As a term used to cover the wide array of approaches by vocal harmony groups, doo wop tends to be an over-reaching umbrella that obscures the harder edges common to many of the black vocal groups that emerged in the early '50s, most of which drew on a mix of jump blues, R&B, gospel, and jazz sources to craft material that featured gorgeous harmonies, of course, but also featured a gritty base that was still very much in touch with the blues. Rock & roll, when it emerged toward the end of the decade, would bounce doo wop into the realm of puppy love, but the tracks by the black vocal groups collected here aren't talking about crushes and prom dates, and the rhythms still have some grind to them. Of the 28 sides here, 12 went to the top of the pop charts, and another ten went Top Three, so we're not talking about some grand hidden history, but later doo wop groups sacrificed the bluesy elements inherent in the form for a kind of encompassing sweetness that rounded off all of the rough edges, and that, in the public view, became the definition of doo wop. There are plenty of rough edges still on display on Chart Toppin' Doo Woppin', Vol. 1, though, and the approach of applying sweetness to roughness is a hard mix to beat in sides like the "5" Royales' "Baby, Don't Do It" or the Larks' blues-inflected "Eyesight to the Blind." The Orioles' "Crying in the Chapel" exhibits a kind of resignation that is missing from later versions of the song, while the Coleman Brothers' take on "Goodnight Irene" gives it some emotional balance, replacing its hopelessness with a wink and a grin undercurrent that adds an extra dimension to the song. The first volume of a planned two-part set covering black doo wop groups, this generous compilation is a fine beginning, and the mix of roughness and sweetness on display here is darn near perfect.
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