Introduction I

Doo-wop. The style and its definition

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From: FZ, 1974 (In His Own Words)
  The very first tunes that I wrote were 50's doo wop, 'Memories Of El Monte', and stuff like that. It's always been my contention that the music that was happening during the 50's has been one of the finest things that ever happened to American music and I loved it. I could sit down and write a hundred more of the 1950's type songs right now, and enjoy every minute of it.
From: FZ, 1979 (The Real Frank Zappa Book)
  There was a lot of nonsense in the press when "Cruising With Ruben & The Jets" came out, about how it "fooled people". I heard one story that DJ in Philly was playing it like carzy until he found out it was the Mothers, at which point he yanked it. The fact is, everybody knew it is the Mothers Of Invention because it said so on the cover: "Is this Mothers Of Invention recording under a different name in a last ditch attempt to get theie cruddy music on the radio?"
  I conceived that album along the same lines as the compositions in Stravinsky's neoclassical period. If he could take the forms and cliches of classical era and pervert them, why not do the same with rules and regulations applied to doo-wop in the fifties?
  The listener wouldn't really think that a song like "Stuff Up The Cracks" was an honest-to-goodness 1950s song. In terms of timbre, it's right on the fringe (because of the vocal parts) - but the chords would never happen in original doo-wop.
  The songs of that period were locked into a choice of three formula/flavors: I-VI-VI-V ("Earth Angel"), or I-II-I-II ("Nite Owl"), or I-VI-V ("Louie Louie"). Very seldom would you hear a III chord or a flat VII xhord - or hear someone going from I to flat VII. There were only a few examples of that type of harmonic deviations during the fifties - the best one "This Paradise" by Donald Woods and Bel-Airs on Flip - so our chord progressions were not exactly part of that tradition.
  What was consistent with tradition on that album was the approach to the harmony, the type of vocal style and timbre used on it, and the simplicity of most of the beats. Of course, some of the lyrics were on a sub-Mongoloid level, but that just another norm, carried to an extreme.
We made a wish And threw in a coin And since that day Our hearts have been joined So all you young lovers Wherever you are The fountain of love is not very far
  Give me a fucking break! Is this song about a douche bag or what? Some people take that kind of lyrics seriously!
  There are some dead giveaways in that album, too. For instance, on the fadeout of "Fountain of Love" you can hear the opening notes of Rite Of Spring. One song has background chant of "Earth Angel" superimposed on the chant from another song, and so on.
  The satire in Ruben worked on two or three levels. I detest 'love lyrics'. I think one of the cause of bad mental health in the United States is that people have been raised on 'love lyrics'.
  You're a young kid that you hear all those 'love lyrics', right? Your parents aren't telling you the truth about love, and you can't really love about it in school. You're getting the bulk of your 'behavior norms' mapped out for you in the lyrics to some dumb fucking love song. It's a subconscious training that creates a desire for imaginary situation which will never exist for you. People who buy into that mythology go through life feeling that they got cheated out of something.
From: Vladimir Sovetov
  Below is a nice germ or USENET wisdom dealing with the a definition of a style itself.
  Date: 1996/12/16
From: Bill Bugge (
  Awhile back, we got into a discussion as to what should be included in the term Doo Wop, specifically, whether it should be limited to a certain style or whether it should include early R&B vocal groups.
  The NY deejay Gus Gossert is generally acknowledged to have coined the term Doo Wop.I just visited a record store and found Gus Gossert Greatest Doo Wop CDs. They included tracks like "Sunday Kind of Love" by the Harptones and "Story Untold" by the Nutmegs.
  So, if the inventor of the term considered R&B vocal group records Doo Wop, who is anyone else to try to redefine it? Granted, definitions change over time to reflect popular conceptions, but generally in the direction of inclusion, rather than exclusion.
  Norm, do you throw in the towel yet? Or did you already do that in the last thread?
  Now, does this Gossert CD have the Ravens, the Mercury Platters, the early Orioles, The Cats and the Fiddle, The Flamingos on End, The Larks on Apollo, or the Five Keys on Aladdin on it?
  These are the types of groups that I said were not doo wop groups. They are fine (some more than others) R & B vocal groups, but they do not fit the standard of doo wop in the sense of lots going on in the background. "Story Undold" certainly fills the Bill, as do a lot of Harptones records.
  Most Spaniels do, as well as lots of the Bobby Robinson and George Goldner stuff. I did a thread on this long ago in a.r.o. and the ultimate doo wop label owners were Robinson and Goldner. Nobody could match their success, output and feel for that type of music. Sure there were other label owners that had this type of music but the two biggies kept churning this stuff out year after year for awhile.
  I'm going to combine everything toghether here but just look at the labels: Fury, Gee, Gone, End, Cindy, Rama, Herald, Ember, Whirlin' Disc, Gold Disc, Mark-X, Juanita, Red Robin, Everlast, Holiday and Vest. These were the greatest labels in doo wop history, and George Goldner with his labels and Bobby Robinson with his labels, were the owners of these incredible labels.
  So are we going to go on a different direction with all of this?? I hope so. I have several label discographies if I have to list certain items from most of these labels.
From: Mike Paladino (
  Bill, somehow you knew I would reply. Funny as I reply I'm listening to KONO-FM play "Shrine of St. Cecilia" (Bon-Aires), on their DOO-WOP show, here in S. Tex. Which, by the way I do not consider our version, true Doo-Wop.
  As far as Gus Gossert, whom we worked with back then, used the term to separate Rock and Roll as we knew back then from R&B, Soul and used the term for a particular type of music. As it was told to me Doo-Wop comes from the background harmony where the groups used doo-wop, doo-wah, etc., which he used a separation of the music.
