The music and artists of the 1950’s and early 60’s
By Joe D – The Doctor of Doo Wop®
You don’t remember me, but I remember you…
Tears on My Pillow – Little Anthony & The Imperials
One cannot blame or give credit to the artists and songwriters of the Rock & Roll era for the sounds that were created in the 50’s and early 60’s. There was a natural evolution of the music that was started by “baba loo” Bing Crosby, Louie “Satchmo” Armstrong, The Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday and sooooo many more! While pure Doo Wop must have a group to gather the unique sounds, Rock & Roll single artists and duos were free to pick and choose the vocal styles with the same characteristics, utilizing no name backup groups to add musical flavor.
For the sake of simplicity, analysis of the Doo Wop sounds will be placed into five various elements to appear in two parts (the first is this feature and the second will appear in the March 2017 edition). This article will showcase the music and lyrics, beat instrumentation and nonsense syllables, while Part Two will address group harmony and vocal range. Songs will also be identified along with the artists that typify each element.
The Music and Lyrics
Everyone knows the words to those songs of the past; or do you? The music and lyrics touched our emotional heart strings, but not our intellect. With minor variations, it was the same three or four chord progressions with a melody line that used limited range for each voice. Many times, the words were made up or moved around to ensure they rhymed. They were drenched in emotion with a pitch that was either perfect or just a tone off. It was somewhere between church hymns, gospel and opera.
There was no Cole Porter or Ira Gershwin, but the music and lyrics still wrote of raw emotion, sadness, tenderness and love. They told a brief story about loving you so, kissing, missing or never letting go. No one thought that the times, feelings and emotions would change. They reflected the concerns of people’s everyday lives and permitted a glimpse into our thoughts, feelings and, perhaps even a mood that existed at the time. It was an idealized world filled with crystal globes of romance that was celestial and comforting at the same time. Each song of the 1950’s and early 60’s was soothing but transfixed, intoxicating to the point where it was possible to actually believe in the words. It truly was ‘poetry in motion.’
Singing along with a recording is better than singing the song acappella without benefit of the recording in the background. Listen to the below listed songs to concentrate on the simplicity of the lyrics and message:
- Love You So – Ron Holden
- Goodnight Sweetheart – Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels
- I Love You So – The Chantels
- The Letter – Vernon Green and the Medallions
- There’s a Moon Out Tonight – Nick Santos and the Capris
Listening to the music and lyrics of the 1950’s, the words could have been sung acappella on a street corner or in an alley. And, it would be enjoyable. Beat instrumentation was utilized by snapping fingers, having the bass singer keep a beat, or in some cases just hitting a pen in a pocket. Eventually, drums, guitars and saxophones, accompanied by a piano, found their way into the lexicon of early 50’s and 60’s music. Emphasis was placed on the second and fourth beat with a simple, heavy bass and drum beat. The instrumentation was not in the forefront of the music but was a quiet accompaniment. The artists would bring in a guitar, or if they could afford, a sax player. The bridge between verses would play out a repetitious melody and provide a vocal re-entry to the chorus. Examples of this include, but are not limited to:
- Earth Angel – Cleve Duncan and The Penguins (subtle piano)
- Angel Baby – Rosie and the Originals (guitar and sax)
- Little Darlin’ – Maurice Williams and the Gladiolas and the Diamonds (castanets)
- To Know Him is to Love Him – The Teddy Bears (drumbeat)
Johnny Cymbal said it best: “Who put the Bomp in the Bompa bompa Ba…who was that man? I’d like to shake his hand.” Those sounds can be traced to West African chants but creative juices were flowing on the street corners of New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. In four and five member groups or even large ensembles, the bass and harmony in the background reflected a strong masculine mating call that even Bing Crosby used. The music of the 50’s made the sounds more predictable so they could be repeated in our new language. Many times, they replaced instrumentation, or in some cases became the entire song, with just a few words added to give it a title. Sit back and listen to:
- I Wonder Why – Dion and the Belmonts
- Rama-Lama-Ding Dong – The Edsels
- Little Girl of Mine – Herbie Cox and the Cleftones
- Whispering Bells – The Dell Vikings
- Baby Talk – Jan and Dean
- Blue Moon – The Marcels
- In the Still of The Night – Fred Parris and the Five Satins
Any one of the songs discussed in Making Your Memories is more than a simple pleasure stroll or reflection of a time of innocence. There is a complex structure behind the music that at first glance may appear simplistic and repetitious. Look closely, it is more like an old Victorian home that is being restored. The artist chips away at the many layers of phrases much like the coats of paint or wallpaper. There is a palette of old that is new again, with colors and words unimagined.
Making Your Memories is a commentary on the music of the 1950’s and early 60’s. “Joe D” is an on-air talent for Orange County based KSBR FM 88.5 and is host of “MAKING YOUR MEMORIES” Sunday nights at 10PM. He is also author of “Making Your Memories With Rock & Roll and Doo Wop - -The Music and Artists of the 1950’s and early 60’s.” www.making-your-memories.com