1955 saw the rise to prominence of several black vocal groups in the USA. Amongst them were; The Orioles (their 1948 hit It’s Too Soon To Know is often cited as the first real doo-wop record), The Crows, The Clovers, The Penguins, The Harptones, The Chords (“Sh-boom, life is but a dream…”), The Spaniels, The Cadillacs, The Five Royales, The Moonglows and many others.
Most of these groups relied on a single lead voice with three or four harmony singers providing occasional emphasis and background ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, which led to these groups being termed ‘doo wop’ groups (“doo-wop” was a favourite background chant in many of these songs).
All of these groups saw varying degrees of chart activity, but their success was fleeting compared to the masters of the genre – The Drifters from New York (pictured) and The Platters from Los Angeles.
Most of the better white doo-wop groups came from the American Northeast – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. There was a depth to the East Coast vocal group tradition that the rest of the country lacked.
White doo-wop’s best exponents sprang from lower-status minorities. By WASP standards, ‘white’ is really a misnomer since it was the Italian, Hispanic and ethnic kids who took to the subways in search of the perfect echo. Many of the Puerto Ricans (next to the blacks, the lowest on the social scale) were recruited from street gangs, and black/Puerto Rican combinations like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were not uncommon.
Of all these ethnic groups, the Italians were the most important. From New York, The Three Chuckles (led by Teddy Randazzo), brushed the charts with Runaround (#20 in 1954), Two Times I Love You (1955) and And The Angels Sing (1956).
Similarly, The Four Lovers from Newark, New Jersey, made the Hot Hundred with You’re The Apple Of My Eye (1956); some years later, they re-emerged as The Four Seasons.
By 1957, white doo-woppers were coming from all over the country. The Crescendos, from Nashville, Tennessee, grappled with Oh Julie (#5) and The Silva-Tones from Texas enjoyed a smaller but oft-recorded hit with That’s All I Want From You. 1957 also saw the emergence of The Del-Vikings, a racially integrated unit that hit with Come Go With Me and Whispering Bells.
Danny and the Juniors were one of the most successful, if not the most talented, of white groups. They topped the charts with At The Hop in 1958, proclaimed that Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay (#19 in 1958) and reached the Hot Hundred with another seven records.
The progress of white vocal groups gathered momentum throughout 1958. Many of the hottest sellers – The Playmates (Beep Beep) and The Kalin Twins (When) – were immediate anachronisms with sickly and contrived orchestrations. Others, including The Aquatones’ You (#21), The Elegants’ Little Star (#1), Dion and the Belmonts‘ I Wonder Why (#22), the Teddy Bears‘ To Know Him Is To Love Him (#1) and The Slades’ You Cheated (#42), though, had a charm and freshness which permitted repeated listening.
The Fleetwoods (a trio from Olympia, Washington) racked up 11 hits between 1959 and 1963. The Impalas (an integrated group with three Italians and a black lead singer) hit #2 with Sorry I Ran All The Way Home while The Mystics, The Passions and The Fireflies brought Hushabye, Just To Be With You and You Were Mine to the charts.
Pittsburgh’s Skyliners (pictured), famous for a stunning lead singer in Jimmy Beaumont and a massive, much-revived hit, Since I Don’t Have You, are often regarded as the most sophisticated of white doo-woppers.
White doo-wop reached epidemic proportions between 1960 and 1962 when the Hot Hundred was riddled with discs by The Innocents, The Roommates, The Classics, Donnie and the Dreamers, The Capris, The Regents (who recorded the original Barbara Ann), The Chimes, The Tokens, Rosie and the Originals and a dozen of others, including integrated teams like The Marcels and The Time-Tones.
A New Jersey craze for acappella (unaccompanied) singing provided white doo-wop’s final, pure but short-lived gasps during 1963-64, but the British Invasion halted white doo-wop overnight. Apart from the occasional throwback, the style was wiped out of existence.
Doo-wop’s trademark vocal noises were absorbed into rock & roll and soul – its influence on The Beach Boys is obvious – and that influence lives on.
The Darts brought the sounds back into the UK charts in the 1970s (It’s Raining, Boy From New York City), even if they weren’t wholly serious. Billy Joel paid homage to doo-wop with The Longest Time, which deserved better than to stick at Number 25 in 1984.
You can still hear doo-wop’s echoes in mainstream acts today.