see if they have the same teen sensibility - suspect not, but can't remember. Anyway, need to rest from my labours awhile...

Re Golden Teardrops: The Movie - or 30 minute radio play, anyway. It wasn't produced in the end. A BBC producer asked for rewrites on spec, which I did and learnt a lot from - especially when pruning - but no development money changed hands. Still, it proved a good calling card, so no harm done, though I also learnt the wisdom of Doowop Collection Theft Victim Lou Reed's dictum: "First thing you learn is that you always got to wait." So no tape. But email me your address and I'll be happy to send you a copy of the script. You've helped me to understand it myself so it's the least I can do.


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

I read your Gloria piece again while listening to the Cadillacs. It really is a wonderful, precise piece of writing; I found myself listening to that extended "meee" with more pained enjoyment than ever. Again, you're so lucky that this was the soundtrack to your youth, there to enhance each experience rather than something you had to seek out. I went to a rock'n'roll club as a teenager but it was all in the frantic, jitterbugging mode favoured by the Brits, and no doowop ballads. Much the same in London now, sadly.

Anyway, as a sort of appendix to what we've been discussing about Gloria, I've now found the reference to the original song in the book by Gribin and Schiff I referred to. Because of the distinction I made (don't know if you agree yet) between Gloria as the ultimate expression of aching teen sensibility and GT as adult, it’s worth quoting the lyrics in full:

Gloria, it's not Marie, it's Gloria
It's not Cherie, it's Gloria
She's in your every dream

You like to play the game of kiss and runaway
But now you find it's not that way
Somehow you changed it seems

Wasn't Madeleine your first love
It was just hello goodbye
Wasn't Caroline your last love
It's a shame you made her cry

What a fool you are
You gave your heart to Gloria
You're not so smart cause Gloria
Is not in love with you

(Leon Renne, 1946)

The authors say "Whether the borrowing was accidental or purposeful will never be truly known," but the fact that Esther Navarro's name didn't appear on the first pressing of the Cadillacs' version (she was their manager) suggests she did. But the differences - and apparently the melodies are different, too - are fascinating. It's not first person, so you don't get a direct route to his subjective experience of his anguish, and it's hardly first love and all that wonder and innocence we've been talking about - more like poetic justice: as Bob Dylan, that poet (arguably) outside our remit (unquestionably) might put it: "How does it feel?"

That memory of the live performance of Gloria seems more appropriate here, where he gets what he deserves: not malign fate but karma. Gloria Mk.1 reads like a song aimed at adults, and because we're not privy to the guy's inner emotions, we can't feel the sympathy in GT, because we've got no idea how he responds to this blow (unless there's an even more obscure answer song waiting to be unearthed).

But it helps to show what a great piece of work Esther Navarro's conscious or unconscious borrowing of elements led to. As you say, even the title puts the emotions on a par with religious fervour and suggests the purity of that longing: Marie and Cherie are not his cast-offs but girls who did not awaken in him that divine longing.

Put that way, the word sounds camp (as in: "Too too divine, Dahling !") but I mean precisely that: that the wish to make contact, the ability to perceive beauty, maybe where others don't, in another, probably equally flawed, individual is a triumph of that imaginative power we all have that links us to some higher power, whatever you want to call it, or at least brings out our potential to be better than our workaday selves (I'm a long-lapsed Catholic, people, so I'm not particularly selling anything here).

The flip side of the coin, of course, is raging hormones and erector sets and hey, maybe this girl would be incredibly pretty to any pair of teenage male eyes straining at their sockets (“Va va VOOM!" is, I believe, your singularly infelicitous American term) and it's also about the naive belief that someone else will be the quick-fix solution to all your problems as opposed to bringing a whole new set of their own ... but there still seems something noble going on in that longing.

(I'm almost done here but will switch to a new post to avoid having to cut for length. Back after these important messages...)


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

I want to add a memory of a novel that seems integral to an understanding of Gloria and, through that archetypal song, the genre as a whole. (Mighty big claims, Stranger...)

The book is The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary, which I read and reread as a teenager. An artist painting a mural of Adam and Eve is trying to explain the concept of imagination to his protege; he links it to Humanity's need to pick up the pieces and get on with things after the Fall, that all we need is just that - imagination. The boy doesn't get it, so the artist takes an example from his own life: he went out with a girl and everything was fine; then they had an argument and suddenly they're two devils hissing smoke at each other, making all kinds of allegations about personal hygiene and other stuff - which, the artist tells his listener, was all true.
But he eventually decides to make it up, gives her some flowers, and suddenly she's calling him an angel again. Nothing has changed, but that newfound ability to see through, or beyond, what's there in some way ennobles (or "embiggens," as they say in The Simpsons) both sides and allows the possibility of the relationship growing.
As a teacher I frequently have to do King Lear - not the most fun Shakespeare text. But I'm always moved by the moment he remeets the daughter whose life he's practically ruined. He tells her she has cause to hate him; she replies, "no cause, no cause."
Like the artist bit, it's not true, and yet saying it, and trying to believe it, seems a whole lot better than letting Daddy have it good, crown or no crown.

Now, I'm not saying Gloria is precisely like that, and obviously there are dangers in dreams not attached (however insecurely) to at least some semblance of reality, but the wish to believe in a better world, in the possibility of a love untainted by all the complex selfishnesses that dog us - think of that strangely chaste-seeming embrace of Fred Parris's in In the Still of the Night, a "precious" love he has to "pray" to keep [I typed in "pay" on first go!] - all that seems a good thing, even if those thoughts in undiluted form are invariably dashed on the rocks of adulthood.

This is getting too complicated, even for me, so I'll try to sum up what I think I'm saying, though I have a sneaking suspicion I've expressed this before - a sign this dialogue is finally drawing to its natural end? Anyway, here goes:

Gloria, like so many doowop songs, is ridiculous and touching at the same time. Ridiculous, because the singer, to judge from the sound of his voice (and GRR888888! performance, as Brian would say) is loading so much in the way of hopes and dreams onto this girl there's bound to be some industrial-strength disappointment somewhere along the way, even in the unlikely event of their getting together.

But it's touching, of course it's touching, because it's also about that profound need we all have to reach out to another living being and to feel that we might be – to quote View from the Bridge out of context again - wholly known. With the doowop singer, it's as though he's taken those cringe-making love letters the rest of us hide away and scattered them in the street for the world to gawp at. It might be ill-advised, but it's also an act of courage, risking public mockery at such self-exposure (it's no accident that so many songs, including the one I take my handle from, are couched as letters), but trusting that people will understand and feel the same. Wholly known.

A final thought, and this has the feeling (subject to your response) of a larger ending. I chose “pismotality" because there was already a 'Tony" on Yahoo. The word is Vernon Green's own coining in that parallel adolescent universe where the tenderest emotions are exposed to the light. You won't find it in any dictionary – not that I've looked.

But, damn it, shouldn't that word exist?

Tony

aka "pismotality"


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

I was foolhardy enough to take on Gloria, and have come out unscathed, thankfully. Who in his right mind would try to explain something of such grandeur?

One would think I should have learned a lesson in all this. You hit the target once; thank your lucky stars, close up the kit, and go home.

Ever a glutton for punishment I will proceed, coerced internally by the desire to communicate and possibly illuminate heretofore dark recesses of our collective sensibility.

The Five Satins. In The Still Of The Night. I can hear the groans now.

Why has this song attained the number one position on New York Oldies Sation WCBS FM, out of all the voted favorites, year after year? Answer really is quite simple. Magic. Two syllables. Big explanation.

Enter the teenage domain, circa mid to late fifties. A new culture emerges, with dungarees (not jeans), ponytails, "hops", frenetic DJ patter, shoo bop a loop on your radio as you drive to school in your customized hot rod, and the birth of Teenage Love. Parents thought that a contradiction in terms. If you were teenage, how could you love? If they only knew!

