Mike Gold writes for the News of Mill Creek on a regular basis. He is a retired entrepreneur and describes himself as a, “relatively recent transplant to the West Coast. I have lived (born and raised) in the Northeastern U.S. So these observations are based upon ‘living the dream’ in the Pacific Northwest.”
Okay, I’ll admit I am a child of the 60’s and the doo-wop era. What does that mean? Well, start with groups like Dion and the Belmonts and one of their classic hits.
I Wonder Why (Dion and the Belmonts). Most of you Westerners would not know that the group was named for Belmont Avenue in The Bronx. Furthermore, you probably don’t have at your fingertips that The Bronx (one of the 5 boroughs of New York City) is the only borough properly referred to as “The Bronx” and not simply Bronx. Even the New York Yankees are called The Bronx Bombers.
Doo-Wop came out of early rock and roll (if you really want to date yourself, recall Alan Freed – an early impresario of rock and roll shows, some of which were held in Harlem at the famous Apollo Theatre). Freed pre-dated Dick Clark (if that’s possible – as I always thought Clark’s first “rock” show involved dinosaurs and Barney Rubble).
Anyhow, the Northeast, especially New York City and surroundings and Philadelphia, gave birth to a tremendous number of early doo-wop rock and roll groups.
Included were the Penguins (Earth Angel), The Platters (too many hits to name), Frankie Lymon (Why do Fools Fall in Love), The Monotones (Book of Love), The Del-Vikings (Come Go With Me), The Tokens (this group’s manager was in my high school class – he lived across the street from me in Brooklyn) and their classic The Lion Sleeps Tonight (actually a folk song whose real name is The Wimoweh Song). Pete Seeger (who recorded this with his folk group The Weavers) also wrote If I Had A Hammer and Where Have all the Flowers Gone. Frankly, I prefer another Tokens hit: Tonight I Fell in Love. (by the way the original lead singer of the Tokens was Neil Sedaka). And don’t forget the “Jersey Boys” Franki Valle and the Four Seasons. They were from the Jersey side of the Hudson River (for those geographically challenged, this river separates New York City from New Jersey). Their hit “Walk Like a Man” is perhaps the best-known anthem to rock and roll there is, except one other song (below). You have to put the Broadway Show “Jersey Boys” on your bucket list.
This type of music was “gritty” (think of the scene in the original Rocky movie – where Rocky walks by a doo-wop group singing on the street corner in tough inner-city Philadelphia.) Thousands of kids created singing groups – and on many street corners at night you could hear them singing. One could argue that all the really great modern rock and roll came from these early groups.
Now when you (at least when I) think of West Coast rock and roll – I think of the Beach Boys (and Jan and Dean – Surf City). (Nirvana later). Their music is fundamentally different than the East Coast sound. Both feature superb multi-part harmony. To this day, the acapella groups (think Yale and their fabulous The Whiffenpoofs) owe a lot to these early rock and roll groups. The Beach Boys songs are about similar topics to East Coast. Boys looking for girls, problems with love, teen-age angst. But the East Coast oriented doo-wop were much more locally and inwardly focused songs. You can feel the city heat and cloistered neighborhoods in songs like Summer in the City (The Lovin’ Spoonful), or Under The Boardwalk (The Drifters). The West Coast songs are much more open and freewheeling. Doo-wop songs don’t make the greatest “road trip” mixes. But there is nothing better than China Road (The Doobie Brothers) to make you press down on the gas and hope the police aren’t watching. Also Fun Fun Fun by the Beach Boys.
Nivana: We all know about Seattle and the 10 months of “grunge.” Nirvana could only be a Seattle creation. And suicide is not a far reach for a group’s lead singer. Think about late winter/early spring, when all your smart friends are still in Palm Springs or Phoenix getting their melatonin ration. You, on the other hand, are stuck here in the drizzle. This also explains coffee shops getting started in the Pacific Northwest. Frankly, I don’t know how or why Starbucks is so successful in the sun drenched southeast or southwest of the U.S. It is certainly part of the modern lifestyle. Myself, I’d rather have a nice cup of tea at home than pay $5 to stand in line for a hot coffee. And they do make it difficult to get “free” Wi-Fi. Other coffee shops make it much easier. Nirvana reminds me of an early girlfriend – who was so negative that after a date, I had to take a B-12 injection.
Now, I mentioned above that Walk Like a Man is the second greatest anthem to rock and roll. You all know which song is the greatest. Yes, our very own Tacoma based The Kingsmen and Louie Louie. (It is, in fact, my cell phone ring tone). The only rock and roll song investigated by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI because they thought it was subversive. After a year investigation the FBI concluded: “we can’t understand the lyrics either.”