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Rhino's first Doo-wop box was one of the two things I bought the first time I went into a CD store.. My friend Gordon had a tape he'd made of old doo-wop. He labeled it Hair Tonic.
Among the highlights were the Moonglows, Marcells, Lee Andrews & the Hearts, Five Keys, Five Royales, Five Satins and The Platters. I binged out on doo-wop for a few months. I thought I'd buy every Doo-wop CD out. Might've if I hadn't listened to Sarah Vaughan.
The Flamingos would be my nomination for the greatest vocal group of all time. When I was first listening to them I felt like I was in the grip of a powerful drug.
Preceding but greatly influencing doo-wop was the r&b vocal group The Ravens. One of their collections is labeled The Greatest Group that Ever Was. I'm not one to argue.
But I suspect the title really belongs to the Boswell Sisters. To quote John Bush's entry in the All Music Guide again: a swinging delivery that featured not only impossibly close harmonies but countless maneuvers of vocal gymnastics rarely equalled on record."
They weren't nearly as good but I enjoy the Andrews Sisters as well.
My appetite spread out. Reaching back into the past were the gentle harmonies of the Mills Brothers. A little more lively in the early days were the Ink Spots.
The first CD box set (actually the first CDs) that I tried to buy was The Temptations box set. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles was the other great Motown male vocal group. Robinson was one of R&B's great composers and had a lovely falsetto.
The Four Seasons are just about as unhip a group as there was in the 60s but I think Bobs Crewe and Gaudio were the the next best thing to the Wall of Sound and I have a weakness for falsettos.
Oooh Bop ...
Doo-wop easily enough led to the 50s/60s girl groups. The Chantels, The Shangri-las, The Angels, The Cookies, The Toys, the various vehicles for Phil Spector's sparkling wall of sound.
Girls Groups, like much pop music, particularly black pop music, was really the product of the producers. Curtis Mayfield, Carol King, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry among the best known.
Even the Supremes depended on Holland-Dozier-Holland and other Motown writers and producers. I think the Supremes, possibly the pop music of my childhood that I love the most, were the source of my addiction to female vocal harmony.
When I could afford to I'd buy just about any anthologies or collection I saw. I really like some of the recent groups: TLC and En Vogue. The latter's Funky Divas is a great New Jack Swing continuation of the 60s girl harmony sound. For me it is the most attractive and agreeable species of ear candy.
Old, Mostly Black GospelI'd been dimly curious about gospel music. I don't know why. But when I started buying CDs I bought a couple of collections. Most notably two of Rhino's Jubillee! discs. This introduced me a host of artists. So I went gospel crazy. More exactly crazy for the "golden age" - 50s to mid-60s black gospel. Mostly groups. One of my first buys has remained one of my favorites: the Soul Stirrers collection containing Sam Cooke's work with the group, Gospel Soul of Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers, Vol. 1. I went on to buy Cooke's secular work. As much as I enjoy his pop recordings they never compare to his gospel work. He was a true master of melisma which is wholly absent from his later songs. Another personal delight is the Swan Silvertones. If only for their rendition of Mary Don't You Weep. It never fails to the spinal nerve ends tingle. I eventually bought everything on the Specialty label: Brother Joe May ("The Thunderbolt of the Midwest"), Dorothy Love Coates and the Original Gospel Harmonettes, Pilgrrim Travellers, The Chose (where Lou Rawls started), Alex Bradford. Many of the groups migrated to Vee-Jay for a time. And then Nashboro. Art Rupe, the owner of Specialty, closed his company shortly after Little Richard went to Bible college and announced the 'end' of his secular career. I came to know Aretha Franklin through her gospel work, especially Amazing Grace.
Without gospel most secular black music wouldn't exist, most conspicuously rhythm and blues . R&B is one of the key roots of both rock and electronica.