If you were lucky enough to find the right, daring, partner, you might find yourself driving your car deep into a brush, wooded area, far from prying eyes of others, and the police. Roll down the windows, move to the back seat, and let the magic begin. Moonlight, wind rustling the trees, the scent of nature in the air. Welcome, you have arrived at our destination, you are now In The Still Of The Night.

Is there anything more pleasurable than being with someone you are overpoweringly attracted to, and have that response returned in kind? Shoo doo, shoo dooby doo, in the still of the night, I held you, held you tight...cos I love you so, promise I'll never, let you go, in the still of the night. (An empty promise, at best.)

Remember that night in May? The stars were bright up a-bo-aa-aa-ove. I hope, dun dun, and I pray, dun, dun, to keep your precious love.

Well, before, the li-i-i-i-ght, promise I'll never let go of you tight, in the still of the night.

The words are simple, the arrangement and performance so sublime, replete with honking, almost, but not quite off key, sax bridge. There is a message in two parts. The actual event, of being with your lover in a private romantic place, and the remembrance of that eventful (hopefully) night under the stars.

I remember that night in May. May! School is just about over, and the restless summer is about to begin. The junior and senior prom where this song played, year after year, captured a moment in time so perfectly for so many of us.

Well, before the light. ..as we all know, morning must come, in spite of our wishes. Light representing not just the end of the night, but the awareness that this magical moment might not endure the harsh scrutiny of life after high school. In spite of it being almost unearthly in the early hours of a May morning, the ominous pangs of reality are lingering, just outside our current level of consciousness. Boy and girl, almost man and woman, mind dancing and showing an exchange of caress, kiss and force. Moving pleasurably toward an inevitable conclusion, but taking seemingly hours to get there.

Harmony of the most divine order, shared intimately by two, at their prime physical time of life, with intense affection being the bond that will make this a lasting memory.

In the still of the night is not just a physical place. It's a spiritual place, where the hush before the morning's light is captured and shared with your love. It's a very guilty pleasure. One that may never be repeated. A magic moment, reflected perfectly by an awkward sax break, simple, unpolished lyrics, and an almost amateurish performance. Teenage Love in a teenage world. Our parents just never had a clue, or else they never would have allowed that song to be playing in their daughter’s room after midnight.


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

I've decided not to worry for the moment about starting, stopping or whatever. This is whatever it is, and will end whenever it ends. All I know is that the satisfactions of writing these posts and responding to yours are pretty considerable, akin to my "real" writing, and the immediacy (can't save and refine it) is definitely an antidote to my normal writing process. For the moment I've got the time to pursue it (even though the full size keyboard for this web TV won't be on sale till sometime later this month - maybe even this stabbing urgently at tiny letters is part of the process).

I think you're spot on with the "empty promise at best" bit - and maybe both sides know it. Someone said (poss. Marsh yet again) that the plea in Goffin-King's Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow - "Tell me now and I won't ask again" - is the girl wilfully deceiving herself: she knows there's only heartbreak ahead "when the night meets the morning sun" but still needs the formulaic reassurance at that moment – he owes her that, at least, if she's doing this for him.

The play I'm currently writing (or not writing, given that I'm doing this) is for the Soho Theatre in London, and a few months ago they had a production that moved me deeply: set in a home for expectant unmarried teenage mothers in 60s England, it showed them listening to girl groups and sending up the sentiments (eg mockingly echoing, with gestures, the Shangri-Las' portentous "Cause that can never...happen...AGAIN!") but at the same time needing, and half-believing, those dreams, despite the transparent fact they'd been let down by boys. Maybe believing in two contradictory things at once, a la Alice in wonderland, is a deep human need, and dooowop sums it up.

What you were saying about the light made me think of American Graffiti and the way the move from night into day, especially tor the Richard Dreyfuss character, is also a stripping of illusions: you can't go on living forever in that indeterminate, protective dimness, even if your name Is Blanche Dubois. And of course AG is about that post High School test of affections you were talking about.

I can see there's so much more I want to say (but the right words won't - ) and I've barely responded to, or conveyed my enjoyment of, your piece, let alone my response to the performance itself, but I'll take a break there to ensure this instalment will fit. No flipping - unless it's the Marcels' Blue Moon (Goodbye to Love).


Gingers57Chevy
(F/FL)

Pismotality; a 'coined' word, by/for You... NOW.

I enjoy your and Clarks bantering and explainations... I 'feel' so much of it personally, as I was there in my time too.

'In the Still Of The Night' ~ And 'Blue Moon'; will always be embedded in my memories, as times that I spent in NAM. To this day, I am in contact (again) with my 'Still Of The Night' Partner, and beg Him to sing 'Blue Moon', every chance I get! We re-met, after 32 years...

Other than that; 'Unchained Melody' does just as well...
Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.......

My Parents were Foster Parents; and aided many unwed Mothers. Going on to care for the offspring until proper Adoptions were arranged, so I can also, feel and remember the heart ache and break, of many of these Young Ladies.... Most were by choice, as it was a two way decission between She and her Fella.

I myself, am one of the fortunates that my parents 'Hand Picked' Me... And, Fortunate, I was to have loving Parents that carried on with the process, of having Hearts big enough, to care for others beyond the call of duty.

I enjoy your disection of ideals, and the re-placement of wrond ideas.. (IF; any of what I said, makes sense!!)
Thanks, for the Memories~
Ginger
Always, the Romantic, at Heart.....


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

According to Marsh (Buy the book and skip the postings!) Fred Parris was on guard duty "in the middle of a freezing Korean night" when the song came to him as he was thinking about Cole Porter's song (shades of Glorias 1 and 2!), so it sounds like the song was conceived out of nostalgiac need: a hunger for that sustaining image, however airbrushed the reality (just as at one point in Death of a Salesman Willy Lowman demands good news from his boys, and you feel he deserves it, even though he's really saying Lie to me "and I won't ask again...").

Your images in your last posting are really evocative and detailed but I like the fact that, although seeing a more complex reality than the songs, they too have a kind of roseate glow, a sense of heightened, poetically selective reality that sits well with the music - presumably down to a combination of your own distancing from the event and an awareness of audience in this public context, to say nothing of the fact that as soon as we pick up a pen (or incredible shrinking keyboard, as at this end) we become selective - can't pin down the whole of reality, anymore than you can definitively explain away the mysteries of Gloria or GT (though you made a pretty good fist of the former, I have to say). Nabokov said that "reality" is a word which can only exist in inverted commas. In the act of writing anything down we have to select, and therefore the act of remembering is to poeticise. Which brings us neatly (whew!) back to In the Still of the Night...


You're right. Magic. You can't really say any more, but it's fun, as you've shown, to try, so I'll follow your lead. You've said so much and so powerfully (as I'm sure our audience will agree) that I'll just bear down on a few points.

The vocals, backing and lead, are wonderful. Because they're all too human and flawed (we're not exactly talking the Platters or the Four Freshmen) they invest that simple song with themselves: frail humanity plus divine aspiration - the yearning for the loved one taking on a religious intensity, as so often in this gospel-derived genre - equals a winningly poignant combination, and what they most certainly do not lack is conviction.

There. Almost done (for now). The only other thing I want to mention is that line "hold me again, with all of your might.” That's the most affecting line of all, as you, I think, touched upon. Cause you can't ever hold on hard enough to make it alright, unchanging, forever: time, the light, are coming in to do their dirty work and all you can do is grasp at the memory and half remember and half invent, on a freezing cold Korean night.

And go down in doowop history because we all want someone to make it right, too.

Tony


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Ginger,

Thank you so much for your comments and for what you shared. There is a special poignancy to be in touch again (as I, too, happily am) with loved ones from the past and it moves me that you took the time to respond with your own memories. (Clarke's posting on Gloria, dancing with the person you've broken up with, maybe has an application here as well.)

The Soho Theatre play didn't show any cruelty on the part of those running the institution but the suggestion was that English society wouldn't have tolerated single parents then (60s). I was glad to read of your own happy experience with caring foster parents.

