Various Artists

A Whiter Shade of Doowop

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It might come as a revelation to a lot of people at this late date, but before the release of "I Wonder Why" by Dion & the Belmonts in the spring of 1958, white doo wop recordings were considered little more than a poor relation to their black cousins, at least by purists. That's all true, as presented by Dave Marosoli in his excellent notes to this collection, though the distinction seems little more than academic a half century on. Still, that doesn't diminish the instrinsic value of this enjoyable 25-song compilation, skimming what the producers purport to be the best examples of white doo wop from the Roulette, Gone, End, Gee, Colpix, and Josie labels. The material varies widely, however, from familiar fare such as the Regents' version of "Barbara Ann" to genuine obscurities by the Four Seasons, and the exquisite vocalizing of the del Satins to the silliness of "Little Eva" by the Locomotions, a novelty record that's more of a curiosity than anything else. Some of these acts sound so realistically "black" -- especially the Del Satins -- that they can make even listeners in the 21st century do double takes; others offer more of a hybrid sound, and among the rarities in the latter category featured here are "Bermuda" and "Spanish Lace," a pair of tracks cut by the Four Seasons (in their debut under that name) for Gone Records in 1961; the B-side, in particular, offers the patented Frankie Valli falsetto in all of its glory and is only lacking the influence of producer Bob Crewe to slot in seamlessly with their classic material. Even the well-known tracks are balanced out by worthwhile obscurities, so that, in the case of the Regents, "Barbara Ann" is followed by a previously unissued cut of "Over the Rainbow" and the frantic, deightfully goofy "Runaround." And for some of the acts featured, this CD is their only moment of enduring glory -- the Long Island-based Chaperones (who sounded a lot like the Elegants) performed all over the New York area, but not one of their singles on the Josie label ever made an impact much beyond their own immediate neighborhood; this is a chance to take in their smoothly beguiling "Shining Star," among other tracks. It's is all finely crafted, although some of what is here veers very close to the pop music of the period -- the Skyliners, out of Pittsburgh, manage to straddle the line on "I'll Close My Eyes" and "The Door Is Still Open," and nearly fall over on the pop side. Neil Sedaka's fans and devotees of the Tokens may also want to make special note of this CD for its inclusion of four fine sides by Darrell & the Oxfords, an offshoot of the original Tokens formed by Hank Medress and Sedaka in 1956, after the latter's departure from the fold, and prior to Medress' forming the more familiar Tokens. The sound is excellent throughout, and the disc is one of the more enjoyable and enlightening in its field, for the neophyte or the serious listener.

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