Styles & Forms | Doo-Wop | Pop

While many hit doo-wop records featured full instrumental accompaniment, the groups themselves had usually started out singing a cappella. It was, in short, a music that required collaborative effort but no instrumental outlay or expertise, to be performed on street corners as a means of escape, public entertainment, personal fulfilment and professional ambition.

Deriving its name from the nonsense backing vocals that often provided its rhythm, R&B-flavoured doo-wop was one of the most popular veins of music to attach itself to rock’n’roll during the second half of the 1950s. The most prominent characteristic of the emotive romantic ballads and jaunty, uptempo, sometimes comical numbers was their interweaving harmonies, whose roots lay not only in gospel but also in black American vocal outfits of the 1940s such as The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots.

Arguably, the first doo-wop hit was The Orioles’ ‘It’s Too Soon To Know’ in 1948. Thereafter, a number of similar, bird-named groups emerged throughout the early 1950s, including The Cardinals, The Crows, The Larks, The Ravens, The Robins, The Wrens and The Penguins; the latter’s 1954 hit, ‘Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)’, was latched onto by white kids who could readily identify with lyrics concerning youthful romance. Consequently, a form of music that had initially been aimed at a predominantly adult, African-American audience began to cross over to a multiracial teenage market. In turn, this led to integrated doo-wop groups such as The Impalas and The Del-Vikings – whose 1957 hit ‘Come Go With Me’ was the first song that the adolescent Paul McCartney ever saw John Lennon perform – as well as all-white outfits such as Dion & The Belmonts, The Mystics and The Skyliners.

The Doo-Wop Bandwagon

Doo-wop had made vast strides within a very short time, and many of the teens who were buying the records were also inspired to form their own a cappella groups. As singles by The Dominoes and Hank Ballard & The Midnighters made the transition from the R&B charts to the mainstream pop market, and as acts such as The Jewels, The Cadillacs, The Chords, The El Dorados and The Five Satins enjoyed short-lived success, so many of the record companies jumped on the doo-wop bandwagon and hundreds of ‘new discoveries’ were rushed into studios all over the US. Cities such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia produced a fair number of the acts, but the main hub was New York, where both African-Americans and Italian-Americans with little cash in their pockets, but with melody in their hearts, harmonized on teen-oriented songs that conveyed the innocence of a now long-gone era.

Thanks to the exploitative, cut-throat practices of the record industry at that time, many of the relatively small percentage of performers who did manage to have their efforts released still emerged without cash in their pockets. Still, some did profit from their endeavours, and others did enjoy an extended stay in the charts. These included The Clovers, The Moonglows, Little...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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