Thanks again for kind words - and can I recommend the Fleetwoods' acapella version of Unchained Melody?

Tony


Bdbopper
(18/M/Lawrenceville, GA)

Phew!!
'Dis conversation just gets better with time!!

"In the Still of the Night" is one of 'dose songs nobody forgets whether 'dey heard it at a special time or not. The lyrics just transport yinz to a different place in time.

Although I can't see well enough to drive, I see myself sitting in a '57 T-Bird Convertable with my arms around someone special. I can't help it-It just comes over me every time!

Especially 'dis summer- I found myself in Minnesota on vacation. I was laying in bed in a room covered with 'dose Glow-in-'da-Dark stars. I was listening to my walkman & ITSOTN came on & I just went absolutely numb. I was transfixed by 'da wonder 'da song brang to me 'dat night. Very special moment-won't forget it ever!

Therefore, it is no small wonder 'dat ITSOTN happens to be a #1 Oldie time & time again.

As for "Unchained Melody"~1 have a special memory with 'dat song too. I was at 'da Homecoming dance a couple of years ago & had my first slow dance with an old girlfriend to 'da Righteous Bros version. We have since broken up (However we are still good friends). I heard many versions of 'da song since 'den. I especially like 'da Cookies version & Vito & Salutations version (although it's up-tempo).

Let's keep 'da conversation going! I really enjoy it!! :)

In Harmony
From 'Da Bop Shop,
Brian "Picksburgh's BD Bopper"


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)
Brian,
I know exactly what you mean about those moments when you hear a song and suddenly you're hearing it totally and then the song is linked to that place. I always associate it with a long walk home at night over a motorway bridge, trees in the distance, no one else around - and this great song reaching out and touching me. Can't remember if I was playing it on a Walkman, or remembering it, or singing it (badly) to myself when no one else could hear. ..but it's the song that reaches out in the night, just as it did to Fred Parris.
Tony


markkozlowskim

All this talk about what certain songs mean to people makes it abundantly clear that our music being 'old' doesn't mean a thing. Music is timeless, plain and simple.

A good example is the mention of 'In The Still Of The Night' possibly being played on a Walkman - hardly 1950's, is it?

The reason that I mention this is that I always get annoyed when people criticise the stuff I listen to for being 'old'. The entire Marketing industry is geared towards making a virtue out of something being 'new', without really considering its quality.

But when did emotions get 'old'? I must have missed a meeting, cos the beautiful Doo Wop ballads that I love so much express many of the things that I simply don't have the words - or the voice! - to express myself.

But there is more to it than just the words. There is something amazing, something that you can't define, in the combination of the music, the voices, the atmosphere...Somehow it all melts together to produce something that becomes more than a song. It becomes an actual experience to the listener.

And that's the thing. I don't think that we just 'listen' to our favourite music. We experience it.

People always love comedians, because comedians make them laugh. And we love people who look after us, and do good things for us. So it's no wonder that we love the songs that make us forget where we are, forget everything, and just take us to somewhere special inside ourselves.

It would be foolish - and, I believe, profoundly wrong - to try and define exactly what it is that has that effect. It would be like trying to pin a beautiful butterfly down.

Instead, it is better, and more human, to simply talk about the joy that this music can bring. And – lo and behold - it seems that there are lots of us, all feeling similar things.

In closing, let me say that although I wasn't born until 1965, I don't see the music of the 1950's as 'old', or something from the past. It is a part of my 'present', and - more importantly - it is a part of my future.

Falling in love can never get old, and nor can Doo Wop.

All the best to all of you,

Mark


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Mark,

Great posting that sums up what we're all trying to do on this board. Sharing as far as we can that joy in the experience. "somehow it all melts together... " - yes, you can't separate the elements, including what we bring to it as listeners: maybe that's what the Flamingos guy meant when he called it "cohesive." What I love beyond all is the fact that it's just five voices producing this but it's bigger and more mysterious than that, though the fact it's recognisably real people, not a drum machine or whatever, is part of what reaches out to us. I'm still blown away by seeing five guys come on stage, adjust the mikes... then suddenly out of their mouths comes this thing that's bigger, and more mysterious, than anyone of them. And we share in a collective moment. Even odder that fifty year old recordings, especially with the clarity of CD, take you there too, past and present in one, as we've been saying on these postings: just been listening to the Ravens' Bless You for Being an Angel.

Thanks again for saying it so well.

Tony


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

I just lost a posting that I think was one of my best: a sign came up saying I wasn't logged in and – whoosh! - it went just like that. Because this is web TV I'm not writing it up on computer and then sending it; it goes into the reply box, I maybe do a very quick proofread, and then I click on "post message." I'm really annoyed that I lost that. I'll try to redo the gist again, but there is something about getting into the rhythm that's really important: don’t know precisely where my posts are heading when I start them, so it won't be the same. I'm going to send this to check it's okay and then, when I've dried my freeflowing tears, take a chance on it again ...Tony


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

The day is noisier - there was a perfect, early morning calm when I wrote the original, but I'll try to recapture the gist and hope that the good, unselfconscious rhythms kick in at some point and not worry that good phrases that popped up during the composition before are gone (I find I do feel quite annoyed about it still, because it brings in selfconsciousness to a way of communicating that's been very free for me up till now. Anyway...).

My posting was expanding, in part, what I'd already said in my reply to Mark, but is as much for Clarke, Brian, anyone who's into this conversation about ITSOTN.

Mark, you mentioned the mysterious thing going on with all these elements together and the way we don't just listen, we experience a song. It's the song, listener, group, past/present, yearnings, everything together.

But one thing we haven't touched upon in this series of postings is the sound itself - the actual technical quality of what was recorded in that New Haven church basement all those years ago. And we have to admit it's not, technically, "good," put up against the clarity of quite a few other records. Even on the best CD transfer I've heard it doesn't get much beyond an AM radio with the batteries low. But I think that's part of the magic, the mysterious. There are lots of "better," clearer records to like. But it's like hearing a friend's voice on a tape recorder. You don't care about the sound quality. Your mind fills in the gaps and you see the whole picture. And the amateurish quality seems to put it more within our grasp as well. There's no studio trickery - that is Fred and the boys, no more, no less.

But simple and unadorned as it is, there's something special about that recording. I heard a live version by the Nutmegs. And it was...fine. But it wasn't the Five Satins – and more to the point, it wasn't that murky recording.

When I first came on the net last month, I spent a mesmerising couple of hours at a website devoted to discussing which mono 45s could now be found in stereo on CD, and more or less saying that record companies had a moral duty to create a stereo version if the four track (or whatever) master tapes had survived, even if the recording had never, ever been issued in stereo on vinyl on LP reissues. I had some sympathy - two hours, after all - but I eventually tore myself away and haven't felt the urge to revisit since. There was an implicit love for the music in what they were doing, but it seemed to be getting lost by not being articulated clearly enough. Sure, I favour Ace and Rhino reissues (though there was a lot of bitching about Rhino favouring mono) and all hail Little Walter DeVenne, etc, but if all your energies are taken up agonising over the precise placing of the lead vocal in the stereo image that leaves out all the more elusive stuff that goes on when we listen, including - the essential point of this resurrected posting - the fact that how we first hear a record, the quality of the sound, can be an integral part of how we experience it ever after.

(continues - couldn't stand losing a mammoth posting again!)


plsmotality
(42/M/London. England)

(continued)

Now I don't want to turn the clock back (except for my lost posting) - I don't particularly want all my doowops to be imprisoned in a sonic murk. Let me hear the sighs, the intakes of breath if possible. And you can do wonders with poor sources - the most recent transfers of Robert Johnson put him in the room with you, apparently.

But there is something about some doowops, and certainly this recording, that make me never want to see a headline like "Master tape found in church basement." Don't tell me we've all been listening to a third generation copy for all these years, I don't wanna know. Because for good or ill, that IS ITSOTN - the thing that we have experienced, this strange sensation that several of us have been talking about on these posts - it's that sound and no other. Take away the murk and you risk taking away something else. Degas opposed the restoration of the Mona Lisa – he didn't want his memories messed with either. And we are part of ITSOTN, just as much as Fred Parris - I don't just mean those of us doing the postings, but everyone who listens, gathers it into themselves. Experiences it, as Mark says. The audience completes the circle.

