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VOLUME 2 ******************************
Editorial and Audience Reviews
Taped during a 1999 tribute in Pittsburgh, this straightforward, live review honors rock 'n' roll's '50s and early '60s legacy of vocal groups. For oldies fans hoping to bask in nostalgia, the caliber of the hits and the inclusion of most of the groups originally associated with the recorded hits make Doo Wop at 50 a satisfying stroll down memory lane. In light of the focal importance of the songs, rather than the singers, for the majority of listeners the program's choice of material will be sufficient reason to watch, as underscored by the success of PBS's broadcast of the complete concert.
Veteran soul stylist Jerry Butler, who hosts the show, is himself a legitimate bridge between the street corner symphonies of the '50s and the more sophisticated urban pop and soul that succeeded them. Butler shepherds a lineup including current editions of the Platters, the Del-Vikings, Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners, the Penguins, the Cadillacs, the Moonglows, the Flamingos, and other fondly remembered groups. A competent if not exactly inspired revue band accompanies all the acts, taped performing on a set decorated with oversized portraits of '50s icons like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, with a few vintage hot rods parked alongside to hammer home the nostalgic thrust of the night.
More impassioned doo-wop fans and rock historians, however, will be a tougher sell. If the groups indeed carry the names associated with the hits, many feature reconstituted lineups with few of the members actually heard on the original singles, a practice that can be traced back to the '60s (as with the Platters). Alternatively, more authentic lineups, like The Marcels (heard performing their galloping version of "Blue Moon" for the first time in decades), reflect their advancing years in rough vocal edges or arrangements transposed to lower keys. Given the show's inspiration (Rhino's exemplary Doo Wop Box anthologies, which unearthed both big hits and forgotten gems and placed the music and performers in a rich historical context), it would have been intriguing to provide some documentary context. --Sam Sutherland
Listen With Your Heart,
April 21, 2002
Some of the voices on the tape have, of course, faded. More remarkable are the ones that have not. On this score, Johnny Maestro stands out. He delivers an impressive - nay amazing performance. Jerry Butler also delivered - but mostly as a master of ceremonies. His singing was on-key, but let's face it, he could never keep the beat very well. The Del Vikings sound just like they always did, even though they are not all there anymore. The Cleftones were wonderfully entertaining, and seemed to be having a good deal of fun. The Moonglows were excellent, even though the televised arrangements both had Harvey Fuqua as lead singer. Harvey is great as a songwriter and as a manager, but he is far from the group's strongest voice. Fuqua came through, though, and the group's signature blow harmony was intact.
There are some special moments, like a gracious speech given by Herbie Cox, the lead singer of the Cleftones, thanking the producers and expressing respect for the groups with which the Cleftones appeared. The reunion of the Chantels with their former lead singer, Arlene Smith, was moving (if perhaps a trifle overdone). This was also one of the very last appearances for the Flamingos before Jake Carey passed on, and even though they only hinted at their former celestial harmonies, the hint was the more precious as a last glimpse.
Speedo of the Cadillacs doing his steps and strut was also memorable - particularly for yours truly. Ya see, I came to Pittsburgh in 1989 to go to graduate school. My choice of cities was made, in part, because of the city's Doo Wop tradition. Years later, I watched this tape, and there, as Speedo strutted through the audience, was my old adviser - who was standing up, grinning from ear to ear, and clapping in time to the music. It's a side of him I never saw before, and now I have it on tape! (He'll never live it down!)
Less memorable were Lee Andrews, and also The Capris. Jimmy Gallagher, who really can still sing, was painfully off-key that particular night. Earl Lewis and the Channels could easily have been a high point, but Lewis was evidently more interested in showing off than he was in contributing to the collective effort. The tape transcends these things, though, and the lower points have the ironic effect of making the good stuff seem even better.
To anyone who remembers the racial tension of the 50's/60's, and the controversy about black music and white covers, it is gratifying to see black and white performers on the same stage and even in the same groups. The Del Vikings, a group out of the Air Force, were always this way. (Johnny Maestro's original group, The Crests, were too.) One of the new reorganized groups consisted of members from Vito and the Salutations, The Impalas, and The Teenagers. The equally mixed audience, now allowed to listen to music simultaneously in the same theater, approved. Everybody is finally on good terms. There! That wasn't so hard, was it?
One last note: A number of reviewers, here and elsewhere, commented on the quality of the unnamed group who backed up Jerry Butler and Gene Chandler. They are fine indeed. Some of their members were also playing in the orchestra, and if they are credited anywhere, I haven't been able to find the place. Even Jerry Butler didn't know their name, and he was on stage with them. They are from a larger local Pittsburgh group named, PURE GOLD, and if you are ever out this way, they will probably be playing somewhere. They put on quite a show. Wish I could name the graying Sax player in the tux. He looked like he should be playing classical music, but his rock 'n roll wailing was... perfect.
Taken for what it is, the tape is also perfect. Mostly it's
a bunch of old guys (and some old ladies) trying to sing. If you
listen to them with your ears, you will find points to criticize.
If you have a heart for this music, though, you will listen with
that. It's the very best way to appreciate this tape. I give it all
A must-have for music lovers
December 2, 2003
Not only is the music still pure and simple, but the class and sophistication used to tell the tales of love lost and found makes hearing it just that much better.
Many of the groups featured on this DVD actually sound more mature and better than when they originally recorded. On the other hand, it brings a tear to your heart to hear Jimmy Beaumont struggle to pour his soul into "Since I Don't Have You."
I'm not a DVD fanatic--far from it, but I bought this one simply to hear and see many of my favorite groups perform one last time. Many of these groups will never be seen again, and it's too bad that they weren't given the forum to perform extended sets. Still, where else will you see (and hear) the Spaniels sing "Stormy Weather", the Jive Five with Earl Pitts sing "What Time Is It?", or the Marcels sing "Blue Moon"?
You don't need the DVD to hear the music--God knows you can drop into any discount store and find a compliation of most of this music; but it's worth the few extra bucks to see the creased pants, the shining shoes, the hand gestures, and the appreciation these groups have for people that love their music.
It's not grunge---it's not hip hop or country rock. It was a period of time that many can only appreciate because they've been there. Sit back and take bite out of that sundae and savor how good it is...one more time.
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