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Music

The Platters: All-Time Greatest Hits

Peter Su

The Platters

All-Time Greatest Hits

Label: Mercury
US Release Date: 2004-04-13
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Mention "rock group" and the archetypal image evoked could be moptops in matching suits for some as easily as it could be flannel-shirted howlers for others. And that's not even considering glam, punk, and heavy metal.

But mention "doo-wop" and it really conjures only one image: a quartet or so harmonizing beneath a street lamp in an urban backdrop.

Considering that doo-wop really has only one archetypal image associated with it, the music itself has a surprisingly wide expressive and musical range. Most commonly, it's associated with high romanticism, the sublime pleasure of hearing silky voices blending in perfect harmony. "In the Still of the Night" by the Five Satins, for instance, or "I Only Have Eyes for You" by the Flamingoes.

By those harmonizing voices could be equally effective on uptempo jive like the Edsels' "Rama Lama Ding Dong" or the Cadillacs' "Speedo". And uptempo doo-wop wasn't just for nonsense syllables and adolescent innocence, either: the Silhouettes' "Get a Job" was a genuinely witty portrait of domestic discontent and the Coasters made a career of singing nuanced little portraits of teen life ("Along Came Jones" is even double-edged satire: the narrator exaggerates the inanity and repetitiousness of TV programs even as he keeps watching. So whose fault is it?). Listen to enough of it and it will start seeming as if there's nothing that can't be said in a doo-wop song ("Who Put the Bomp" is, if you want to be technical, a deconstructed metasong about the appeal of the music itself).

All of this is mentioned because, if you're already a doo-wop fan, you should forget all of it and just fall back on that old stereotype of the music as being high romanticism and nothing else. Because, with the Platters, it isn't.

But, without a doubt, you should still get this disc.

Sure, the Moonglows had greater range (both the Moonglows and Platters did romance, but did the Platters ever do backup singing for Bo Diddley?) and the Coasters arguably had the greatest number of absolutely distinctive, unmistakable songs, but all the romance songs here (that is, all the songs here) are worth a listen. Besides the roster of trademark hits that made the Platters the bestselling doo-wop group ever ("Only You (and You Alone)", "The Great Pretender", "(You've Got the Magic Touch", "My Prayer": and that's just the chronologically ordered first four), my favorite discovery here is the b-side "One in a Million". It's about, of course, the singer's love being one in a million (No, Axl Rose's song of the same name was not a cover).

The Platters didn't have the greatest range or even the best nonsense syllables (not by a longshot), but they had range (of a sort) and consistency where it counted. While other doo-wop ballads, often the ones with the best nonsense syllables, tended to be juvenile in the best possible way (Think "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"; think slowdancing at the eighth grade sock hop), the Platters had a range that included that sort of romance without excluding the adults who associated romantic ballads with Perry Como or Dean Martin. Even as they sang exclusively about romance and heartache, they played both sides of the fence and sold to both rock 'n' rollers and their parents. Unlike the lyrically minimal, adolescent longing of "Earth Angel", "Twilight Time" could have been Tin Pan Alley as much "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", the latter of which actually was. And both were hits.

And the quality here is consistent. The romantic mood begins with the first track and continues even through the two latter R&B hits sung by a replacement lead for a different company (Doesn't the first of those, "I Love You 1000 Times", sound like a mellower "Give Me Just a Little More Time"? But the Platters did it first). But the best songs are still the ones from the late '50s, songs so sweet and loving, heartbroken and gentle that you'll almost forget that this was the same age that gave the world repression in a gray flannel suit, young people riding rock music like a handbasket to Hell, and the hottest days of the Cold War: what imminent threat of nuclear holocaust?

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