Lots of doowops in my vinyl collection could do with a good sonic scrub down. But not this. So why ITSOTN in particular? Well, we've been talking about this elusive magic it holds for so many people. And I think it's because it lets us in in a way few other songs do. Just as you hear the friend on the cheapo tape recorder and somehow go through what you hear, flesh out the poor representation with all you know of that person, so ITSOTN encourages us to fill in the gaps, doesn't dazzle us with hifi brightness or slick singing. We take our memories and feelings and connect.

Besides, there's another reason why the sound of that record is totally right, couldn't be any other way. I compared it to an AM station, and I think, on some unconscious (until now!) level, we've somehow always responded to that association when listening to it, and that's why the muddy sound is not an issue (for most people). Even listening to it on CD, it feels like a transmission, being sent out right at that moment, emerging, laden with static, out of the mysterious, silent sky, out of the recesses of memory. It's Fred and the guys singing their hearts out right now, to you, reaching out through time and space from that church basement to touch and unite all of us: Brian in that star-filled bedroom, me walking over the bridge and looking up at the vast and unknowable night sky, Clarke, weaving the past and the present together with his rich, evocative images - strangers who haven't met, yet all mysteriously linked because on some level, despite our differences, we all feel Fred and the guys reaching out to us, answering a yearning in us.

And we tune in.

Tony


alex_lowlands
(40/F/Holland)

I'm really enjoying all these postings by you, Clarke and that one from Mark. Love checking this board just to see the latest part in this fascinating continuing story.

I can't put it as beautifully as you guys, English not being my native language, but I still would like to react to your last remarks on the sound quality of ITSOTN.

I agree that the poor sound quality of that song is the sound we got used to and it does evoke that atmosphere you so well described. However, I personally am always happy when I get a very clean copy of a song, any song. In a way I think all these extra hissing sounds are a bit distracting. You would not have heard these additional sounds if you had heard Fred and the guys singing under their lamppost either, so to me it doesn't add anything 'original' to the record. When I hear a clean copy of a song I can really concentrate on the great harmony, the little off key way of singing, whatever of such a song.

It's the same way with cleaning up old paintings you briefly mentioned. Memories or not from the viewers, but they were not painted centuries ago with layers of dust. Nor had the artist intended them to look that way. They were sold at the time as fresh and sparkling looking paintings. When these paintings get the proper and careful treatment, things turn up that have been hidden for so long. Personally, I think this is great, like revealing something hidden for all of us to enjoy, just like the artist had done at the time.

To go back to the music. I didn't grow up with it, nor did I discover it in my teens, so I can't say I hold memories towards it, like most of you do. I just love it more than anything else for what it is: great music that you can feel, apart from hearing. That is one more reason why I prefer the freshly polished releases by Ace and the likes, over scratchy records.

Alexandra


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Alexandra,

Yes I agree with you 99% of time; my point was ITSOTN felt like a special case. When Degas said don't restore ML, he was (I presume) saying he didn't want HIS memory disrupted, not pretending that ML had started out like that. And ITSOTN has burnt itself into people's memories in a certain way, so that's what it "is" for us. (I'm quite fond, in any case, of the boxy, warm AM sound – I’m with Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner sentiments on this one, to step out of our era for a moment...)

I do like Ace, etc, but with some recordings from other companies, or with gleamingly fresh stereo tapes of 50s/60s music, the balance can seem different from the mono, less punchy and direct, so I do have some reservations. I'm also a fan of early jazz and very few transfers to CD (apart from John R.T. Davies, jazzland's Little Walter DeVenne equivalent), have worked out that you lose some essential ambience if you filter too much out. I have one Ravens CD totally flattened out sonically, and lifeless; another, with a fair degree of scratches, conveys the immediacy of their presence far more (Bless You... is a lovely track).

So to sum up my views: if clean master tapes available, great (except ITSOTN!).

But care needs to be taken when cleaning up imperfect sources.

Stuff in stereo not originally conceived as such can have the effect of altering the balance of elements we recall from the mono - we hear more, but it can feel "wrong." Though I suppose no record competes with the memory ...

Tony


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

Ahh, sweet mystery of youth, that bygone day that lingers in memory like stale champagne the morning after, with no fizz left in the elegant half filled glass. Where has it gone? Is it really out of our lives forever, or can that sense of beauty be rekindled from a dying ember faintly glowing in the fireplace of our life? Has the mystery been solved by the passing of time?

No, I think not.

The fact that we cannot solve our "mystery" is the key factor in the process we call evolution. Everything evolves, and decays at the same time. As we grow and learn our bodies wither and weaken. Nature's cruel joke. Is there a point somewhere between youth and death at which we may find the optimal pivot point to balance the two opposing forces? Are we lucky enough to be at that place now, as the drama of middle age unfolds around us? Can the sense of wonder be restored now to bring our senses to reveal mysteries, even greater than first imagined?

If we as a collective entity can enrich our existence to the pitch of joy achieved in our youth, and then surpass it, is that not a miracle?

I believe it is possible. A secret revealed to very few; only those LUCKY enough to have the innate knowledge that transcends "conventional wisdom". Elite thought processes? Possibly, but more likely an open heart, an alert but relaxed mind, and a balance in life attained by understanding how the decades have given us opportunities to discover our real selves, is the reason.

Are you in this class? If you are still reading this, and fit the age category, you may be one of those, who despite what life throws at them, can conquer adversity, and use it to advantage.

You probably have a rich understanding of life's evolutionary process and can use memories of time past to help guide you to your future. One of shining brilliance, in the shadow of slowing echoing decay. Can we not, at this advanced moment in our time, still hope to be with Gloria In the Still of the Night?


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

I referred briefly in one posting to Ulysses, the poem by Tennyson. He makes the decision to go on one last voyage rather than hang around vegetating. He accepts that he's not a young man anymore, nor are his companions, but

That which we are, we are.

I don't have the poem to hand but he goes on about experience being an arch through which the future gleams or words to that effect. And even though they're physically depleted they have the security of comradeship and a determination

To strive, to seek, to find,
And not to yield.

He and they are undertaking this voyage in the face of possible death, and even thinking of that he just says, matter-of-factly:

It may be that the floods will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the happy shore,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

In the London theatre critic Harold Hobson's autobiography he talks of a man who always associated the above lines with his late wife, and I can see why: they're not about heroism, or not in the conventional sense; they're about the simple acceptance in many lives that has a heroism all its own: These things might well happen. But it's okay, whatever happens. We are what we are.

For myself, I've been lucky enough to make accidental contact with an important figure from my teenage past whom I had freighted down with a lot of doowop-type idealisation and to feel, in some measure, that the past had righted itself as a result of that remeeting. It's not a fairytale, nor a romance, and yet it is immensely important because it is about real interaction, testing out who am, not who I imagine myself to be. Valuing those small moments of physical ease with that person - a world away from the gaucherie of adolescence - and seeing the precariousness of all contact with others makes me value what I have and seek to nurture it. Being with a friend's family, aware, as I never realised myself when young, how fleeting those moments are, and the wonder of some bonds that have endured over decades.

Tying this all back to doowop, and that final question in your posting, maybe the answer is that if we can now, as a different sort of light begins to fade, take some faltering steps towards seeing Gloria for what she is, and find that there can be as much joy and wonder, albeit of a different order, in the substance as there was in the unreal imaginings, then we have achieved something; like Ulysses, being able to say 'That which we are, we are." And it's okay. Though as the Essex say...

But the songs are still important. They are the past which is you still. And they still represent the voyage, the tantalising gleam of what might be: sweet dreams of contentment. But the important thing is to accept, not resentfully nor fearfully, the possibility of shipwreck - indeed, to see it as a condition of the voyage.

