PART THREE


3.) The Moonglows - The Moonglows like the Flamingos, are connected in their musical history with the Chess label out of Chicago (again see Doowop by Robert Pruter). This group had their beginnings in Louisville, Kentucky, and one of the founding members was Harvey Fuqua whose cousin Charlie was an original member of the Inkspots, the fountainhead of all doowop vocal groups. The connection was soon made to Cleveland and "Moondog" Alan Freed who gave the guys their name and their first record on his local Champagne label. From "Just Can't Tell No Lie" to a series of releases for the Chicago based Chance label which included "Secret Love", "Lonely Christmas" and "Whistle My Love", the Moonglows were making a name for themselves in the midwest. With the folding of Chance in late 1954, the turning point for the group had arrived. With the first Chess release "Sincerely", the group reached their level of greatness. Never had four voices accomplished so much within the span of a two and one half minute 45 single. Each one seemed to contain classic moments - the four chorus intro to Sincerely, an incredible bridge on "Most Of All",the sliding tenors and chord changes of "Foolish Me", the dramatic intro to "Starlight", the descending runs of "In My Diary", the clever lyrics of "We Go Together", the vocal chimes of "When I'm With You",and the sassy jump of a rare uptempo hit "See Saw". And there was more - the tunes from the Alan Freed film "Rock, Rock, Rock" for a two sided hit "I Knew From The Start" and "Over And Over Again", the oldie "I'm Afraid The Masquerade Is Over" , the bluesy Percy Mayfield written "Please Send Me Someone To Love", "In The Middle Of The Night" and finally the dramatic and all time classic "Ten Commandments Of Love". Through all of the tunes there were constants : the dramatic lead singing by Bobby Lester (except on the few occasions where Harvey was on lead), the incredible bass of the speaker rattling Prentiss Barnes, the arranging and musical touches of Bud Johnson, and on many of the tunes the trademark 'oohwah' ending. This left a remarkable legacy that endured through the nineteen fifties and was at the forefront of the rise of rock and roll itself. As another added attraction, in the early days of the Moonglows Chess years, they provided fans with 'the group within a group' concept recording as The Moonlighters. Originally to be just a duo of Bobby Lester and Harvey Fuqua for the Checker label as they were on "I'm So Alone", the full group recorded the songs "Shoo Doo Be Doo" one of the greatest up tempo vocal group sides ever, and the follow up "A Hug And A Kiss". Soon after the Moonlighters concept was dropped and the Moonglows made musical history through the decade. Any listing of the most influential vocal groups would be hard pressed to omit the fabulous Moonglows.
2.) The Teenagers - This quintet lived up to their name as they were indeed teenagers, from Stitt Junior High School in the Harlem section of New York City. With the release of their first record for George Goldner's Gee label, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love", the course of vocal groups and pop music was changed forever. With the resounding success of this record it was proven for all time that teenagers making music for teenagers was a money making proposition of great proportions. After all this IS a business, so all the entrepreneurs in the record industry sat up and took notice in a big way. This single record showed the future for the small time independent record producer, who would be a dying breed once the doowop craze ran its course at about the turn of the decade. But for now, Frankie Lymon and his Teenagers were the hottest commodity around. The follow up to 'Fools' was the entertaining medium tempo tune "I Want You To Be My Girl." The group turned out hit after hit ("I Promise To Remember", "Who Can Explain", "ABC's Of Love", "Baby Baby", "I Am Not A Juvenile Delinquent", "Teenage Love", and "Love Is A Clown."). They were a huge hit in England which was an uncommon occurrence for a vocal group. Beside the long string of jump tunes that became hits, the Teenagers were also very well equipped to handle ballads as they had with "Please Be Mine", "I'm Not A Know It All", and "Share". But it was the uptempo rockers with blasting tenor sax breaks by Jimmy Wright that made the group the world wide hitmakers that they were. During the tour of England that the group made in 1957, Goldner and others began promoting Lymon as a single artist without the backing of his buddies. One last effort by the group was released, the heartbreaking ballad version of "Out In The Cold Again", the finest the group ever recorded. The flip side however "Miracle In The Rain" was a solo effort by Frankie even though the label read Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. The same misrepresentation on the label was repeated with "Goody Goody", a lame big production number that somehow managed to become a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, however the secret was out and Frankie would have to make it on his own. So would the Teenagers, and as history shows both failed miserably. The group tried with new lead Billy Lobrano on "Flip Flop" which went nowhere, and Frankie with "Little Girl" which sunk without a trace. In 1960 Frankie surfaced with a remake of "Little Bitty Pretty One" which only served as a teaser and not as the harbinger of a revitalized career. The group went their separate ways, and Frankie descended into the private hell of heroin addiction which took his life at the age of 26. What could have been or should have been never happened. The most influential vocal group of the mid fifties gave all of us about two and a half years of recorded bliss, the exuberant tunes of young America in the middle of the Eisenhower years that in their own little way provided us a sound track for the most formative time in our life. They had the perfect name, the perfect sound, at the perfect time for all of us who were lucky enough to have lived through it. It may be part of what is called the generation gap or generational smugness, but I look at my daughter who is in college now and I wonder, what will she remember as the defining sounds of her growing up ? There is nothing today like Frankie & The Teenagers were to us as it was back in the day . . . . . . . . . . .
