Top Ten Groups Ever ! ©1998JCMarion
PART ONE


OK - this is it sports fans ! The ultimate list of personal preferences in the doo wop kingdom. It is here that I go out on the proverbial limb of limbs and state my choices for inclusion in the Top Ten vocal groups of all time ! The best vocal groups ever ! ! So, let the disagreements begin !

10. The Solitaires - This group of New Yorkers recorded all of their enduring recordings for the Old Town label of the brothers Weiss. The very first record issued for the label was the group's version of the tune "Blue Valentine". It made very little headway on the sales or popularity charts, but is a trivia item because it is mentioned in the dialog of the movie "American Hot Wax", the purported story of Alan Freed. After a release as a backup group (uncredited on the label) for an Ursula Reed side, two more little remembered sides were released - "South of the Border" and "Chances I've Taken" were the A sides. Finally in late 1954 they crafted an ethereal, almost other worldly version of the old pop music standard "I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You". The sound of the vocal magic on this tune caught everybody's ear. The full harmony breakout after the bridge is still breathtaking after all these years. From that point on into the late 50s, the Solitaires left a trail of excellent music that varied from straight expressive ballads such as "My Dear", "You've Sinned", "The Angels Sang" and "Walking And Talking". They also were skilled at uptempo sides such as "Later For You Baby", "Fine Little Girl" and surprisingly their best known recording "Walking Along" with its march tempo cadence. Another specialty of the sound of the group was the dual leads of Milton Love and Bobby Baylor on the big hits "The Wedding" and the logical follow up "The Honeymoon". The framing device used in the recording of "The Wedding" (the minister's question to the groom on the intro, and his pronouncement of man and wife at the end) was a clever gimmick and added greatly to the popularity and uniqueness of the recording.The productive swan song of the group came in the late 50s with a smooth version of "Embraceable You" which hearkened back to their first great success of "Ghost Of A Chance". One thing that I have remembered from all those years ago seeing the Solitaires in person, this was a group who lost nothing when performing live. They were not a flashy visual group, but oh how they could put over a song !
9. The Clovers - For the longevity of their hit making ability alone, these guys should be in any top ten list. For a decade they were the masters of their style, which midway through their time at the top changed with the times. That they were still able to maintain their popularity and selling power stands as a testament to their greatness. Most of the history and accomplishments of this group have been discussed at length in DooWop Nation #5, so the majority of the remarks here will be in making the claim to be included in the top ten groups of all time. Their place in history as (along with Ruth Brown) establishing Atlantic Records as the giant in the independent record label category, is as essential as anything else these guys ever accomplished. The hit making ability of the label proved the profitability of selling music by Black R & B performers to all Americans regardless of race or class, and was instrumental in the foundation of the pop music that had endured for more than four decades. The ability of the vocalists to change their direction after five years at the top of the list of performers, to a more broad based mainstream pop sound and remain at the top of their game was one that very few groups ever had the ability to pull off. For a reasonable example just compare "Lovey Dovey" with "Love Love Love" and you will see how much the group was able to adapt with the times. During the heyday of the vocal group sounds, they were never the exciting headliners that many others were, but they were able to maintain that certain something that kept them at the top and never ones to fade into oblivion. Their swan song of hit making ability, the very Coasters-like "Love Potion #9", a decade after they had come to the R & B world's attention, make the Clovers a worthy inclusion on the list of the ten best groups ever to record music.
8. The Cadillacs - This quintet from New York are readily acclaimed as the first group to take their dance routines seriously as a full complement to their vocal accomplishments. That attitude made the group a complete entertainment entity, one that was as pleasing to the eyes as well as to the ears. This had a tremendous impact on the many streetcorner vocal groups that were awaiting their own try at fame and fortune and changed the look and sound of this musical form forever. On of the enduring strengths of the Cadillacs was their ability to really excel on both ballads and uptempo tunes, even though their true appeal was on the real rocking tunes that they were so famous for. The first time they got the attention of the record buyers was the all time classic ballad "Gloria." This recording for the fledgling new label Josie, was not that great a hit to enter the best sellers charts by any stretch of the imagination. This was definitely a tune that had tremendous word of mouth appeal. This notoriety was responsible for the song and the Cadillacs rendition of it, to become perhaps one of the three most influential ballads ever made in the doowop era (along with Earth Angel and In The Still of the Night). Forty five years later, it is incredible that every group of singers getting together in the R & B vocal group style will invariably start out with their own version of this song. The style of the group was cemented in the listener's mind forever with the first big uptempo hit called "No Chance". The