Various: Doo Wop: Vocal Group Greats

60-song companion set to PBS special that gives an entertaining, if not always educational, listen.

Various Artists

Doo Wop: Vocal Group Greats

Label: Shout! Factory
US Release Date: 2005-12-06
UK Release Date: 2005-12-12
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Though it announces "Doo Wop" in large letters on the box front, the 60 songs included here cross over into soul and R&B, revivalist folk, and early rock and roll, which is fine, because this collection doesn't aim for an authoritative voice. The liner notes even include a half-page plug for the two comprehensive Doo Wop Box sets from Rhino that were compiled by Shout! Factory founders Richard and Garson Foos -- the same people who compiled this set -- and none of the 202 songs covered on the Rhino box sets are repeated here.

This collection is a companion CD-set to a PBS special concert that features some of the bands included in this set and is being given as a gift to PBS contributors. It focuses a bit too readily on the nostalgic, which is probably to be expected, sometimes favoring the more popular cover versions instead of the originals, but it does include some great songs from the '50s and the early years of the '60s, and it's an entertaining listen straight through. Though it tends to skim the surface of the music that it celebrates, it's a handy jumping-off point to music of this era and a fine collection of music to boot.

While not so much a great collection of doo wop, it's more simply a collection of great songs in general. It's not clear if there's a scheme to how the songs are tracked, though in a pretty loose way the individual discs are ordered chronologically. The first disc is the most consistently fun, but there are amazing songs included throughout; "Goodnight My Love (Pleasant Dreams)" (Jessie Belvin), "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (The Shirelles), "Bad Boy" (The Jive Bombers), "Work With Me Annie" (Hank Ballard & the Midnighters), "This Magic Moment" (The Drifters), "The Wind" (The Diablos), "A Wonderful Dream" (The Majors), "Little Bitty Pretty One" (Thurston Harris & the Sharps), "You Really Got a Hold on Me" (The Miracles), and "I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent" (Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers) being a brief list. And, refreshingly, it doesn't lean very heavily on hits; there's only 6 Pop Chart #1s and 5 R&B Chart #1s ("At the Hop" from Danny & the Juniors is the only song here to top both). Few of these songs -- maybe 3 or 4 -- are typically heard on most strictly programmed oldies stations, so while these aren't exactly obscurities, they should be largely unfamiliar to most people not well-versed in music from the '50s. And even for those who are, there should be enough surprises to keep them interested throughout.

The liner notes to the set, however, are disappointingly sparse on details, considering how many great stories there are behind some of these songs. (If you're interested in such things, Dave Marsh's The Heart of Rock and Soul, a list of his picks for the 1001 greatest rock and soul singles, is a great read and handy ongoing companion.) Aside from some great pictures of the groups, the meat of the notes is limited to songwriting credits and chart position. It plays too readily into the image of, "four or five leather-jacketed, pompadoured youths gathered on a nearby corner under the glow of a street lamp" instead of looking with any depth into the songwriters, performers, and business dealings that made the music. But maybe that's fine. I'll be boiling these down onto one mix CD for my mom so she'll have something to listen to in her first new car in fifteen years, and I'm sure that when "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" comes on the stereo she'll have no interest in Buck Ram or the song's highest chart position. The song will hit her right in the heart, and for its two-minutes-and-whatever-seconds, it will be the only thing in the world that matters.

Overheard in a bar recently was a person saying that they thought it was easier for people in their forties and early fifties to be into contemporary commercial rock, the music that their kids listen to, because it has its roots in the music that most of them would have been into then they were growing up -- Led Zeppelin, the Doors, the Who -- while that music had almost nothing to do with the music of their parent's generation. This is why, they reasoned, most people who weren't teenagers in the 1950s have little patience for real oldies. There's probably some truth to that, and it means that a lot of people are missing out in a very real way. As one measured attempt at pulling together some of exactly what it is they're missing out on, this set manages its own small magic.


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