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.
This analysis of the Doo Wop sounds featured in Part One (February 2017) showcased the music and lyrics, beat instrumentation and nonsense syllables. This article will address group harmony and vocal range. Songs will also be identified along with the artists that typify each element.
The best part of Doo Wop and other identified 50’s songs has always been the group harmony. Nothing was ‘electronically altered’. It was pure vocal harmony that recognized the human voice as the instrument of choice. From the street corner to the studio, the wide range of voices, from bass, tenor and falsetto, harmonized just as their earlier musical partners did with the barbershop quartets. With the bass singer taking lead or under the tenor, chiming in, or using a blow harmony (oooooo-ah, ah-ooo), the point was to repeat it sufficiently that it maintained the rhythm and most importantly, give us something to remember. Some of the most memorable songs had the “talking bridge” while still others brought in minimal instrumentation.
Give a listen to:
- Where or When – Dion and The Belmonts
- Gloria – The Cadillacs, Passions and Vito & The Salutations
- Just to Be with You – Jimmy Gallagher and the Passions
- You Belong to Me – The Duprees
- So in Love – The Tymes
- The Ten Commandments of Love _ Harvey Fuqua and the Moonglows
- Two Kinds of People in the World – Little Anthony and the Imperials. For a unique style of group harmony, listen to their album, “Pure Acappella” (2003)
Tied to the group harmony was the incredible range that is displayed in the music of the 50’s. From tenor to bass, double leads, melisma (adding syllables to fit the meter of the song) or operatic falsetto domination, artists found convincing ways to influence their music. Some groups added an alto/soprano female member to round out the sound. The use of range perhaps exemplifies the music as unique and represents the very best of the Doo Wop sound.
The degrees by which this music became embedded in the fabric of our memories stayed long after the groups and artists faded into oblivion.
Listen to these songs to “biopsy” the music:
- Since I Don’t Have You – Jimmy Beaumont and The Skyliners (Janet Vogel hitting those high notes)
- You Cheated – The Shields (Jesse Belvin on falsetto background)
- The Closer You Are – Earl Lewis and the Channels
- The Magic Touch – Tony Williams and the Platters (You-who-oo-ve Got the Magic Touch…) melisma
- Florence – The Paragons
- Thinking of You – The Jaguars
- Duke of Earl – Gene Chandler
Today’s music is but layer upon layer of the original. Sounds like Motown just gave it more depth and texture as new artists and music over laid their brand to the music of the 1950’s and early 60’s. It was built upon, much as the music of the 50’s and 60’s stood on the shoulders of the giants of the 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s.
The music of the fifties and early sixties was a reflection on the life and styles of its members. The sounds that emanated from the street corners to the studio blended the best lyrics, music, beat, vocal and harmony of the times. The degrees by which this music became embedded in the fabric of our memories stayed long after the groups and artists faded into oblivion. What is left is the memories of the song, the sound and the melody, complete with melisma. Years later attempts to sing along are still there because the words are the same; they have not changed. We certainly know them when we hear them.
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