Frank’s Faves on Fridays – The Last Hurrah

March 4, 2011

With this week’s suggestions we say farewell to Frank’s Faves on Fridays. I must say that Frank’s suggestions over the past 47 weeks (yes, 47) have, for me, been never less than enlightening. As with other people’s tastes in music, I’ve loved listening to what tickles Frank’s musical fancy, and have been extremely grateful to Frank in allowing me to make facetious, fatuous, and fat-headed comments about songs he wanted other people to know about. To go out with a flourish, Frank sent me a heap of songs that focuses on something near and dear to his heart: Doo Wop. These songs are some of Frank’s all-time favourite Doo Wop tracks. He asked me to be gentle…

I must preface all of my comments today with the alarming admission that my entire Doo Wop knowledge is based on exactly two songs: “The Book Of Love” and “Why Do Fools Fall In Love“. Everything I know – or think I know – about Doo Wop derives from those two tracks. Now, I have no idea how close to real Doo Wop those two songs actually are, but, for good or ill, whenever someone talks about music and mentions “Doo Wop”, those are the two songs that instantly fill my head as I nod politely and pretend to know what the person’s talking about. In a situation similar to the old saying, “Everything tastes more or less like chicken,” my brain has always told me that all Doo Wop sounds more or less like those two songs. Because I’m remarkably ignorant about Doo Wop, I have a feeling that with your suggestions I’m going to get myself a nice introduction to what Doo Wop really is. Thanks, Frank, for enlightening me – and helping me (yet again) to become a little less ignorant about an aspect of popular music I know close to nothing about.

Now on to the music…

Carlo – “Ring A Ling” (1981 1963 1964)

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I tell ya, the Internet is such a fabulous resource. It allows people like me who know very little (about a lot of things) to find some information about some music or musicians, relay it to other people, and give the impression that people like me are terribly knowledgeable when they’re not at all. For instance, I just found out via Wikipedia that Carlo’s full name is Carlo Mastrangelo, that he was in Dion and the Belmonts (singing the bass vocal part), and that he released “Ring A Ling” in 1981. Up until about 10 minutes ago I had no idea about any of that. Now I can tell people what I found out just a few minutes ago, and they can marvel and whisper to themselves, “Wow, that Peter – he sure knows a lot about music,” to which I’ll think to myself “No I don’t.”

But enough of that. I’m now listening to “Ring A Ling”, and the singing in the introduction reminds me of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”. (Excellent! My incredibly limited knowledge of Doo Wop – i.e., the two songs mentioned earlier – is paying off.) According to Wikipedia, this song comes from 1981, but I find that very hard to believe. For a start, it’s in mono, and as far as I’m aware nobody but nobody recorded in mono in 1981 – not even retro or revivalist acts. There’s a YouTube clip that says the song’s from 1964, and another one that say 1963. That’s more like it. Now to find the real date. (Unfortunately, the MP3 you supplied didn’t have a date in the tag.) The record label itself is no help, I’m afraid:

A couple of other YouTube clips state that the song was released in 1963, but this official-looking page listing all releases on the Laurie label says that it’s 1964. That’ll do.

I’m wasting way too much time on this. Back to the song…

I just noticed that those lovely bells at the start of the track are playing a proper tune: it’s the tune that England’s Big Ben plays every hour. Incidentally, that tune also pops up at the start of Cheap Trick’s “Clock Strikes Ten“. Getting back to “Ring A Ling” (focus, Peter, focus…), I like the Mrs Mills-ish tack piano solo (1:16-1:32). The bass vocalist is singing “dun, d-dun-dun, d-dun, d-dun-dun etc” very rapidly throughout the entire solo, and I was amazed he didn’t run out of breath. Wow, he has some stamina there. I liked Carlo’s vocal yelps (at 1:38 and 1:39) – they’re a lot of fun. (Plus I reckon that if there was anything in the recording that’d give away the date, it’d be those yelps – they’re very early-60’s.). All in all, I didn’t love “Ring A Ling”, but I did enjoy it. The most surprising thing I found about the track was the bass singing (all that “dun, d-dun-dun” stuff) – I was surprised at how loud it was compared to almost everything else on the record.

The Fascinators – “Chapel Bells” (1958)

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I liked this song much more than “Ring A Ling”. I don’t know why that would be so, because both songs adhere pretty closely to standard late-Fifties/early-Sixties song structures. Maybe “Chapel Bells’ feels more relaxed to me. No, that’s not it. Hmm. Maybe it’s the arpeggiated guitar part. Nope. I think it’s the lead vocal. I really like it. There’s a wonderful falsetto at 1:46. But just before that, when the music modulates (i.e., changes to a chord that isn’t in the song’s regular key), the ensemble singing is insecure, as if the singers are having trouble coping with the chord change. Come to think of it, the singing overall on this track isn’t completely secure. (Oh-oh: it’s nitpicking time.) The bass is a little wobbly with occasional pitch problems, and the lead singing is very, very (and I mean very) slightly flat throughout. To me, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not flat enough to be a major nuisance, but it’s constantly a shade ‘under the note’ – which is probably what gives his voice an overall plaintive, or melancholy, feeling. I don’t find any of this terribly bothersome, but the vocals derail in a major way towards the end of the song. They finish with a flourish (starting at 2:09), with the lead chappy singing “Chapel” on his own, followed by the other guys singing “Bells” all together as they finish with a couple of fancy a cappella, Barbershop-style vocal changes. Unfortunately, when they all sing “Bells” at 2:11 it’s horribly out of tune, and when they get to the last chord they’re in tune (phew!) but it’s out of tune with the band as the band plays the song’s last chord (no!). But as for the entire experience of listening to this song, I’ll sum it up thus: a) Nice Song; b) Dodgy Singing.