Again with the Essex...and I don't care if they're doowop or not.

Tony


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

We are what we are. Yes, I am afraid so. That also must be said for we are what we think we are.

And that's where the good news is. Our mind is an instrument capable of producing many moods, textures, colors, sounds, and responses to external stimuli. In a sense, like a mirror, reflecting that which enters the machine called mind. And it seems an empty vessel waiting to be filled. Think about that. Your mind a receptacle for whatever you wish to deposit. You have unlimited choices to decorate your house with. You can drive any kind of car you would like. You can pick any person in the world to befriend. The choices you make, and the life you lead reflects just who you really are.

If you choose to listen to music every day, and that music is our kind, namely doo wop, don't you think our thought process, and demeanor will reflect the ethos and art of that form? If we live in a world of our choosing, and we inhabit it with people with like desires and tastes, are we not engaging in harmony. Isn't harmony the keystone of doo wop?

The beauty of blending voices, working together to achieve a collective work of art, to be enjoyed by an audience, as well as the singers themselves. If ideals of group harmony, namely, peace, and love and an atmosphere of togetherness are part of our every day "input", can the very way we conduct our lives be very different than that? We are what we think we are. We are what we listen to. We choose what we do in our lives. What a wonderful system! Each of us has the opportunity to choose A Doo Wop Life. Yes Tony, we are what we are!


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

As ever, I'm prompted to respond - in fact, I'm going to respond - but the great luxury of the last four days - ie no work - has come to an end and it's 11 .30pm in "real" (always inverted commas) time for me so I’ll have to pick the thread up tomorrow. But yes, harmony, unity - the blending of those five personalities... but I have to stop or I'll go on (logically enough). Odd having these two separate time frames ... but there I go again. Someone on this board asked for a standardised "Doowop Time." sadly, the tick-ticking of a more banal system is coming towards me - a bit like Captain Hook's nemesis - to whom the only response can be Bobby Charles's: "See you later ...


markkozlowskim

The points you make about sound quality / the way we first hear music is very interesting.

When George Lucas made 'American Graffiti', he took advantage of the latest audio technology to allow one song to be heard in a number of different ways. Thus, as a scene progressed, a song would be heard coming out of the radios of passing cars, out of transistor radios, etc.

It achieved continuity, but in a far more natural way than if he had just played a master recording of a song as background music. The way Lucas did it, the music was simply there because it would have been there in real life - the background music of everyones' lives, and the heartbeat of the night.

Incidentally, 'Graffiti' was the first film to use so many original pieces of music in its score (the music is almost constant) and Lucas had to fight to be allowed to do that. It was so successful that many other films have used the same idea (Martin Scorsese always makes good use of music in his movies).

On a different note, Jerry Lee Lewis always played his new releases on a crummy little portable record player back in the Fifties, so that he would know how his fans would hear them (back then most teenagers didn't have expensive record players). It shows a lot of insight on his part to have done that.

In terms of listening to music, I always find it much more exciting to unexpectedly hear a great song on the radio than it is to deliberately put it onto the record / CD player. Whenever a song appears, by surprise, I'll turn up the radio and really focus on it.

I find the same thing with old cars. It's always more interesting to come across some great old chrome'n'fins cruiser just driving around than seeing a hundred of them parked together at a car show.

As for the sound of ITSOTN, it makes you wonder how much is actually lost through the quest for technical perfection. Let's be honest - that record wouldn't have been put out if it had been recorded today. It probably would have been treated as a demo, and the 'real' single would be recorded on about a hundred channels, with plenty of overdubbing, remixing, etc. And the world would be a poorer place for that!


bdbopper
(18/M/Lawrenceville, GA)

Boy, do I have a lot to catch up with (see what l can miss during a busy school day)!
Here we gooooo ......

ITSOTN:
Tony - You never cease to amaze - you should write some of those touching TV documentaries (that's what you are sounding like)!
Anyway, I believe whole-heartedly with your opinion of the recording quality. Who cares if the song was crudely recorded - I love it just the same & want to keep it the way it is! If technology gets so good to produce a "Clean" copy of the song - I don't want it. It's not going to mean didiley squat to me or most Doowop/Oldies lovers! Everybody has their own memory/place in time they link to this song - It'll be ruined by a clean Stereo recording!

Mark - I believe you hit the nail on the head, my man! Anybody who think this music is too old or thinks that only the "baby boomers" enjoy - IS WRONG!!!! The example of listening to ITSOTN on a walkman is a perfect argument to the opinion in question.
Now to Clarkes question .....

Clarke (or may I say Phineas) LOL :)
I don't care whether you are 3 or 93, the music will always keep you young (at heart, at least). 20 years from now, I'll still be 18 because that is where the music will take me. I'll be coming home from school, like I did today - & inserting change into my personal Jukebox....er....computer. May I edit a lyric from Chuck Willis' "Hang Up My Rock N' Roll Shoes” .....
"The music's got a beat that'll keep you alive, The kids are Rock N' Rollin' from 8 to (65)!"
Wherever we'll be, whatever we do in the future, we will always stay young, if we keep the music in our hearts!

That's what I believe is the bottum line - any comments fellow Doowoppers???

In Harmony
From the Bop Shop,
Brian "pittsburgh's BD Bopper"


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,

A fuller reply. As ever, all sorts of resonances as I reread your messages with the above title. Yes, I'm sure that doowp has the power to enrich our lives. You mention harmony, with its associations of being able to embrace all aspects of oneself and others. Yes. And for me it's very much about the possibility of contact with others opened up by doowop. I talked at the end of the ITSOTN sequence about three listeners being linked through the act of listening, being - appropriate for the radio analogy - receptive.

But as you say it's also about those five singers' (or four, as Bruce has just informed us) own ability to connect on some deep level that sets the ball rolling: they have to sublimate their egos to produce a song which will be an experience, not aural wallpaper; they must each be willing to become part of a magically bigger whole, one that will expand and expand as the recording becomes disseminated but for the moment is them standing - maybe sharing a single microphone? - in that basement.

So doowop is first of all about their contact, their ability to blend and become this new shade, bigger than the sum of their parts. And finding, in doing so, a better self, a nobler identity, than any one competing ego. The song (and delivery) is trite enough, but the sentiments are precisely right: "We were rough and ready guys, But oh, how we could harmonise..." In a play briefly on in London which explored the Everly Brothers’ split imaginatively (ie no pretence at documentary truth) the writer had Don and Phil reluctantly confessing to the truth that when their voices blend together they become something neither can be alone.

In my own play I wrote of the protagonist's encounter with the doowop group, borrowing a phrase from the Dells: "Stone hooligans but angels." Ben E King rhapsodises about his street corner days; I used his words more or less verbatim, and another singer's (quoted in Barney Hoskyns' The Popular Voice) to describe the process of bringing a song into being (my fictional take on the creation of Golden Teardrops). Leaning over the stairwell where they first sang, the singer tells his friends to go with him; he hums a few bars, and:

We got together on a key and just ... floated. Those guys knew when you were gonna breathe. One big heartbeat.

(continued)


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

(continues)

I talked in a recent post about discovering, or fully appreciating with age, simple pleasures like being with a friend's family. Losing a layer of selfconsciousness and sort of - melting together, is how I think of it. And in its small but significant way doowop stands for the greater good when we can give ourselves up to something else and is therefore a powerful model for life. (I don't have Nowhere to Run to hand but my memory is that King uses the phrase "spiritual experience" [about his streetcorner singing days] and makes clear none of the later success was in the same league.)

The act of listening to ITSOTN is, as I've said, another part of the same thing: we acknowledge those needs, those romantic aspirations, in ourselves; we don't protect ourselves by mocking their naivete, because they are about our deepest feelings. Close to the bone.

