Please Mr. Disc Jockey : The Sensations©2005JCMarion


Once in the city of Philadelphia, there was a vocal group known as The Cavaliers. This was also the original name of the Fi-Tones Quintet from Brooklyn, but both groups came to prominence after a name change. The group was unique at that time because it featured the female lead voice of Yvonne Mills and an all male backup. After they had been together for a few months and had their style set, they were put in touch with the production team from Atlantic Records. They were in the midst of establishing a new subsidiary label in addition to Cat Records known for breaking the Chords version of "Sh-Boom". The new label was to be called Atlas Records but that name was changed two weeks later to Atco. And so in July of 1955 the Cavaliers from Philly were signed to the new recording entity. By late September the group had dropped the Cavaliers name and now was known as The Sensations. Yvonne Mills shared lead singing duties with the group's founder Tommy Wicks. The manager of the group was Kae Williams a well known Philadelphia radio personality on station WHAT.

Finally in early November of 1955 Atco # 6056 was released and featured The Sensations performing "Yes Sir He's My Baby" with Yvonne on lead, and "Sympathy" with Tommy Wicks on lead. Although both songs were ballads, they were miles apart in style and sound. "Yes Sir" was the old pop music chestnut from the early days of the century and was given a very interesting arrangement. Mills lead was strong, soulful, and straight ahead over a trombone chorus with a unique "lag time" behind the vocal. The group harmony was even and tight, with bass voice Alphonso Howell trading phrases on the bridge with Mills. The flip side was a dirge like tune with a minor key feel that just didn't have the "sound" of the time. "Yes Sir" however did, and with its unique arrangement caught many an ear of those who normally were not fans of the new music by any means. This all added up to a good showing by the group on their first recorded effort.

The first breakout on the record by The Sensations happened appropriately in their hometown of Philadelphia late in the year. That started a region wide run of popularity in the Northeast and the record hit the R & B charts by late January helping Atlantic set all time sales records for the nine year old R & B record company. In February of 1956 the record by The Sensations was pointed to as a perfect example of "sectional popularity" as "Yes Sir" was a huge hit in some parts of the country (the Northeast) at the same time it was almost unknown in others (the South and Pacific Northwest). By the middle of the following month, Atco readied the group's follow up to their initial hit. Atco # 6067 is released, this time featuring Yvonne Mills on lead on both tunes. Once again both songs were ballads and the 'A' side was again a version of an old pop standard. This time it was "Ain't He Sweet" with Mills on lead and Howell on bass again leading the way. The big difference was in the flip side tune this time with the song "Please Mr. Disc Jockey" which was attuned to the times with the radio dedications as a way of professing love, as a theme. By April Atco saw the light and began supporting the 'B' side as the sales winner. In June of the year The Sensations hit the big time with an appearance at New York City's Apollo Theater with a revue headed by Dr. Jive (Tommy Smalls).

The second record by the group also has a nice run on the R & B charts and Atco readied another release by the group for the late summer. In late August Atco # 6075 pairs "My Heart Cries For You" (a pop hit for Guy Mitchell) and "Cry, Baby Cry". This time the magic seems to be absent as the record does not do much with either sales or airplay. At year's end they try again with "Little Wallflower" and "Such A Love" on # 6083. Once again the news for The Sensations was not good as the latest record disappears without much action. The group is next heard from in May of 1957 with another try with a pop standard "You Made Me Love You" and the flip side "My Debut To Love" on Atco # 6090. The record company uses the trade press to support the side but once again the public isn't buying. Why that is so is anyone's guess. The group and their management team tried to come up with an answer. The Sensations are on stage in Chicago's Regal Theater for a big R & B show headed by longtime radio host Al Benson. Also in support of their latest effort, the group will once again appear with Dr. Jive at the Apollo Theater in New York for a week during the July 4th holiday. After another unsuccessful single there was one last try for Atco

In the spring of 1958, Atco released "Kiddy Car Lover" and "Romance In The Dark" on # 6115. Again success with this newest recording was not in the cards, and it seemed that The Sensations were two hit wonders. Bookings began to thin out and the group began to think about calling it quits. Their name appeared for Atco once again that fall when the label readied a LP album to be called "Rockin' Together" a compilation of hits for the label during the first three years of its existence. The group did call it quits then and Yvonne Mills married and began a family. By late 1958 Alan Freed, Dr. Jive, and other pioneering radio R & B dj's in the New York area had been snared in the "payola" witch hunt and the dilution of the music began to set in. Rock's famous "Forty Miles of Bad Road" began to take over the airwaves and only Motown, Stax-Volt, and the like would rescue the music a few years later.

