DOO WOP IN ’59 (Segue of the Day: 12/22/16)

There are times when I listen to Doo Wop and wonder why I ever listen to anything else. The silly music often renders everything else silly by comparison.

And anytime I get a notion I know something about it, something about the form itself or the larger context in which it either grew from or birthed the air around it (depending on whether you’re in the mood to argue for the chicken or the egg), all I have to do is sit with it a while and I’m readily disabused.

Take this little volume, where thirty-four cuts, from a single twelve-month period that kicked off the age of rock n roll’s supposed “nadir,” yield a dozen or more one-offs that concede nothing to the famous names which here included the Clovers, Coasters, Drifters, Belmonts, Isley Brothers, Dells, Shirelles, Little Anthony.

Some of those one-offs were big national hits, or have become sufficiently known through famous covers that they may as well have been: “Sea of Love,” “Hushabye,” “Hully Gully.”

And then some have remained hidden, waiting in the ether for obsessives in foreign lands (Germany, in this case) to give them a new context. Something like this, which, if it had hit, might have taken Motown in a whole other direction:

And even that wasn’t as startling as the two records by famous names that didn’t hit either, but here live to leave the present speechless in wonder, not because they are better than what surrounds them, but because, shockingly, they aren’t.

 

THE NIGHTBIRD’S FLOWN (Allen Toussaint, R.I.P.)

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Allen Toussaint is probably the only man who could claim to be a Top Five (and probably more like Top Three) Record Man of both the sixties and the seventies. Even earlier he started out hanging with Huey Smith. Even later he ended up being sampled by half of the Hip Hop universe.

In between he was the Alpha and Omega of a certain brand of New Orleans soul: producer, writer, arranger, session man, piano man, and flat out honcho, from beginning (as producer)…

to middle (as writer and producer)…

to mind-blowing end (as writer)…

to, well, even more mind blowing end (as producer…of the original record anyway)…

And I know I sometimes say “better then,” and it sounds like it’s just my prejudices showing and I’m dissing this glorious modern age out of petty malice.

Well, okay.

But, believe me, when guys like Allen Toussaint were in charge…it was better.

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ROCKER (Frankie Ford, R.I.P.)

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I don’t think any American city has exerted quite the same pull on its homegrown musicians as New Orleans. Louis Armstrong, the consummate New Orleans musician, got out. Just about everybody else stayed. No matter how much bigger every one of them except Fats Domino might have been elsewhere, they seemed to think that either making it somewhere else at the expense of leaving home wasn’t worth the cost or else making it anywhere else really didn’t amount to much anyway.

There have been a lot of stories over the years about just how Frankie Ford came to be the white voice on a record as black as “Sea Cruise.” One story had it that the local producers were tried of having their songs show up on the charts in versions cut by white artists elsewhere. Another had it that Huey Smith and his band, who had already recorded the music track, were out of town when it was time to cut the vocal. Yet another had it that Smith put a vocal on but either he or a record company honcho was unsatisfied with it and had heard about this white boy who could really wail.

At this point–probably at any point–it likely comes down to who you want to believe.

In any case, the record (along with the magnificent album it ended up anchoring) was a key signifier of the race confusion that was at the heart of the revolution’s liberating ethos, and hence, one of the reasons wave after wave of establishmentarian thinking had to be dedicated to crushing it. Despite the success of the Overlords in blackening our modern skies with doom and so forth, you can still hear the liberation here…

and here…

…on both sides of one of those fifties-era contenders for “Greatest two-sided single ever,” of which there are probably way fewer than you think.

Forty years later, he could still do this…

…so, whatever the reason he never had a big followup, it didn’t have anything to do with limits on his talent.

And who knows but what he and so many others were right all along.

If you made it to the front of the New Orleans line even once, what else did you ever really need to prove?

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