1.) The Drifters - This should really be entry numbers 1 and 1a, but that is hedging a bit. I refer to the Drifters with Clyde McPhatter and the original group after Clyde left in 1955. Clyde had ended his three year association with the Dominos, and Atlantic label head Ahmet Ertegun signed Clyde and told him to get a group together to back him up. The very first version of the Drifters didn't seem to satisfy anyone and so they tried again and this time they hit paydirt. Bubba and Gay Thrasher (from the Thrasher Wonders gospel group) Bill Pinckney, and Willie Ferbee made up the group that began the honor roll of hits by this remarkable group. The high tenor gospel wail of McPhatter, and the tight harmony of the group which also showed their gospel roots, gave the Drifters a unique sound and appeal. Another characteristic of the group is that each side of every Atlantic release is finely crafted. There are no throwaway sides, no 'B' sides put together as an afterthought. Ertegun and chief producer Jerry Wexler have often said that they rehearsed thoroughly before recording which was certainly the exception during those years. This diligence certainly pays off for the listener with a string of great recordings. The Drifters also changed with the times as musical tastes began to move in other directions. Their changes were much more subtle than other groups who made the change successfully. "Money Honey", "Such A Night", "Honey Love", and "Bip Bam", provided the groundwork of the Drifters' history as top name artists. Their version of "White Christmas" is timeless and much more memorable than the version by The Ravens that inspired it. It was the entire complement of voices that was the difference, the mark of an exceptional vocal group. "What 'Cha Gonna Do", "Gone", and the intense "Everyone's Laughing" rounded out Clyde's stint as lead singer of the Drifters. Clyde left to become a solo act with much success, but now The Drifters were in need of a new lead singer. David Baughn was tried, but they scored with Johnny Moore who was the lead voice on a number of hit tunes ("Adorable", "Ruby Baby", "Soldier of Fortune", "Fools Fall In Love" and "I Know".). Others took their turn - Bill Pinckney on "Steamboat", Gay Thrasher on "Your Promise To Be Mine", and Bobby Hendricks on "Drip Drop". Through it all the Drifters maintained a class of performance unequaled by any other vocal group. They never lost the gospel "feel" in their presentation no matter who was in the lineup or who was singing lead. This was their strength and their trademark. While moving toward a more mainstream sound because of the widening market for rock and roll, they moved only as much as they had to. This was very different from such groups as the Clovers or the Five Keys who worked at redefining their sound. Such tunes as "Adorable", and "Fools Fall In Love" are good examples of how The Drifters were able to straddle the fence in this regard, and keep much of the original sound intact while appealing to the record buyers of the late 50s. This group reached the pinnacle of their profession because of the dedication to the sound that they perfected as their own. It is certainly a singular style that could not be copied or counterfeited because of the individual talents of its members. The hard work and professionalism of the group is apparent in every one of their recorded releases for Atlantic, which was definitely the right fit as far as a label goes for The Drifters. Taken in context, the entire output on record, the style that they originated, the success by which they went with new lead singers after the departure of McPhatter, and the way the quality of the recordings hold up after all these years, make The Drifters an obvious choice as the greatest R & B vocal group ever.

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