And the act of sharing those feelings on this board (and it's been great, and very touching, to see so much positive proof that others are receptive too) is also a part of that melting, that blending together started by those four (or five) guys in New Haven on that night. Bruce is no doubt right about the number of the group but maybe there's a sense in which - though I'm not even going to attempt to claim this for Fred Parris' thought processes, though it's a neat idea - maybe there's a sense in which the listener, that other vital component, is the fifth Satin: part, finally (once it goes out over the literal airwaves) of that melting, that blending together initiated by those guys.

And the process of this sort of writing seems like a metaphor in itself. As I said when moaning about my cyberspace loss, I can't back these things up. I type direct onto that little rectangle, bit of checking for clarity (concision would take longer), then press "Post Message". It's always a slightly tense moment: will that sign come up saying the message is too long? Did I get too involved, reluctant to break the flow, and now face the tedium of having to check like for "real" writing? Will there be that horrific sign claiming I haven't logged in, and when I press "previous" the Message rectangle is returned, dazzlingly blank again?

Or will there be - and this is the magic, this is the doowop moment - the sign that my phone is dialling - the image of a telephone with red indicator arrows circling a globe, the word "connecting" plus three dots, then a melting of the screen – an anxious moment - a second, and then my message there, clear on the board? That moment of melting, and that satisfaction at the sight of the thought transmitted, public, shareable, both with you and our wider audience, within a breath of its being framed, feels like nothing but a doowop moment, a moment of harmony.

(continues)


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

Don't know how you got started on the road to being a music maven, but here's how the music bug bit me, early on. I have to blame my great grandmother. A warm and friendly soul, she let me play "disc jockey" during my preschool era. I actually would line the 78's up, and play them, one at a time while she sat and listened. Tony Martin, There's No Tomorrow, was her favorite. We had a nice assortment of tunes, heavy on piano instrumentals and country. Those records seemed heavy at the time, (and they were to a four year old), once in a while one would break. They were much more fragile than the 45's which followed.

I seemed to have skipped a beat music-wise, because I don’t remember awakening to rock and roll til about fifth grade when Elvis was all the rage at Bayside elementary school in Warwick, Rhode Island. The girls loved him, the boys were jealous and hated him. I was barely aware of what he was about, as a ten year old in 1956. Like most kids of that age, I do remember listening to the radio Saturday nights, under the covers in my room. Grand Old Opry was on when I flipped the dial and heard other, more exciting things. Enter Gorton Junior High, imagine this. In seventh grade, the white haired music teacher put aside the last ten minutes for her students to play music on the large Hi Fi, in the back of the room. We were allowed to bring in records from home and share them with the class. I brought in Marv Johnson's You Got What it Takes. Someone else brought in an Annette recording of First Name Initial. Our notebook covers were plastered with the names of songs we liked, and the girls were all ga-ga over Ricky or Elvis. I actually carried a girl’s books home for her once.

The flavor of the times was Lloyd Price, I'm Gonna Get Married, and Johnny Horton, All For The Love Of a Girl. Tequila, and Pink Shoe Laces. The A &P where we bought our food, had a little place put aside where they sold 45's by the Parade Company of Newark, New Jersey, which were recordings of Top Hits, by unknown studio artists. You could buy two 45's containing 12 "Hits" which were sometimes pretty good. More often they were sadly lacking the punch of the originals. For 99 cents, all the top hits to play on your Sears Silvertone monaural single play phonograph in your room late at night after everyone was asleep.

Radio was a magical force to be reckoned with. Providence is fifty miles or so away from Boston, and Boston radio stations stayed on twenty four hours a day, when nothing was on locally. WCOP, and WMEX, AM giants at the time, were my stations of choice, with WCOP coming in better. I heard Jerry Lee Lewis the first time on WCOP in the wee hours.

I didn't know from doo wop, so you see I got a very late start. That kind of music was just part of the general mix, with no particular significance to me or anybody I knew. We did grow to love group harmony (the New York sound) as one of the local DJ's, Joe Thomas, liked to call it on his nightly show on WPAW in Pawtucket. And Carl Diggens had a weekly blues show Sunday afternoon on WRIB, a thousand watt daytimer that programmed religion, foreign language, and whatever you wanted as long as you bought the time. That blues sound was a little too deep for me, however, but they did program pop music during the week after school.

(to be continued)


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Great! This is definitely a good strand to get onto. I found my last two postings less satisfying to do as I had no time to type this morning - up in the morning and out to school - and made the mistake of writing my thoughts down while fresh. Only having to refer to pencilled notes means you lose the fun of not knowing your precise destination. So despite that "continued" in my previous, my next response will take up early days - though I need a break right now. And maybe, too, I'd really come to a conclusion for that one anyway. But yes, I'll look forward to responding – maybe I'll see your Part Two by then. Warning to afficionados: my story, like Clarke's, will contain traces of NON-DOOWOP ELEMENTS. (If symptoms persist, press next.)


clarkedavis
(M/Dover, New Jersey)

As I grew to understand a little bit more about the attraction between the sexes, I noticed that I was beginning to feel a pull toward certain girls.

At twelve years old I discovered the "Canteen" a municipal project aimed at keeping the kids off the street after school. It was a hang out that sold cokes, and dogs and burgers. There was a jukebox with the volume turned up loud, and they turned the lights down so the juke box glowed even at four in the afternoon. There was a wispy blond girl named Barbara I knew from one of my classes. She was a year older than I was, but I got my courage up and asked her to dance when You by the Aquatones came on. What a great dance song! We danced, she put her cheek next to mine, and pushed close to me just like it was the most normal thing in the world to do. Which it was. I just didn't expect it. She thanked me when the song ended, and we parted. I don't think I ever danced with her again, and just said hello in the school halls.

That kind of thing was rather common then. A girl would show intimacy when she felt comfortable with a guy. Today, that kind of casual flirting would be thought of differently. Songs I remember from those dark afternoons include Quintones, Down the Aisle of Love, and Book of Love by the Monotones. Everyone stomped around when the latter came on, having fun in an entirely innocent manner.

Twelve turned to the true Teenage Years, thirteen, let's celebrate. Today I am a teenager! A true milestone. A true teenager. Now they really are singing all those songs about ME! A member of the club, a card carrying, doo woppin' teenager. What a great moment!

Junior high turned to actual high school. Roy Orbison was the guy churning out love song after love song that related to our lives. I go out with The Crowd. A Blue Angel is in love. Only the Lonely know how I feel. I'm Hurtin. Uptown. Our Summer Song. Love hurts. What beautiful music to dance to at teen parties, to celebrate a birthday or just to get together. Again, even in someone's living room, the lights were turned down, and the dancing was intensely close and erotic. The G-Clefs I Understand was the goodbye song of my first love. An intensely personal rendering to the strains of Auld Lang Syne. I Understand. Just How You Feel. Let Bygones be Bygones, but Remember, I'll Always Love You. I'll Always Love You. (Spoken Verse): And If You Ever Change Your Mind, My Dear, Come Back To Me, I'll Be Waiting Here, I Understand. A little too much understanding here, I think. But what a trip that song was. Beautifully Sad. There seemed to be a sense of beauty in that sadness. A kind of elevated longing that made you feel alive, even though you were in pain. To feel the pangs of hurt as you saw your love walking holding hands with someone new. Teenage Angst at its best.

Could it have been the same without the music? No, the music really did complement the activity, was more than just a soundtrack. Actually became part of the actual Film Of Life. In the motion picture, Mean Streets, the music was an integral part of the film. Simply wouldn't have been half as effective, if the music hadn't been there to puncture, illuminate, and illustrate the action of the characters. And so it was with the music of our time. How many of you made your ''Teen Age Vows Of Love" during similar circumstances?


doowopsociety
(87/F/Wyoming, PA)

You give a great description of what it was like back when. I often wondered, from a female perspective, did we fall in love with the guy at the time or with the music that was playing? Many a times, I'd hear a tune and be dancing with a guy in high school and suddenly, I'm in love with the guy. Especially if they were playing, "Symbol of Love" - G-Clefs or something of that nature. As soon as one learns about the guy, love peters out. Compatibility was just not there.

