The playists below include ~1000 selections from YouTube of mostly 1950s and early 1960s R&B vocal group/doo-wop recordings (with some Jazz and newer R&B mixed in, mainly in playlist 1). I've aimed for the more obscure gems. Though I enjoy a range of musical styles, the 1950s and 60s R&B vocal groups captured my attention even 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..."
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. The subtlety becomes much clearer after hearing groups of different quality singing the same songs even when all groups sing in tune. And unless the background music is either so minimalist so as to not be distracting, 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 which 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.
Doo-wop went through conspicuous stylisic changes from its dawn in the late 1940s, to the early 1960s and beyond, and that is reflected in the examples down below which sample across this full range. 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 examples that I think are among the best:
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