Defining The Doo Wop Era

Everybody has their own idea about what exactly is the era of the R & B vocal groups - is it just whenever a record in this style was released ?, or specifically the 1950s as many use to simplify the term ? or the time between the end of the big bands and the rise of the Beatles ?I have my own set of parameters and although some may disagree and include earlier or later times as part of this age, I feel this is as good as any and can make a case for my time zone.

I have simply defined this era as the time between two record releases in this style. The beginning is The Orioles "It's Too Soon To Know" on It's A Natural in 1948, and the release of "On Lover's Island" by The BlueJays on Milestone in 1961. To me these 13 years are the defining moments of the doo wop era.

The difference of the Orioles tune from previous ones done by The Ravens, Delta Rhythm Boys and others, was that the Orioles took the stylings popularized by the Inkspots a step further out of the pop music mold into a new territory. They most certainly were not geared to the acceptance of the white listening public and because of the release on an independent label, were geared toward the Black community. This step "out of the shadow" led to the great influence of the group on young practitioners in Black neighborhoods all over the country. Where once they listened hard to the Inkspots to get every nuance of style and performance, the group of choice was now the Orioles. Building on this foundation, subsequent vocalists gave a harder more rhythmic edge to their songs, that by 1953 the accented 2 / 4 beat and the piano triplets were now the signature sound of doo wop. From 1953 through 1955, this was the true "golden age" of this music. The Penguins, Clyde & The Drifters, Moonglows, Nutmegs, Midnighters, and Five Royales were supreme as were so many other vocal groups. This style caught on with young listeners and was a favorite of the Moondog radio show and vocal groups comprised the major part of all in person shows of this music.

In 1956 the phenomenal success of Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers stated once and for all that this was the music of young America (the Motown slogan of the 60s). As the listening age dropped younger, so did the age of the performers and soon every teenage quartet was cutting a record. For proof look at any big collection of records in this style and you will see the proliferation of releases from 1956. Teen idols and the look of American Bandstand took hold in 1957, and the classic doowop style was fading under the avalanche of pompadours and white bucks. By 1959 a teenaged Phil Spector was honing his vision of American pop music and the dramatics and bombast of "There Goes My Baby" by The Drifters set the music off into a new direction. By the early 60s, the Twist and other dance-of-the-day tunes had almost buried doo wop save for the Jive Five, Marcelles,Dreamlovers, and Zodiacs.

The Bluejays "Lover's Island" was the last hit record in true doo wop style. It is the swan song of an era. As these great voices faded others took their place - Motown, Stax/Volt, California surf, and the British invasion. The doo wop era was gone but not forgotten. It was given an original boost by the release of the first Oldies But Goodies album, and has been subject to many varied stages of rebirths. The first rock revival show was in reality John Lennon's Live Peace in Toronto (again he was ahead of his time), and was soon followed by the first Richard Nader show in New York's Madison Square Garden (in the small hall-nobody was sure of the music's appeal) and the rest is history.

So that is my opinion of the definitive doo wop era : 1948 - 1961. Whether you agree or not, the important thing is to keep the music alive and keep those CD reissues coming. We have been given a chance to preserve this musical style for the ages by the CD technology which leads producers to take a chance on putting out what is in the vaults. So - give a listen !

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