Other times, the guy showed so much interest in a gal while the music was playing. You guys know. He'd say wonderful things while dancing, show you lots of attention and then boom - he'd be out in the parking lot of our high school, trying to pull a "funny". It seems like sex was the only thing on his mind from the beginning. Gals in those days, at least this one, was looking for something else. I think it was called "Marriage and living happily ever after".

It seems that back when, the music travelled down two roads - one road for the guys and another road for the gals. You brought out another aspect to the guys point of view that maybe it wasn't really two roads we were travelling and made me realize the guys had other feelings too. I concluded many years later, that the music brought on the feelings. After all, when you’re 16 years old, how can you not get emotionally involved with songs such as "You" or "I'm So In Love" by Infascinations or "Wonderful Girl"?

Dave is going to love the fact that you mentioned "You".

Marsha

[Dave Goddard - aka aquatone58 - was a member of the Doo Wop Shop]


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Clarke,
Again a really precisely captured sense of time: interesting that all the paraphernalia around the music - precise type, brand of record player, etc - is so much part of the experience.

I read Marsha's response to your post and I think it is more complex, as you say, than Girl-wants-romance and Boy-wants-IT. It's also, at least some of the time, about both wanting to believe in the dream, the delicious possibility, even if you know it's playacting: the willing suspension of disbelief, if only for the three minutes of that song.


Have you seen John Sayles' great movie Baby It's You, set in the 50s/60s (can't remember)? It's about an illusion that lasts a little longer - in fact, Clarke, it's precisely about what you said in an earlier post: romances not surviving high school. A "nice" girl falls in love with a “Fonzie" type at school, gets a kind of respect and status through doing so, but when she goes to a Sarah Lawrence-type establishment he's something to be disowned, mocked.

But the beauty of this totally convincing, small-but-big movie is the ending: Sheik's (the guy's) illusions about Sinatra-type stardom have been brought down to earth with an almighty bump, but meanwhile the girl is finding herself excluded in her new world: her Trenton, New Jersey roots make it harder for her to be accepted. He comes to see her once his world has fallen apart, trashes her room, angry at being excluded from her new life. But it ends with them agreeing to dance together at a college dance: her way of saying to snooty fellow students “This is part of who I am, deal with it"; and a way, too, of giving back some status to the battered Sheik: once again, as in high school, they're causing a sensation together.

But there's no way they'll get back with each other; it's about two damaged people realising that on that night, just for that moment, they can support each other. The film's not multi-protagonist, like American Graffiti, and less glamorous (no big cars) but it touches on a great deal of what we've covered in these postings. Because these two have (however uneasily and temporarily) reconciled past and present: living, for a moment, in the illusion which is also the truth of their bonding on some level: they had been an integral part of each other.

In a book of interviews, Sayles on Sayles, JS amusingly talks about the studio's reaction: despite his being totally upfront about his intentions, they were hoping to cash in with another Porky's! But it's a deeply moving, truly "adult" (ie offering no easy solutions) movie, and a story that has apparently resonated with many women trying to reconcile roots with aspirations. I also love his Passion Fish, another tale of two damaged lives. (Can't remember soundtrack for Baby It’s You, though.)

Still not onto my own childhood! Back after melting - or meltdown? Starting all over again is gonna be tough ... (=who, trivia fans?)

Totally agree about Mean Streets, by the way; my first encounter with the Chips’ Rubber Biscuit...

Incidentally, I've just worked out what I am: a doowop Helene Hanff. Or Frank Doel.


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

As I start typing this second part, it's 5.35 PM British Summer Time, though lashing with rain outside, and I shall stop and post this at six o'clock, however far it has or hasn't progressed, because on BBC TV's Top of the Pops programme there is a John Lennon birthday special. Both the programme and person are an integral part of my and my brothers' early lives. Just before six, I will phone my younger brother, to check he knows about it.

I was born in 1958. I have two elder brothers and two younger ones, with roughly two year gaps between each one. Long before I was interested enough to think about buying records, the Beatles were around: the excitement of She Loves You - well, no matter how doowop dedicated, you'll know the story. There are hundreds of books, and when you tire of them you can read Mark Shipman's Paperback Writer, a not unfunny Rutles-type account (eg Ringo Starr enjoyed hit record after hit record in the seventies, one of these being Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John) with some insights amid the facetiousness.

But this is about the Beatles in my, and my brothers’, lives. And Top of the Pops. This has been the only consistently shown pop music programme on British television since the 60s. Every Thursday night (as it was then) at 7.30 we would gather, praying that my father would not interrupt the programme (in those one-TV days) and that my mother would be able to arrange the making of his tea in a way that would overlap with this semi-religious broadcast. TOTP was something only shared between the five boys because there wasn't a great deal of music in our house. Half-heartedly tolerated by my mother, actively disliked by my father, who possibly saw the Beatles' financial success as unfairly earned, and who definitely saw its creed of pleasure as dangerous, the music united us. So I can remember Sgt. Pepper, bought or borrowed by my eldest brother, the excitement of hearing the White Album on a brand new stereo, and the paternal disapproval over the collage-type insert with bare flesh.
...

Taking the risk that the above lines would remain onscreen when I pressed the "internet" button on my TV remote, I took time out to watch the John Lennon Programme.


Seeing him sing Stand By me brought back a memory: dancing with my then girlfriend at a rock'n'roll club in 1975 as this came on, and the DJ saying: "John Lennon's coming home." Although the Beatles remain the fraternal glue to some extent (witness the phone call) my journey towards doowop was not one shared by them. That will be the subject of my next posting.


pismotality
(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 ...


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Around 1990 I was discussing, with a colleague at school, my interest in doowop, and some of the matters we’ve been raising here. I spoke of my frustration: all that knowledge and love and wonder, and nowhere for it to go: what could I do with it?

His reply, by opening up a hitherto unthought possibility, changed my life: "It's a monologue," he said; and that set me on my first play, exploring matters which have been discussed at length in other posts, so there's no need to go through them again here.

The key point is that from the moment of putting pen to paper and very slowly feeling my way towards some semblance of a coherent tale I surrendered to the process, the excitements of the exploration. I felt in touch once again with the creative teenager and knew that even if I was only chipping away at some microscopic part of the very bottom of the cliff face of creativity it was infinitely better to be doing that than anything else: there were other happinesses in my life at the time, but nothing felt the same as that continually refreshed sense of discovery.

That play took two years while teaching full time and was, as I've said earlier, rejected. Part of the trouble was it was indeed a monologue, as my colleague said; although tricked up to look like a real play with genuinely interacting characters, all the interest is really in what the protagonist says. But with that character drawing on Ben E King, and with those early stirrings of the impulses I've been able to explore in a different form here, it still seems a worthwhile thing to have done, and all down to the decision of that colleague (now a close friend) to answer as he did.

Believe it or not, there's even a Fred Parris (!) connection at the very root of this. (Oh, will you never set me free?) The art school ran a film club - this was 77/78 – one film was a rock'n'roll concert which included Fred Parris in a bright pink or red frilly shirt with a rounded collar. Clarke (and others), I regret to say this was not a transcendent moment for me, with radio waves and nebulous connections adance in my head: nohow and contrariwise, as those original warring Everly Brothers used to say. I thought he looked faintly ridiculous, like those corny Stylistics or other acts I'd seen on TOTP with the dance routines we instinctively knew to be old hat. My memory is ITSOTN was thrown away as part of a medley; at any rate, the unfamiliar song made little impact on me.

And yet ... twelve years later, the suggestion about a play in my mind, relaxed and centred after a swim on a return visit to Scotland, I saw Fred - or someone like him. Making up, getting ready to perform - yes, in that ridiculous shirt. Now, not in his 50s heyday, and half aware of the figure he's cutting, beginning to doubt whether he can go on that night, even dare attempt to hit those notes.

But he goes on. And he opens his mouth to sing. The voice is cracked. But ... something like. Better, far better (as I can see now) to be some kind of artist than not.


