Click on the headline to link ot a YouTube film clip of the Harptones performing Life Is But A Dream.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll, Era: Street Corner Serenade, Volume II, Time-Life Music, 1992
Sure I have plenty to say, as I mentioned in a review of Volume One of this two volume Street Corner Serenade set, about early rock ‘n’ roll, now called the classic rock period in the musicology hall of fame. And within that say I have spent a little time, not enough, considering its effect on us on the doo-wop branch of the genre. Part of the reason, obviously, is that back in those mid-1950s jail-breakout days I did not (and I do not believe that any other eleven and twelve year olds did either), distinguish between let’s say rockabilly-back-beat drive rock, black-based rock centered on a heavy rhythm and blues backdrop, and the almost instrument-less (or maybe a soft piano or guitar backdrop) group harmonics that drove doo-wop. All I knew was that it was not my parents’ music, not close, and that they got nervous, very nervous, anytime it was played out loud in their presence. Fortunately, some sainted, sanctified, techno-guru developed the iPod of that primitive era, the battery-driven transistor radio. No big deal, technology-wise by today’s standards, but get this, you could place it near your ear and have your own private out loud without parental scuffling in the background. Yes, sainted, sanctified techno-guru. No question.
What doo-wop did though down in our old-time working class neighborhood, and again it was not so much by revelation as by trial and error is allow us to be in tune with the music of our generation without having to spend a lot of money on instruments or a studio or any such. Where the hell would we have gotten the dough for such things when papas were out of work, or were one step away from that dreaded unemployment line, and there was trouble just keeping the wolves from the door? Sure, some kids, some kids like my “home boy” (no, not a term we used at the time) elementary school boyhood friend Billie, William James Bradley, were crazy to put together cover bands with electric guitars (rented occasionally), and dreams. Or maybe go wild with a school piano a la Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, or Fats Domino but those were maniac aficionados. Even Billie though, when the deal went down, especially after hearing Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers on Why Do Fools Fall In Love was mad to do the doo-wop and make his fame and fortune.
The cover art on this compilation shows a group of young black kids, black guys, who look like they are doing their doo wop on some big city street corner. And that makes sense reflecting the New York City-derived birth of doo-wop and that the majority of doo-wop groups that we heard on AM radio were black. But the city, the poor sections of the city, white or black, was not the only place where moneyless guys and gals were harmonizing, hoping, hoping maybe beyond hope to be discovered and make more than just a 1950s musical jail-breakout. Moreover, this cover art also shows, and shows vividly, what a lot of us guys were trying to do-impress girls (and maybe visa-versa for girl doo-woppers but they can tell their own stories).
Yes, truth to tell, it was about impressing girls that drove many of us, Billie included, christ maybe Billie most of all, to mix and match harmonies. And you know you did too (except girls just switch around what I just said). Ya, four or five guys just hanging around the back door of the elementary school on hot summer nights, nothing better to do, no dough to do it, maybe a little feisty because of that, and start up a few tunes. Billie, who actually did have some vocal musical talent, usually sang lead, and the rest of us, well, doo-wopped. What do you think we would do? We knew nothing of keys and pauses, of time, pitch, or reading music we just improvised. (And I kept my changing to teen-ager, slightly off-key, voice on the low.) Whether we did it well or poorly, guess what, as the hot day turned into humid night, and the old sun went down just over the hills, first a couple of girls, then a couple more, and then a whole bevy (nice word, right?) of them came and got kind of swoony and moony. And swoony and moony was just fine. And we all innocent, innocent dream, innocent when we dreamed, make our virginal moves. But, mainly, we doo-wopped in the be-bop mid-1950s night. And a few of the songs in this doo-wop compilation could be heard in that airless night.
The stick outs here on Volume Two which is not quite as good as the first volume overall reflecting, I think, that like in other genres, there were really only so many doo-wop songs that have withstood the test of time: Life Is But A Dream (which with my voice really changing I kept very, very low on), The Harptones; Gloria ( a little louder from me on this one), The Cadillacs; Six Nights A Week (not their best 16 Candles is), The Crests: and, A Kiss From Your Lips, The Flamingos.