jumping tempo set out by Jesse Powell's combo (as in all the groups records), the insistent "I love 'ya" backup, Lavern Drake's bass runs, the blasting sax break, and the joyous lead by Earl Carrol. The follow up made everybody pay attention - "Down The Road" was like nothing ever heard before. A fast paced rocker that was constructed away from the classic blues patterns, intricate harmonies at breathtaking speed, bass vocal on the bridge, a tenor sax solo that is jazz influenced rather than the usual R & B honker, and a killer jump stop ending, all contributed to making this Josie recording one of the most memorable two and a half minutes in the studio ever. To see these five on stage was a joy, as the dance routines taught by veterans Cholly Atkins and Honey Coles made the group a crowd favorite. The fifth single released in late 1955 for Josie was a record for the ages. This was "Speedoo" (note the double o as in 'dew') which took the growing rock and roll world by storm. A fast uptempo song (much as in Down The Road) it had a heavier R & B beat, a blasting tenor sax break (less jazzier than 'Road') and one unplanned trademark - a slowdown in tempo on the last chorus and rideout. The great musical sound and the catchy name combined to make this one of the breakout records of the era. On the other side was one of my all time favorite flip sides, the super bluesy "Let Me Explain." In the early spring of 1956, the follow up to the great hit for the Cadillacs continued the road to success. "Zoom" the fast upbeat side was coupled with a great ballad "You Are" heralded with a 40;s styled dual trombone intro. After three hits in a row, the group changed course and released a slow to mid tempo tune "Woe Is Me" which did not do well. Two subsequent Josie recordings, "The Girl I Love" and "Shock-A-Doo" were barely acknowledged by the record buying public. The next release found the group returning to their past success with an uptempo rocker called "Sugar Sugar" featuring another fine lead by Earl Carroll. At this time, a curious event transpired which was unprecedented. A second group of Cadillacs appeared also recording for Josie records. Most of the established group calling themselves the Original Cadillacs released "Lucy" / "Hurry Home" which went nowhere. The "new" Cadillacs release was "(Please Be) My Girlfriend" a rapid uptempo tune sung virtually a capella which was a new departure back in mid 1957, but a glimpse of the future. This lesser outing for the Cadillacs has however, become second only to "Gloria" as the most performed song by doowop groups whether they be serious professionals or streetcorner pickup quartets. The group continued on Josie and adopted a new comedy based trend patterned after the Coasters with tunes such as "Speedoo Is Back", "Jaywalker", "Peek-A-Boo", and "Please Mr. Johnson" which they performed in an Alan Freed movie. By now the members of the Cadillacs shifted regularly and a number of ineffective recordings were issued for a variety of labels such as Smash, Mercury, and Capitol. They had run their course as hitmakers, but various members kept the name alive and Earl Carroll did a stint with the Coasters on the oldies circuit. Remembered in the spotlight years of the mid-fifties, they were one of the top visual acts and a perennial favorite at in person shows around the country. Masters at the uptempo rockers, along with many overlooked ballad sides, The Cadillacs are certainly one of the top ten vocal groups ever.
7.) The Orioles - This pioneering vocal group had their greatest successes before the rock and roll explosion in the mid fifties, and because of this fact, are overlooked by many people. Vocal group enthusiasts however, know well the tremendous influence this group exerted over all that followed, in regard to style, appearance, and putting over a song. In the long and storied history of R & B vocal groups, perhaps only The Inkspots can rival this importance. The story of their origins in Baltimore as The Vibranairs, and being brought to New York as The Orioles by Deborah Chessler is well known. The first release by the group was "It's Too Soon To Know" (written by Chessler) for Jerry Blaine's new label Its A Natural which soon became Jubilee. Over the next nine years, the Orioles turned out one record after another for the label, many of them becoming all time classics. Some of the memorable sides were "I Challenge Your Kiss", "Lonely Christmas", "At Night", "Trust In Me" and "I Cover The Waterfront" originally done by The Inkspots. By mid 1953, The Orioles had become one of the top R & B acts throughout the country, and it was then that they had their breakthrough record, "Crying In The Chapel". The group's version of the country hit was their biggest seller to date and even made heavy inroads in the pop music market. Two strong follow ups came - "In The Mission of St. Augustine" and "Robe of Calvary." By this time many personnel changes began to occur within the group and the Orioles were never a major force nationally again. There were some good recordings that followed including "In The Chapel In The Moonlight", "I Love You Mostly", "Runaround", and "Sugar Girl." In the late 50s and early 60s they recorded for the Vee-Jay and Charlie Parker labels. Because of the success of the Orioles in the fledgling days of the Rhythm & Blues years, entire groups of budding quartets and quintets emulated everything they could from them, leading to the era of the "bird groups", as much a tribute to the Orioles as anything else that took place. In Sonny Til, the group had the archetype lead singer who had ability, style, and especially charisma, for the essential front man and star personality. These influences make The Orioles a qualified member of the top ten vocal groups of all time.

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