The Imaginations – “Guardian Angel” (1961)

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OK. Now we’re back to the up-tempo stuff. Before I get to dismantling this song as well, I’d like to mention something very trivial and coincidental (but to me, fascinating): the lead singer of The Imaginations is Frank Mancuso. A character in a book I just finished reading (again) last week is also called Mancuso. The book is A Confederacy Of Dunces, and one of the characters in it is Angelo Mancuso, a policeman who suffers quite a few (comedic) indignities in the course of the story. I’d never seen the name “Mancuso” before until I read the book. (There’s not a large Italian-American contingent in South Australia, as far as I’m aware.) Now that I’ve wasted three minutes of your time reading about that coincidence, let’s move on to the song. I think I prefer this to the previous song (“Chapel Bells”). It’s certainly boppier. And the singing’s much sturdier. However, I must say that the MP3 you supplied was created with a dreadfully low bitrate. The low bitrate has given the track low, low sound quality. It sounds as if there’s a very quick vibrato applied to everything – especially the vocals. The result for me is highly undesirable. The singers sound like they’re singing into an electric fan. (You know that sound? When the fan’s on and you put your face up close to it, and when you talk you sound like a Dalek? No? You’ve never talked into an electric fan?) Or they sound as if they’re singing in a car while the car’s driving very fast on a very bumpy road.

[The dreadful-sounding MP3 that Frank sent me]
The Imaginations – “Guardian Angel” (1961)

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Anyway, I like “Guardian Angel” a lot. As a non-Doo-Wop expert, it’s everything I hoped a Doo Wop song would be. And I adore the nonsense vocals (“Ba-da, ba-da, boom-tee-ay, tee-ay”). I’m extremely glad you chose this as one of your Doo Wop suggestions. Viva Doo Wop!

The Paradons – “Diamonds And Pearls” (1960)

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Ah, a Doo Wop Ballad. And I’m enjoying it. Although I found a couple of things a little disconcerting (the not-always-fabulous lead singing, the background vocal “whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop”s) overall the experience was a rather pleasant one. I’m starting to like this Doo Wop caper. There’s not really a lot I can say about this track without going into excruciatingly boring detail about the tiniest things – but I’ve already done plenty of that with some of the other tracks here, and I don’t want your mind to wander and drift off into “I wonder what’s for dinner?” mode.

The Quotations – “Imagination (1961)

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I was singing along to this in no time at all. Out of all the tracks I’ve heard here so far, this would have to be my second-favourite (after “Guardian Angel”). I really liked the Frankie Valli-style singing in the middle eight. Thanks to the wonderful, wonderful Internet, I found out that “Imagination” was originally a 1940 song by Jimmy Van Heusen. Splendid. (Jimmy Van Heusen being the song’s author would explain why I think the lyrics are fabulous. I mean, how could you not love a song that ryhmes “silly” with “willy-nilly”?) I’ve never heard the original (at least I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before), but I must say that I think it sounds fabulous as a Doo Wop song.

The Stereos – “I Really Love You (1961)

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Great song. Great band name. When it started I thought this was going to be a novelty song, but as it went on I marvelled at its complexity. There are some unique vocalisations in there (they’re organised so imaginatively that I’d call them “choreographed vocals”). I could go on and on about the marvellousness of it all, but that would make this section of my commentary way too long. And you have better things to do.

Trivia Time I: For the second time in this list of suggestions, here’s another name coincidence… “I Really Love You” was written by someone called Leroy Swearingen. The only other time I’ve seen the name “Swearingen” is on the TV Western Deadwood, a program that – yep, you guessed it – I’ve been watching recently. (The character on the show is called Al Swearengen with an “e” – but that’s close enough for me.)

Trivia Time II: George Harrison covered “I Really Love You”. George’s version sounds like this. (For a George Harrison recording, I find it a bit weird. I can hear a lot of background vocals in this version of “I Really Love You”, but I can’t hear George in it at all.)

The Videos – “Trickle Trickle” (1958)

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Another great band name. I like this song a lot. This is a nice, boppy Doo Wopper. (Does the phrase “Doo Wopper” exist?) It drives along quite cheerfully and propulsively. The more I listen to this, the more I like it. Update: I’ve listened to it five times, and I now officially love it. Given a few more spins, I dare say that I’ll end up wanting to marry it. (Note to self: you’re already married, Peter. To a human.)

Thanks, Frank, for the chance to hear all that Doo Wop. It opened my ears in a very pleasant and grateful way. And thanks, too, for almost a year’s worth of suggestions (‘five songs per week’ x ’47 weeks’ = 235 songs). Splendid!

Postscript: Because I’m an incurable optimist, I’m hoping Frank is going to send me five more songs next week. You never know…

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