The Best Ballad Intros - ©2002JCMarion


Earth Angel - The Penguins (Dootone). The original release (with the long piano intro) is the one. Label owner Dootsie Williams has claimed that he is on piano on this historic cut, others are not so sure. In any case whomever is the piano man on this original version, it is a classic intro to be sure. The signature sound of the R & B vocal groups of the mid fifties is the pounding piano chord triplets with 2/4 rhythm accompaniment in the classic G-Em-F-A7 pattern, and on this Dootone side the sound is presented without frills. This could be called the "sound that launched a thousand records" and this is the one that all budding pianists tried to copy during those formative years.


Tonight Kathleen - The Valentines (Old Town). A variation on the "Earth Angel" intro, this pattern features the "walking bass" figure so much a part of classic group recordings of the mid fifties. The piano-drums tempo taken at a slow blues pace leads into the wordless vocal intro by the group featuring falsetto warbling by Richard Barrett. The bass voice follows the piano figure and covers the "bottom" of the intro. The ending of the song features a fade out version of the intro and serves as an excellent framing device for this classic group recording.


Dear Lord - The Continentals (Whirlin Disc). The voices carry the intro this time on an ascending chime figure featuring all the voices in the group leading to the "answer me" falsetto plea. Entering into the main vocal chorus, the falsetto repeats the echoing sound and gives the song a seamless performance. Once again the ending (coda) echoes the intro for a perfect framing device making for a memorable recording.


Sunday Kind Of Love - The Harptones (Bruce). The big sound of the Hammond Organ (most probably by Raoul J. Cita) gives the song an atmospheric "church" sound that leads into the vocal intro by the group showcasing the Harptones great harmony. This leads to singer Willie Winfield and his hesitating segue into the first chorus providing one of the most recognizable intros ever recorded in the history of this musical style. It remains timeless and will survive wherever and whenever music is played.


Florence and Love No One But You - The Paragons (Winley). Both tunes are very similar in that they feature right at the start the unique falsetto voice of Julian McMichael set against the voices of harmony from the rest of the group. The treatment given to "Florence" is a bit more dramatic, but both move to the jump start of the R & B flavored "heavy stride" style of piano featured on many of the recordings by The Paragons (perhaps originated on The Penguins "Love Will Make Your Mind Go Wild" for Dootone a few years before). The falsetto vocals are a fine counterpoint to the bass heavy piano chords giving the records a stand-alone sound, one that makes them sides to remember.


Ghost Of A Chance - The Solitaires (Old Town). Here is an earlier example of the dramatic use of falsetto singing by an R & B vocal group in this classic tune. This song has the maximum amount of what is referred to as "atmosphere" on a recording. The chord change after the intro leads into the main vocal chorus which is given a superb reading by this talented New York group. Once again the intro is repeated as a final piece providing the framing of the song.


You Are - The Cadillacs (Josie). This intro is a puzzle which plays a bit of a joke on the listener. It features an instrumental intro by the Jessie Powell group in a style that sounds like a throwback to the days of the big bands, certainly not an R & B showcase in any stretch of the imagination. Instead of a mellow vocalist leading into a song such as "The Very Thought Of You" or "I Didn't Know What Time It Was", the group leads in with Earl Carroll fronting the four part harmony of the group. Without using the pounding piano triplets or heavy rhythmic backbeat, the group does justice to the song.


Seven Wonders Of The World (also known as Wonder Of The World ) - The Keytones (Savoy). The group declares that the person in question on the lyrics of the song is one of the wonders of the world, to which a wordless falsetto figure sung solo without backup of any kind, leads to the main instrument of accompaniment (a guitar this time). The song is a dramatic straight forward declaration counting the seven ways to one's heart and soul.


Ship Of Love - The Nutmegs (Herald). This was just a perfect scene setter done in early 1955. The "I Cover The Waterfront" feel does justice to the song in every way imaginable. The sound of the water against the hull of the ship, the clanging and lonely bell on the buoy, and the speaker rattling fog horn, all set the stage for Leroy Griffin's heartfelt and plaintive vocal. The lyrics about "spending the nights on the lonely sea" say it all as a perfect follow to this classic intro.

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