Stick With Me Baby : The Paragons ©2002JCMarion
The first strains of vocal harmony that came from the group that would become The Paragons were probably heard in the hallways of Brooklyn's Thomas Jefferson High School. The original members of the group were Julius McMichael tenor lead, Ben Frazier and Donald Travis tenors, Rick Jackson on baritone, and Al Brown on bass. Impressing the local ladies, dreams of stardom, and area competition sharpened the group's sound and also led to song writing, mostly by McMichael. Before long they were in contact with record industry writer, producer, and label owner Paul Winley. This was the start of something to remember.
Winley set up a recording date with The Paragons and keyboard player and arranger Dave ( Baby) Cortez of "The Happy Organ" fame. Cortez (also known as "Clowney" which appears on some writers credits) worked into the piano figure that he would use for the group and framed the first effort on a song called "Florence". For the flip side they settled on a rocking tune called "Hey Little Schoolgirl" and soon it was released on Winley #215. The record took off immediately propelled by the dramatic intro on "Florence". Although the record was never a national chart success, it sold big along the megalopolis from Boston to D.C. Riding the wave of area recognition, the group soon sang at New York dances and shows as their record hit the 350,000 mark in sales. Now it was time to follow up their initial effort and keep the momentum going. For their second release on Winley the songs were "Let's Start All Over Again" and "Stick With Me Baby" on #220. Again a dramatic opening led by Cortez' stattaco piano figure into McMichael's falsetto vocal joined by the rest of the group four beats later with a powerful backup gave the song great impact. The flip side was also a listener favorite because the steady rocking up tempo song became a favorite of dancers.
With two consecutive hit records in the New York area, The Paragons were in possession of that most desirable characteristic of musical performers, an easily recognizable sound that allowed listeners to know almost immediately who they were. Late in 1957 Winley #223 was released which featured the group on the songs "Two Hearts Are Better Than One" and "Give Me Love". Although "Two Hearts" is another good ballad performance and follows their style closely, for some reason this side did not really connect with the record buying public and radio airplay was much less than their previous efforts. The Paragons were ready to come back with a vengeance.
The songs "Twilight" and "The Vows Of Love" were released by Winley Records on #227. All the ingredients were there for an all time vocal group classic for the ages. "Twilight" had the powerful piano triplets against McMichael's soaring falsetto lead throughout the song ending in the "twilight peeping through my window" fadeout. This time instead of a jump tune on the flip side for "balance", another dynamite ballad was included. "The Vows Of Love" led off with a streetcorner hook wide enough to drive a semi through, and was followed by an impassioned lead by baritone Ben Frazier this time rather than McMichael's trademark falsetto. Dr. Jive and George Hudson leaned on this record and it became another East Coast "must have". After six weeks polls at WSID in Baltimore put "Twilight" at the number one selling position in the city. WOOK in Washington D.C. also has the record near the top, and WAAT in Newark follows the trend.
After a nice run with "Twilight" and "The Vows Of Love" the group went back in the recording studios late in 1958. The result was Winley #228 pairing the tunes "So You Will Know" and "Don't Cry Baby". This side unfortunately did a disappearing act as the golden age of the R & B vocal groups was coming to an end. A further Winley release on #236 featured The Paragons singing backup for vocalist Tommy Collins on the songs "Darling I Love You" and "Doll Baby". In August of 1959 Jubilee Records releases the LP "The Paragons Meet The Jesters" which along with a companion LP "Rumble" superbly delineates the vocal group sound of New York City in the second half of the decade. By October "The Paragons Meet The Jesters" is the top selling LP in the field in the Northeast. In mid 1960 Winley released #240 which featured the previously recorded "So You Will Know" and "Doll Baby" with Tommy Collins. There was one more record released on the Winley label for the group - this was #250 behind the lead singing of mark Starr on the songs "Just Kneel And Pray" and "Just A Memory". By 1961, The Paragons were mainly just a memory.
There were a few more recordings by the group, but it was clear that the days of group harmony as a big selling part of pop music were over. One release for the Musicraft label on #1102 featured the tunes "Wedding Bells" and "Blue Velvet". Three records for the small independent Tap label followed in 1962 which gave The paragons a shot with pop standards - #500 - "If" and "Hey Baby"; #503 - "In The Midst Of The Night" and "Begin The Beguine"; and #504 - "These Are The Things I Love" and "If You Love Me". 1963 saw two Paragons sides issued, one for Music Clef #3001 with "Baby Take My Hand" and "Time After Time", and a reissue for the collectors label Times Square Records #9 - "So You Will Know" and "Don't Cry Baby".
The last five years of the existence of The Paragons did not amount to much, but it is the memory and the endearing sound of their first four records that insure a place in history for this group. Their unique sound is like a way station on a time line, and it is a much more beneficial reminder of Brooklyn, New York, in 1957-58 than the loss of the Dodgers. The Paragons remain at the top in that time and that place.
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