Though I enjoy a range of musical styles, the 1950s and 60s R&B vocal groups captured my attention first as a small child. That its original heyday was over long before I was born added to its appeal. The term "doo-wop" has come to characterize the style, although purists would emphasize that in the early and mid-50s this term was not in use. Moreover, the term inadvertently lumps the smooth soulful r&b groups together with more santized pop-oriented stylings that used similar chord structures. I use "doo-wop" to describe the former and pay little attention to the latter.
Quoting a 1993 NYT article on doo-wop: "...it often possessed an unaffected beauty created with the simplest ingredients -- a straightforward chord structure, spare instrumentation, a strong lead singer and baroque background harmonies...Embedded in this era are a trove of powerful, self-taught tenors whose names are all but forgotten, as well as silky, ethereal harmonies, offered up by groups that fans can distinguish instantly ...At the top were groups with more mysterious, murky sounds, their tenors softer and idiosyncratic..."
Songwriter Paul Simon exposed a kinship to the genre within his surrealistic lyrics to 'Rene and Georgette Magritte with their Dog after the War':
...They danced by the light of the moon To the Penguins, the Moonglows The Orioles, and The Five Satins The deep forbidden music They'd been longing for...
..And what do you think They have hidden away In the cabinet cold of their hearts? The Penguins, the Moonglows The Orioles, and The Five Satins For now and ever after As it was before..
Doo-wop is sometimes satirized and some classical and jazz musicians roll their eyes at the simplicity of the background music. But it's vocal harmony music that originated on street corners without musicians. Criticisms of the style based on the simplicitiy of background music often reveal a basic misunderstanding of where the subtleties reside. The subtlety and complexity is getting the harmonies, cadence, blend, and ornamentation just right. This becomes much more conspicuous after hearing groups of different quality sing the same song. And unless the background music is extremely minimalist, or the muscicians and arrangements were top notch, it can detract from the vocals. Many of the the more prominent early groups did have top caliber jazz musicians accompanying them and playing the instrumental solo interludes during the bridges (particularly on the up tempo, "jump" or dance recordings).
Within the genre, as for any endeavor, only a small fraction of the groups are consistently outstanding. Many groups of the era had only one or two gems that they put all of their effort into perfecting. And among the outstanding songs, only a small fraction of the lyrics are as good as the harmonies. Some of the simple lyrics do work extremely well, but don't expect much depth from the lyrics. It's prominently the harmony, rhythm, and vocal stylings that carry the ambiance.
The R&B vocal group/doo-wop style went through conspicuous changes from its dawn in the late 1940s, to the early 1960s and beyond, and that is reflected in the playlists and examples down below which sample across this full range. The playists below include ~1000 selections from YouTube (with some Jazz and newer R&B mixed in, mainly in playlist 1). Generally, I've sought out the more obscure treasures that were not necessarily popular hits. Playlist 14 ; Playlist 13 ; Playlist 12 ; Playlist 11 ; Playlist 10 ; Playlist 9 ; Playlist 8 ; Playlist 7 ; Playlist 6 ; Playlist 5 ; Playlist 4 ; Playlist 3 ; Playlist 2 ; Playlist 1;
If you just can't get enough, there is a 24 Hour Doo-wop Live Stream.
Some good examples that include many lesser known gems:
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