Dion, Jay and the Americans, others – Sounds of the City: New York Area Doo Wop 1956-66 (2007): Forgotten Series

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Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: doo wop music was not created to be used as fodder for public television fund-raisers. In fact, no music should be thought of as commerce lubrication, not even the dreaded disco. There, I feel better now.

Because of the ghettoization of music on the radio (satellite is guilty too) genres such as doo wop get relegated to the novelty or ‘oldies’ categories — and thus, those annoying PBS appearances. This is too bad really, as the music has such long fingers of influence. Sure, it has popped up all over the place in pop culture, especially in movies. But that does not mean the music was put to bed shortly after the release of American Graffiti. Just look at the success of the play Jersey Boys.

It might be tempting to dismiss the phenomenon as mere nostalgia, but obviously the music still means something to more than a handful of people.

Musically, it’s not difficult to hear doo wop’s influence. Beginning with the early and the obvious, there is Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Take a listen to the harmonies used in songs like “Little Star” by the Elegants or “Tears Bring Heartaches” by the Standards — Brian Wilson absorbed that stuff. Moving closer to the present day, doo wop’s influence can be heard in music as wide-ranging as Frank Zappa, The Ramones, The New York Dolls, and even R.E.M.

I have to admit that, until checking out this box set, my experience with this music was quite limited: a tune from a soundtrack here and there, one funny Frank Zappa anecdote (quickly: I had been bugging a friend to check Zappa out and she ends up buying Cruising with Ruben & the Jets, his doo wop-drenched album — she was not impressed), and of course, the big hits: “16 Candles” (The Crests), “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (The Tokens), “Tell Me Why” (The Belmonts), and a few others.

That fact did not keep me from enjoying this collection: Probably because it includes both ‘pure’ doo wop as well as songs that are closer to doo wop-influenced rock ‘n’ roll: “Runaround Sue” (Dion), “Shout! Shout! (Knock Yourself Out)” (Ernie Maresca), “You” (The Aquatones), “You’re The Apple Of My Eye” (The Four Lovers), and “Come A Little Bit Closer” (Jay & The Americans). It really is a blast … or am I supposed to say, “It’s swell!”? All right, maybe not.

Now, if you happened to buy this set during a PBS fund raiser, that’s OK. There are many routes to good music and the path itself does not affect the songs one little bit: the music can stand on its own.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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