Rhythm and Blues
Doo Wop Music
Some estimates state that there have been over 30,000 doo wop songs that were recorded. So, like the term or not, doo wop music is a major element of the rock and roll lexicon. Many disagree to the true origin of the term, but we can conclude that doo wop is a harmonic, vocal-based rhythm and blues based singing style that often includes nonsense syllables that are the backbone of the genre.
All the ‘bop-bop’, ‘dip-dips,’ bomp-a-bomps and various ‘yip-yips’ may seem funny by today’s standards, but the genre was an influential force in the harmonic melodies of R&B, folk, soul and rock and roll. Deeply rooted in rhythm and blues, the vocal group harmonies took many forms, both African American and Caucasian.
Some argue that the Orioles had the first doo wop hit in 1948 with “It’s Too Soon To Know.” Several groups carried on that tradition, mainly consisting of bird names, such as the Larks, Ravens, Cardinals and Crows, among others.
Though no one really knows where the term doo wop originated, the term first appeared in print in 1961 in the Chicago Defender, when African American fans of the music coined the term during the pinnacle of the vocal harmony resurgence.
However, there are two songs in particular that lay claim to contain the syllables doo wop, a 1955 hit called “When You Dance,” by the Turbans, in which the term doo wop is sung and the 1956 blockbuster hit by the Five Satins “In The Still Of The Night,” with the very audible doo wop, doo wah refrain in the bridge.
It’s estimated that there are over one thousand vocal groups that cut a doo wop record, with many of them originating in New York City, although Philadelphia and Los Angles groups were also very active in the genre. Most of the doo wop groups were one or two hit acts, if they even charted at all (for a comprehensive list of doo wop groups visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_doo-wop_musicians).
Doo wop also helped integrate music, with racially integrated groups like the Del Vikings, the Crests and the Five Discs, among others, charting hit singles. Additionally, all white Italian groups like Dion and the Belmonts, and the Elegants, among others, scored big hits as well. It seemed like every street corner had its own a cappella vocal group singing doo wop songs and this phenomenon was also an integral part of the genre.
African-American vocal groups such as the Ink Spots, The Impressions, The Platters and the Mills Brothers, however, are the ones who significantly helped in the development of the doo wop sound. The Marcels, and groups like Dion and The Belmonts, The Capris, The Mystics, The Del-Vikings and The Crests all helped the genre stay popular for decades, with some still naming the genre as one of their favorites.
A classic example of Doo Wop records is “Earth Angel” by The Penguins; it blended a pop melody and lyrical simplicity with the directness of rhythm and blues music.
In the 1950s, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers achieved teenage pop sensation status with “Why Do Fools fall in Love” Other doo wop artists that made their presence felt in the late 1950s and early 1960s include The Spaniels, The Moonglows, Five Keys, The Cleftones, The Silhouettes and all of them –including the one-hit wonders– helped doo wop music gain a broader audience.
Some groups were able to sustain their musical prowess and have several top hits including the Clovers, the Flamingoes and Little Anthony and the Imperials, which are said to have a major influence on Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5.
But, before doo wop left the charts and prior to the British invasion, the early 1960s charts were filled with doo wop music with groups like the Marcels and the Capris that charted huge doo wop singles. Unfortunately, there were so many records that did not receive air play and consequently only a hundred or so records were pressed, leading to a thriving collectible market that carries on to this day.
We can not underestimate the influence that doo wop has had upon music in general, and this continues to this day. Would there have been the sweet harmonies of the Temptations, Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys or Simon and Garfunkel? What about the ‘boy bands’ craze with groups like N Sync or Boys II Men? One can never really say for sure, but music has certainly built upon the foundational harmonies and vocal arrangements of these seminal vocal groups.
Popular Doo Wop Artists