But then - Phoenix like, The Sensations rose again. In 1961 Alphonso Howell had an idea. He thought that it was time to get the vocal group back together again and give it another shot. Something told him it was the right time for the revival of The Sensations. What caused this new found belief in a back-to-the-future move is anyone's guess. The direction of the music had changed quite a bit from the time in the mid fifties when the group began. Teenagers now completely controlled the sales market for single recordings. Sure there were some winners like Ray Charles "Hit The Road Jack" and Bobby Lewis "Tossin And Turnin", and U.S. Bonds and Dion, but the vocal group sounds were either gimmick laden (The Marcels "Blue Moon") or the "girl group sound" (The Marvelettes and Shirelles). The big hits of the year were records like "Michael" (The Highwaymen), "Big Bad John" (Jimmy Dean), "Moody River" by Pat Boone, and schmaltzy instrumentals like "Wonderland By Night" (Bert Kaempfert), and "Calcutta" (a number one record by Lawrence Welk ! !). Somehow in the midst of all of this, Howell was not to be denied. He contacted Yvonne who was now Yvonne Baker, and she was willing, and so with two new members Richard Curtain and Sam Armstrong, the new edition of The Sensations was ready. Once again they hooked up with Kae Williams who certainly had his finger on the pulse of Philadelphia's Black musical community. Williams got the group an opening with Chess Records of Chicago, and plans were made for a recording session for that company's Argo Records label.

In the summer of 1961 The Sensations picked a former pop hit for Teresa Brewer called "Music Music Music" as their return attempt. It was released on Argo # 5391 with "A Part Of Me" on the flip side. The rapid tempo version of the pop tune hit the right chord for listeners and record buyers (even with the inflationary increase in the lyrics - from the original nickel to a dime for a juke box play - no Nickelodeon here ! ) and the group had a big hit on the R & B charts and made the pop charts top fifty - a first for The Sensations. They were back ! It was a short change name wise from Atco to Argo but it seemed as though the group's musical fortunes were rising in a big way. That would be even more evident over the winter of 1961-62. Baker had put together a song with a snappy chorus and lyrics concerning "belonging", a strong emotion among teenagers. Add that to a killer hook - the "wee-wee-ooh" chorus over rapid fire drum beats, and it was blockbuster with a capitol "B". As soon as the radio listeners got a few notes of the tune, that was all they needed. "Let Me In" on Argo #5405 (the forgettable flip side was "Oh Yes, I'll Be True") took off flying and was the huge pop hit that Alphonso and Yvonne had been looking for during the seven years of The Sensations sometime existence.

"Let Me In" was everywhere during those months into early 1962. It sold in incredible numbers just missing the number one spot on the R & B charts but getting to the number four position on the big one, the national pop music list. The Sensations were now bona fide hit makers, and one of the few mid fifties era vocal groups to be so successful in the early sixties. Now came the hard part. Although their new fans were probably not aware of their earlier success with Atco, they were certainly not one hit wonders with two solid smashes for Argo in a row. Hitting the third one was the problem. They began with "That's My Desire" and "Eyes" on # 5412. "Desire" was a bit of a known commodity with Frankie Laine's original and follow up versions by The Channels and The Belmonts. It had a bit of sales success but that was short lived. The theme of "Let Me In" was revisited with "The Party Across The Hall" on # 5420 (with No Changes" on the other side). "When My Lover Comes Home" and "Father Dear" on Argo # 5446 in early 1963 was the last one for that label.

Kae Williams then sensed that maybe a change of labels would be the thing to do and led the group to his own Philadelphia based label called Junior Records. The Sensations recorded four singles for Junior, none of which had any success - "You made A Fool Out Of Me" / "That's What You've Gotta Do" on # 986; "It's Good Enough For Me" / "We Were Meant To Be" on # 1002; #986 was re-released as Junior # 1005 (and also on Tollie # 9009); "Baby" and "There's No You" on # 1006; "Mend The Torn Pieces" / "I Don't Change" on # 1010; and # 1002 re-released as # 1021. This further lack of success by 1964 spelled the end of the line for The Sensations. It had been an up and down ride during the decade of their career, but they had two solid hits in each of The Sensations eras. One has become a pop standard of the sixties and is permanently on the playlist of every oldies station in the country. And maybe that is not so bad after all. Yvonne and The Sensations had become part of the soundtrack of young America - twice.

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