As I sat down today to write, I heard two Do Wop songs play back to back; “Daddy’s Home” by Shep and the Limelights and “In the Still of the Night” by the Five Satins. I was immediately transported to that sweet spot in Rock and Roll history, the years between 1958 and 1963. Happily for me, those years closely coincide with my high school years.
To be sure, Do Wop was not the only element to Rock and Roll, there was Elvis, Buddy Holly, Duane Eddy, The Platters, The Drifters and many others on the charts, but the music that hit closest to my soul always seemed to have that close harmony and solid backbeat that spoke to me the most. Heck, even the aforementioned acts dipped into Do Wop for some of their biggest hits. These were the best years for American rock and pop music. The top 40 rock and roll stations were playing a wide range of music that harkened from the Big Band sound of Jimmy Dorsey’s “So Rare” to the beginnings of Motown with Barrett Strong’s “Money (That's What I Want).” There were jazz, blues and even country offerings on the playlist. But it seemed that nearly half the chart was Do Wop.
Remember these goodies; Herb Reed's Platters "Only You" and "The Great Pretender", Norman Wright's Dell Vikings "Come Go With Me", The Skyliners "This I Swear Is True" and "Since I Don't Have You", The Penguins "Earth Angel", Gene Chandler "Duke of Earl", Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge "Sixteen Candles" and "The Worst That Could Happen", Lee Andrews & the Hearts "Long, Lonely Nights", The Cleftones "Little Girl of Mine" and "Heart and Soul", The Capris "There's a Moon Out Tonight", The Marcels "Blue Moon", The Jive Five "My True Story" and "What Time Is It?", Earl Lewis and The Channels "That's My Desire" and "The Closer You Are". Or how about; The Cadillacs "Zoom", "Gloria" and"Speedoo", The Chantels "Look At My Eyes" and "Maybe", The Moonglows "Sincerely" and "Ten Commandments of Love", Jerry Butler "For Your Precious Love", The Harptones "Sunday Kind Of Love" and "Life Is But A Dream", The Flamingos "I Only Have Eyes For You" and "Lovers Never Say Goodbye", The Spaniels "Stormy Weather" and "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight"!
If you are like me these songs take you back to a simpler time. Well at least what seems like a simpler time viewed through the telescope of the years past; the cold war, Korea, McCarthyism and the constant threat of the atom bomb was on our minds. But Viet Nam was still in our future and we were still high school kids with nothing more on our minds than the classroom and the next sock hop.
Like many kids, I spent time lying on the grass of the back yard with the transistor radio tuned to the local rock and roll station. We did not call that top 40 back then, but we did have golden oldies which were just a few years old, unlike the 50 years they are today. My favorite two stations were WPDQ at 600 on the dial run by Brush-Moore Newspapers at the time and the Brennan Brother’s world famous WAPE, the Big Ape, the mighty 690 who’s “Big Ape Call” resounded from Daytona Beach to the coastline of Virginia. I had a teenager’s fantasy about being a DJ on a rock and roll station playing records, talking to all the cool kids and being paid for it. How fortunate in life was I to actually realize that dream.
My heart beat to a “Do Wop” rhythm for sure. That sweet mellow sound always evoked a smile on my lips and a little bit of a backbeat shuffle to my step as I walked down the street with that tiny transistor radio in my shirt. I sure am glad that was before the boom box era or I probably would have had a worn out shoulder from carrying those huge monstrosities. Over the years, I would often quip that I wish I could dump all those old song lyrics out of my mind so that I would have room to learn something else. But I got through my career in broadcast engineering and information technology just fine without having to dump a single lyric.
A visitor to my studio during a recent Oldies show that I was doing on a local FM station pointed out something that I find pretty incredible. She said that you never hear the other DJs singing along with the songs that they play like you do with yours. I had no idea that I was doing that until I saw a You Tube video piece on my show and sure enough, as soon as I shut the microphone off, I was singing along with the song on the air. It sure is a good thing that those microphone switches work or I would have no listeners at all, for you see, I sing in the key of “R”. But what I lack for being on key, I make up with volume and sheer delight in the music.
So, for as long as I am able, I will be packing up my “Stack of Wax” taking them to the radio station and playing “The top of the pop and the cream of the crop for all the cool cats and hot kitties” out there. One thing for sure, I’ll be giving the studio furniture a workout doing the “DJ Air Chair Behind Boogie.” Oh MY!