  Now I would like to get into the music. Norm is right mentioning the labels. But the its in the music the harmony itself. This was told to me before the term was used by, Gerald Gregory (Spaniels), Clifton Wright and Herbie Cox (Cleftones), Waldo Champan (Cadillacs), Zeke Carey (Flamingos), Arthur Crier (Mellows), Dean Barlow (Crickets), Skip Jackson (Shantons) and many many others sitting back stage jamming and waiting to get on. It comes from Gospel, where the bass and the 2nd tenor or false tenor are on the same note but different octave in a 5 member group. The base was the root of the background. Being a bass singer this was very interesting to me. A lot of the groups back them studied that theory. And as I speak to them today, the ones alive, are students of the harmony. You have to understand this is a black sound, period. No white group can sing true Doo-Wop. Although we got pretty close but, in my opinion, no cigar. Although we were told by the Carey Brothers after we sang Golden Teardrops, "You ain't white boys". That was the ultimate compliment. I could carry on but I hope you are not bored with this.
From: Bill Bugge (
  Mike, I thought there was a good chance. I figured your experiences were too valuable to let you remain a lurker. I want to hear about my heroes in the flesh.
  Now, this is interesting. Gus Gossert, the originator of the term Doo Wop, used it to mean R&B vocal groups. CASE CLOSED, NORM! "No white group can sing true Doo Wop". I always thought the term came about to describe the white group sound of the 60's and then was expanded to cover the black R&B groups. And, apparently, all those big names have no problem with the term Doo Wop (many say it is demeaning to the music) and also feel it is synonymous with the R&B vocal group sound.
From: Mike Paladino (
  Gus used it as a general term, when there was doo-wop, doo-wah, doo-wah-wah in the background harmony to separate it from R&B, Soul, etc. It still remains R&B and Soul BUT the Doo-Wop is a splinter and has its own distinct sound.
From: Bill Bugge (
  Well, maybe the case isn't closed yet, Norm. Maybe there is a separate, distinct sound which comprises Doo Wop and excludes some vocal group sounds. But maybe we're getting a little closer to the meaning of the term and maybe the definition is broad enough to suit me. Mike seems to define it as a black vocal group with some background vocals in sounds rather than words. Not "a lot"(to use your words) has to be going on in the background, just something. I would pretty much agree with him, with the major exception that I would not exclude white groups. That definition would include most of the 50's R&B vocal groups. What do you think?
From: Norm Katuna (
Working for the P. O. and this being the Xmas rush, makes it a little tough to stay on top of this thread..
  Sounds instead of words. Uh, where does that leave us with things like "I Only Have Eyes For You" by the Swallows? That song does not have words in the background there is one continuous ooooooohhhhhh that you can hardly hear. That's not doo wop. Any group, white or black that only does things in the background like oooooohhhhhh, aaaaahhhhhhh, hhhhmmmmm, with all the members except the lead as one total harmony is not doo wop.
  You know I always try and define things as uptempo doo wop or as I have conceded to everyone, normal or slow doo wop. The slow stuff is exemplified by the Five Satins and "In The Still Of The Night". You know I prefer uptempo and the Louis Lymon, Frankie Lymon and the Kodoks type sound.
  The Italian street corner type groups that do uptempo doo wop are as doo wop as the black groups. If there are branches of doo wop, they have nothing to do with white or black, it has to do with style or type of harmony. "The Night" by Nick and the Nacks, "Ding-a-ling a Ding Ding Dong" by Dickie Dell and the Bing Bongs and "Take a Chance On Love" by Doug & Freddie and the Pyramids are no less great uptempo doo wops than are "Cora Lee" by Bobby Rivera & the Hemlocks, "Mary Lee" by the Rainbows, "Geraldine" by the El Venos on Vik or the fast Continentals and Channels sides on Whirlin' Disc. All of them are doo wop by white (Italian) or black groups.
  Mark Wielage sent me a xerox copy of one of the chapters from the book DOO-WOP: THE FORGOTTEN THIRD OF ROCK AND ROLL.
  Groups like the Channels, Hi-Fives, Norman Fox and the Rob Roys, Chips, Bop Chords are all mentioned as doo wop, or at least some of their renderings were considered doo wop. They also mention two groups that I don't agree with. The early 50s Ravens and Five Keys.
  Here is a list of things that can be included as part of the style of doo wop. Not all of these have to be present at the same time for them to count.
1. Bass introduction to the song
2. Bass contributes between choruses
3. Bass running with harmony part
4. Bass running under the lead but separate from the harmony part
5. Bass lead (I hate bass leads NK)
6. Melismas used by lead
7. Falsetto trail-off at end of song
8. Falsetto running with harmony part
9. Falsetto running over the lead but separate from the harmony part
10. Falsetto lead
11. Castrato lead
12. Nonsense syllables in name of song
13. Nonsense syllables frequently used
14. Blow harmonies present
15. Nonsense syllables used throughout the song by the bass or harmony part
16. Group harmony running under the lead
17. Group harmony echoing the lead
18. Group harmony leading at times
19. Progressive entrances technique employed
20. Back beat simple and heavy.
  I don't happen to agree with all of the above, or even know what they are talking about in some of the #s, but if this doesn't get things going around here, nothing will.
  One thing that I forgot. Doo wop can be a branch of Vocal group harmony and a branch of 50s and early 60s Rock and Roll. The branch of Rock and Roll would probably encompass the white and Italian groups.
From: ErrolMatic (
  Aren't you guys splitting hairs? It seems to me that getting this legalistic about the term doo wop is as fruitless as trying to specify the individual that invented rock & roll.
From: Bill Bugge (
  You're right! That's been my position all along. I'd rather include than exclude, but Norm is a classification kind of guy and I enjoy busting him every now and then. When I saw the Gossert CD, I saw an opportunity to rub salt in old wounds from previous threads.

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