Saturday, May 7, 2011

Is Doo-Wop underrepresented in the Hall?

Let's face it: if a new blog post appeared everyday about a sub-genre that is probably underrepresented by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, or at least is perceived to be, there'd be at least a full month's worth of blogs, and that's a conservative estimate.  However, in the case of doo-wop music, an interesting conundrum presents itself.  Doo-wop is itself the original sub-genre of rock'n'roll, if not the original actual form of rock'n'roll music.  Its importance cannot be overstated.  Doo-wop was to the mid-fifties what guitar bands were to the sixties: that which exploded and saw many, many acts form, try to become discovered, and the first to have many one-hit wonders.  It was the first style of rock'n'roll whose prevalence gave indication that this was not just a passing fad.  And even Nominating Committee member Seymour Stein is a self-proclaimed "doo-wop fanatic."

On the other side of the coin, there is the mindset that there is nothing left from the '50s worth inducting, which is when doo-wop thrived.  And even if there were, don't even bother trying, because there are many, many more important acts from the guitar-driven era of rock'n'roll that should be inducted first... so many that no doo-wop act not already in could ever be among the first fifty most deserving acts anymore.

And there is some credence to that argument.  Chiefly because there really haven't been too many superstars of the doo-wop genre.  No 'Beatles" of the doo-wop era, so to speak.  There are a myriad of quintessential doo-wop songs that you simply cannot seriously discuss rock'n'roll without mentioning.  The problem is, there were just about as many groups as there were songs.  No one will ever deny the importance of "Earth Angel", but it was really the only thing the Penguins ever had to show for themselves.  Same with groups like the Spaniels, the Rays, the Silhouettes, or the Cadillacs.  Even acts that did have a few hits are often only remembered for one... and that includes the majority of the doo-wop acts already in the Hall.

Still, it might be reasonably well-argued that doo-wop is in fact underrepresented in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, in terms of inducted artists.  First, let's start by looking at who's in there.  You've got acts that are definitely in the doo-wop category: the Flamingos, the Moonglows, Little Anthony And The Imperials, Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers, and even Hank Ballard (who shouldn't have been inducted without the Midniters, but that's another blog).  Then there are those inducted acts that could probably be included under that umbrella: the Drifters and the Dells, specifically.  And there are those that kind of hover on the fringe of the definition of doo-wop: the Shirelles, the Platters, and the Four Seasons.  Lastly, you've got the outliers, where you're pretty much confusing doo-wop with those styles that were rooted in it, perhaps to suit your own needs, and in this case, those outliers would include the Ronettes and Martha And The Vandellas.

So, start with the assumption that no one would seriously suggest that the Ronettes and Martha And The Vandellas were doo-wop, you look at the next group.  The Platters' lush harmonies and slow ballads often obscured the rhythmic elements that were there, and even the occasional upbeat song they recorded (check out "I Wanna" and "Bark, Battle, And Ball").  The background singing was more often soft "ahs" and "oohs", and not the crisper syllables usually shaped by consonant sounds that traditionally go with doo-wop music.  So calling them doo-wop is a bit of a stretch.  The Four Seasons definitely started out as a doo-wop group, literally doing the street corner thing, but by the time they broke big, they had evolved into something that was very different, that used a rhythm section to carry the rhythm line, and used background vocals for accentuation and even counter-melody.  So it really isn't appropriate to include them either.  The Shirelles either, for much of the same reasons.  Their style just doesn't fit the bill.  The Dells started out doo-wop, however, by the time they became big on the pop scene, they were singing soul music...the kind of soul you also heard from the Delfonics, Chi-Lites and Stylistics.  And it is in that legacy that they are more remembered.  So you could call them doo-wop, but that really is only telling half the tale.  This is also very much the case with the Drifters, only with that weird twist that they were in fact two different groups.  The Clyde McPhatter era Drifters definitely fit the bill with classics like "Drip Drop", "Bip Bam" and of course, "Money Honey".  However, the much better known era of the Drifters was the era of the Five Crowns, who were bestowed with the name of the Drifters.  And while they were certainly vocal R&B, much like the Shirelles, calling that era of the Drifters "doo-wop" isn't quite accurate.

Which brings us to those who were definitely doo-wop.  Of those, Little Anthony And The Imperials are pretty much the only one of those that a casual fan could name more than one song by.  Some might be able to name more than one from Hank Ballard, but without the Midniters, doo-wop isn't really done justice, since it really does require a group effort, unless you're Neil Sedaka.  Also of those, most of them are known for the softer-style of doo-wop:  the Moonglows with "Sincerely", the Flamingos with "I Only Have Eyes For You", Little Anthony And The Imperials with "Tears On My Pillow."  So in the "Definitely Doo-Wop" camp, they're all pretty much either softer, remembered for only one song, injustly without their group, or maybe a combination of more than one of those factors.

Not that there's anything wrong with the softer doo-wop.  "Earth Angel" and "In The Still Of The Nite (I Remember)" are rightfully landmark for their contributing to the evolution of soul music, the vocal R&B sound of the early '60s and even in some Motown.  But other than "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" and "Finger-Poppin' Time", upbeat doo-wop really doesn't have much represenation.  Where's the upbeatness of doo-wop that we heard in songs like "I Wonder Why", "Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home)" and "Get A Job"?  In that sense, doo-wop really isn't well-represented by the Hall.

So how do we correct it?  Who should be inducted to correct this seeming oversight?  The following acts come to mind:

The Diamonds: if any group could be said to be the Beatles of doo-wop, it's the Diamonds.  They had a good run of hits in the mid-to-late '50s, which was the actual heyday of doo-wop music, and with their own hit covers of quintessential songs like "Church Bells May Ring," "Silhouettes," and "Little Darlin'", you're covering a good bit of ground with their inclusion.  Even though their songs weren't original, they represent a bigger chunk of significant doo-wop than a lot of other groups.

The Clovers: since music experts don't seriously support the idea of saying rock'n'roll "began" in 1955, the Clovers are a much more excellent fit for the Performer category than the Early Influence.  And with songs that have been nodded to from acts like the Diamonds, the Searchers and the Steve Miller Band, it should be much more difficult not to give them their proper acknowledgement than it has been thus far.

Danny And The Juniors: with two important anthems at a time when the demise of rock'n'roll was believed inevitable, plus a string of other minor hits that kept them going for awhile, they're a decent pick.  To have TWO anthemic doo-wop songs is actually a pretty big accomplishment.

The Del-Vikings: like Danny And The Juniors, with the added bonus of being recognized as one of the first interracial groups in rock history.  People who have a say in the goings-on at the Hall love the social change aspect of rock'n'roll.  Well, here it is.

The Harptones: okay, they actually are better known for their slower songs.  But hey, well-known and revered versions of "Life Is But A Dream", "This Is My Story" and "A Sunday Kind Of Love", plus the unbelievably catchy only hit of "Why Should I Love You', the Harptones wouldn't be a bad call.

The Tokens: admittedly a pet cause of mine.  Almost criminal that they aren't as well known for great songs like "Tonight I Fell In Love" and "I Hear Trumpets Blow" as they are for "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", but given their overall catalog and the music industry practices that they were well among the first to implement, you really could do a lot worse than give this underappreciated group some credit.  Hey, at least I didn't list them first this time.

So there's a look for you.  While we're busy touting Rush, Sonic Youth, King Crimson, and Dead Kennedys, let's not snub where it all began either.  Viva la Doo-Wop.

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