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

Well, it's a new day and I'm struggling manfully on, trying to make good my second cyberspace loss, hence the "echo" of the title. No doubt it's a metaphor anyway (is there anything that isn't?):

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter

- only right now, in this dimension, we're kind of stuck with those that do actually assail the eardrums: in music - as in writing or any form of art - the intention isn't the same as the actuality of the finished piece, although imagination and forbearance on the part of the "fifth Satin" can go a long way to bridging the gap. (And no, Clarke, this not special pleading for my play - well, only partly...)

This is actually not what I was going to start out doing - discussing some influential early record purchases, culminating in a discussion of The Letter - but I'll go with it. May get back on the main road eventually - and if not, I'll arrive at another destination. even if not the "'lost" route I was trying to recover. (We're travellers on Life's highway; enjoy the trip ... as Keats or someone said.)

For all my doowop purchasing life - some 22 years - I've been hoping to find the Numero Uno doowop song in the next compilation and have been mostly – almost invariably - disappointed. Obviously there have been great ones, as discussed here, but so many that in some hard to define way fall short. I used to think "All ballads good," and still sort of hold to that (so many compilations favour uptempo - don't they realise some follks want to wallow?), but then strange, hard to justify thoughts start to come in: is that lead voice just a little too affected? Isn't this just a rehash of their big hit? I think someone put A Kiss From Your Lips in their Flamingos Top Three for the Alan Freed concert - fair enough but can anything ever be more than an echo of the shimmerng perfection that is - but it's fair to say my thoughts on THAT song have been sufficiently rehearsed earlier in this dialogue.

What I'm getting at is that in dowop, as in art generally - life itself, come to that - very, very little comes close to the wonderful thing we imagine. Familiarity has dulled (for me, anyway) the excitement of Why Do Fools ... And maybe even the best songs, the highest manifestations of the doowop art, as good as it gets for a drugfree high, shoobopwise, are, in any case, pale imitations, faint echoes, of what the artist intended. Ringo used to say he'd sing I Wanna Be Your Man in the studio imagining he was Stevie Wonder, then he'd ear the playback and find out he was Bing Crosby all along (a pretty self-deluding claim in itself, but let that pass).

But the fifth Satin (or fifth Beatle) role is a vital one: if we don't want every musical experience to be as ashes in our mouth we have to, if we can, see beyond what's there to the doowop El Dorado (no, not doowop's El Dorados!) promised at fitful moments - the bending of a note; a wordless wail - during an otherwise underwhelming song. Besides, art can only go so far: it's a souvenir of the singer's (real or imagined) "emotion; it’s a time machine for your memories as well as enhancing the moment itself - as you’ve shown us so vividly, Clarke – but it’s not the thing, the emotion, itself, merely a way of evoking the emotion in us, if we're prepared to let it.

And this presumably mirrors what the singers are doing in the first place. There's a song I know in a version by the Persuasions:

(continues)


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

(continued)

Looking for an echo, an answer to our sound,
A place to be in harmony,
A place we aImost found.

As we all know, young doowop singers sought out places that would return their sound to them, not just to enhance their voices but also, whether consciously or not, out of a greater need, as expressed in the song: a wish to be made whole, to connect not just with the reaI or imagined loved one but with each other and with the wider world of those who might respond and say: "I feel this too." An answer to our sound. A Fifth Satin who by bringing his or her attention to bear on the song is saying they aren't alone and who, by completing the circle, by becoming part of this global chain we discussed in ITSOTN, is also relieved of that burden.

But as both a singer and a listener you can never quite get there - or at any rate stay there for long enough. So moments in concerts when the quality of the audience's attention changes and suddenly everyone is participating in a real event, a shared experience, and off the wall moments on otherwise conventional records – often for me the wordless wailing at the end, as I've said - need to be treasured for what they promise, even if the full delivery doesn't follow through. There's an art in listening to echoes, a special skill in cultivating that generosity of mind – whether with a doowop record or indeed another human being - that will allow us to look beyond what is; and there's something about doowop, of all musical forms, that encourages us to make that kindly leap, given that frailty and vulnerability are so often at the heart of its recordings.

I knew we'd get to Vernon Green eventually.

(continues)


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

(continued)

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.


pismotality
(42/M/London, England)

The Medallions' The Letter is one I'm also tempted to put in the pantheon. More than most others mentioned it's hard to be certain of any particular vocal skill (haven't heard other Medallions tracks, including Buick 59). It seems – not even a demo, but the faintest sketch of an idea: an echo of an echo. Yet it works; it's one of the good ones.

What intrigues more than anything is the sense that the singer is slightly sending himself up in that spoken section or feeling an inflated, self important pleasure at the beauty of his own delivery, never losing that awareness of the public arena - a record which people will hear - while supposedly suffering the torments of love:

What is there worse on this earth
Than to be unable to stop loving you,
Knowing well that I should?

I mean, the language doesn't exactly sound torn from the heart like the disjointed plea in Newly Wed - and yet ... Well, there's something appealing about the sense that the performer or his persona (both?) is nevertheless letting it all out, talking all out of his head, though intoxicated with nothing more than a sense of the public occasion of this "letter.” And this is the missive that might sway things, so who can blame him for a few verbal flourishes to attract his girlfriend's attention? (Though I can also hear, in the tone of his voice, Vernon far from shyly inviting us to admire his handiwork.)

I just love the way the song sort of trickles to a halt, as though, having just spent himself with the effort of this confessional, Vernon and his alter ego/echo simply stop ... Or is it that the suddenness of the epiphany - he loves her but she "just won't be true" floors him/them at the end?

I also like, and it's part of why this ridiculous record has a place in my heart, the way that Vernon has, despite the care in creating this fancy composition, travelled lunar distances beyond words as we understand them. There's a particular neologism (if that's the right word) I'll return to, but what exactly is the "purportance" of Love whereof our hero speaks? Is Vernon thinking of purport, which my dictionary has down as a claim, "esp. false", to be something?

That doesn't feel right: this record may be naive, but it's not cynical. Which is why Steve Miller's hijacking of the phrase and roping it in with other more swaggering steals from other songs seemed plain wrong: Vemon ain't no Gangster of Love, nor was meant to be; he is, I'd say, a fifteen year old alone in his bedroom, struggling to take upon himself the mystery of things - hey, as you do, after a spot of girlfriend trouble.

Which leaves us only with that other coining. If "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," as (I think) that doowop fan Frank Zappa said, then I'm especially aware of the presumption in trying to net - in both senses - this elusive specimen. But my joshing tone comes out of deep affection and I'm fully aware that Green's is the mastery (and mystery), not mine. Besides, didn't he invent "pismotality"? So maybe, like Alice, I'm only a thing in his dream – or, to stand back further, a drop in that vast ocean of golden teardrops which is The Whole Damn Thing: singers, listeners, lovers, scribes, memories, impulses and - at the heart of it all - a girl, real or imaginary, who still represents, as she always did, a future dazzling with possibilities, sweet dreams of contentment.

Meanwhile, I'll keep hoping, as doubtless we all are, to catch the echo of those all-solving, all-healing sweet words of pismotality from that ideal doowop record which nestles somewhere in the track listing on the next CD compilation I buy.

Or the one after that ...

Tony


That's the last available post, dated 1st October 2000. You can read an afterword about these posts, written in January 2010, here, in the enhanced blog version.

If you have enjoyed reading these entries you may be interested in the enhanced version with extra commentary and pics. plus some links to streamed audio. The quickest way to access these is to click on "steve's kewl doo wop shop" in labels. Or to make it even easier, here. You will need to scroll down and click on Older Posts.

The rest of the blog discusses music  from the twenties to the seventies, with a bit of personal history thrown in. It's a sort of extension of my side of the dialogue, as a recurring theme is trying to trace the origins of my enthusiasm for various musical styles.

I hope you'll explore the whole blog, but if you are doo wop dedicated, these are the new entries which may interest you the most: