Blue Moon : The Marcels©2006JCMarion


The late nineteen fifties in Pittsburgh was the time of The Skyliners and their big hits which started out in the local area. Soon another vocal group would begin to write their own chapter in the musical history of the city. The members of the group were Richard Knauss, Gene Bricker, Fred Johnson, Bingo Mundy, and lead singer Cornelius Harp. The boys hit their notes at Oliver Allegheny High School located in Pittsburgh’s North side and soon felt they were ready for expanding their horizons. They acquired a manager Jules Krusper and he had the racially integrated quintet record a demo tape which was then sent around to various record labels serving as an audition of sorts.

The group came up with a name – The Marcels which came from the preferred hair style of the day (“Marcelle”) and so they were ready to perform. The group got positive feedback from Colpix Records in New York and so a recording session was set up for them. The one thing the group did lack was original material. Someone came up with the idea of the group doing an up tempo modern version of an old popular standard and that is how The Marcels began to work out a vocal arrangement of the song “Blue Moon”. The bass intro was reworked from a few other tunes the group had fooled around with, and the snappy vocal arrangement was certainly something out of the ordinary.
New York disc jockey Murray The K, who ruled the airwaves in Aslan Freed’s old time slot got on the record and in short order it became a smash hit for the group. “Blue Moon” / “Goodbye To Love” on Colpix # 186 was all over the radio in early 1961 and soon became the number one selling record in the entire country in April of the year. It stayed on the best seller charts for three months holding down the number one position for three weeks and became a million seller. That was quite heady stuff for a new group on their first time on record.

For a follow up record they put their stamp on a version of “Summertime” by George Gershwin recorded on Colpix # 196. The flip side was a song called “Teeter Totter Love”. There was great promise for the ‘A’ side, but “Summertime” barely got into the top one hundred and disappeared quickly. “You Are My Sunshine” / “Find Another Fool” on # 606 was also unsuccessful. During the summer The Marcels appeared before the motion picture cameras for a rock ‘n roll quickie called “Twist Around The Clock” in which they sang their smash “Blue Moon” and a silly topical tune called “Merry Twistmas”. There were some personnel changes in the group at this time. Knauss and Bricker left replaced by Alan Johnson and Walter Maddox.

The fourth recording in September for Colpix by the group paid off as they once again reverted to the formula of cranking up the vocal riffs on an old standard-this time the song was the Ted Weems hit “Heartaches”/ Once again it hit the right chord with listeners and record buyers. “Heartaches” (with “Love For You” on the flip) was released on # 612 and was one of the big records late in 1961. It was a solid top ten smash getting to number seven and staying on the charts for the rest of the year. It made The Marcels one of the top recording acts in the country for the year. For the group it was their last chart hit but they would be much in demand for some time to come because of the great popularity of their two top sellers.

Colpix released a LP album by the group, and in the next two years they recorded a number of sides for Colpix. “My Melancholy Baby” / “Really Need Your Love” on # 624, “Footprints In The Sand” / “Twistin Fever” on # 629. Both of these records charted, but barely as the group could not repeat their past successes. At the end of 1962 lead singer Cornelius Harp left but the Marcels carried on with Walter Maddox, Fred Johnson, and two members formerly of the Altairs – William Herndon and Richard Harris. The Marcels continued into the seventies on a number of labels including Queen Bee, Kyra, Baron, 888, and Jody. “Peace Of Mind” / “That Lucky Old Sun” was released on the St. Clair label (# 13711) with Cornelius Harp back on lead. Today somewhere there is still a version of The Marcels with Fred Johnson singing and intent on keeping alive the sound that delighted Pittsburgh and the world back in the pre-Beatle sixties.

Two available CDs capture forever the sound of the group. “Best Of . . . . “ for Rhino has been around for fifteen years but contains all the hits and near misses on 18 tracks. For the ever present completist there is “The Complete Colpix Sessions” which is self explanatory. The 38 track double CD set from Sequel has it all including some fine unreleased tracks.

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