PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Various Artists: Hot Rod Magazine -- Doo Wop Heaven

Chuck Hicks

Various Artists

Hot Rod Magazine -- Doo Wop Heaven

Label: The Right Stuff
US Release Date: 2000-08-01
UK Release Date: Available as import

It's interesting that a doo wop album with a Hot Rod Magazine cover doesn't feature any songs from The Cadillacs or The El Dorados. Neither does it have tracks from The Spaniels or The Capris. In fact, this collection offers very little doo wop in its purest sense. The idiom, as represented here, was exploited and substantially altered by record companies in the early 1950s.

Doo wop developed in post-World War II urban America and was principally the a capella singing of teenage gangs. Though significantly influenced by black R&B, the distinctive flavor of doo wop derived from Italian and Irish barbershop singing. As young ruffians roamed the streets they postured for female affections with a soaring falsettos backed by tight, bouyant harmonies. It relieved stress; otherwise, it was a way of saying, "I got your girl, and if you got anything to say about it, here's my boys." Doo wop was an antecedent to rap and hip-hop. It can still be heard occasionally in the subway stations of New York City, and if authentic doo wop is what the listener desires, that is where one needs to go. *Doo Wop Heaven*, on the other hand, is a nostalgic expose of how a distinctive urban style became bastardized to sell 45s.

Since most of the best doo wop quartets and quintets were black, it behooved record companies to "whiten" their sound. At the time there remained a lingering aversion to the "race records" of the '20s and '30s. Hence the introduction of drums, pianos and strings. The groups were dressed in matching suits, and their hair was slicked up to match the studio production.

"In the Still of the Night," by The Five Satins, is the most-played song in the history of recorded doo wop, but the title is perplexing: is there such a thing as a still night in the big city? Clearly there was an effort afoot to write material suited for suburban America. "Ling Ting Tong" by The Five Keys utterly violates the street-smart spirit of doo wop, and was indicative of that most heinous sub-genre, "beach music," exploited by The Drifters and other Myrtle Beach acts whose pleasure was to delight drunken, shagging whites. And "Since I Don't Have You" by The Skyliners introduced a host of heresies: swelling strings, virtually non-existent backing vocals, and a female voice (a girl in the gang, forsooth!) soaring over the falsetto.

The other phenomenon observed on this collection is the effect embryonic rock 'n' roll had on doo wop. Bill Haley & The Comets invented rock by tweeking jump blues -- revving up the drums while constraining the horns. The effect is heard in the break of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" by Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers and "Blue Moon" by the Marcels. And the difference between The Rainbows' "Denise" and Buddy Hollie's "Peggy Sue" may be no more than the color of a girl's sweater.

Remarkably, one of the best examples of genuine doo wop on this collection comes from The Belmonts. Being all-white, the group wasn't subject to the same "cleaning up" as their peers, so the spirited vocals on "I Wonder Why" fleetingly capture the feel of nasally, Italian/Jewish kids hanging out on the corner. "My True Story" by The Jive Five is also noteworthy. But then the listener must suffer through such duds as The Velvetones' "The Glory of Love" with its corny recitation ("...why you fool, you sad, sad, worthless, foolish fool..") and the downright annoying 'Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop' by The Imperials.

There is one track on this collection that is worthwhile, not because it rates as doo wop, but because of its creative production quality. The Flamingos "I Only Have Eyes for You" continues to send chills some 41 years after its release. The tempo of the song was slowed to a crawl while the backing vocals ('she-bop-do-bop') were rapid fired in an echo chamber. Combined with a dreamy lead vocal and vibrato bass notes, this recording evoked a surreal mood and ambiance that makes it among the most provocative 45s ever made. It was The Platters on acid.

Nevertheless, Doo Wop Heaven is simply a collection of chart hits rather than an examination of America's most primitive and romantic urban musical style. This is a recreational album, the kind you wax your '55 Chevy to beneath blue suburban skies. But humming these tunes won't incite any any rumbles on the mean streets.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.