By Bruce Sylvester
Atlantic Vocal Groups (1951-1963)
Rhino Handmade (RHM 2 07738) (Four CDs)
Atlantic may be the most successful label for doo-wop and its outgrowths. Part of an amply illustrated, limited-edition, three-box series marking the company’s 60th anniversary, "Atlantic Vocal Groups" is organized thematically with discs titled “Jumpin’ & Bluesy,” “Slow & Dreamy,” “The Rock ’n’ Roll Era” and “Group Revival.” Specific acts’ songs are somewhat clustered so we have both cohesion and variety.
An interesting assemblage, it provides both hits and B-sides from The Clovers and The Drifters (with and without Clyde McPhatter), plus worthy – or at least curious – material from forgotten acts (The Ospreys, The Glowtones). For oddities, there’s The Coasters’ “Brazil” instead of their songs that wind up on so many other compilation albums. The Top Notes try to sound like Ray Charles in a 1961 revamping of “Hearts Of Stone.”
The endless interchange between black singers and white popsters is obvious. The Cardinals’ exquisitely enunciated “The Door Is Still Open” was later redone by Ruth Brown and Dean Martin. The box’s thorough notes point out that The Chords’ 1954 “Cross Over The Bridge” covered a Patti Page hit on Mercury. Then, when its B-side, the jazz-scat-like “Sh-Boom,” became a surprise crossover hit, Mercury had The Crew Cuts put out a competing white version. In 1960, The Chords (by then renamed The Sh-Booms) cloned “Sh-Boom”’s vocal arrangement on “Blue Moon” from The Great American Songbook.
The notes also tell us that young Atlantic hesitated to record vocal groups – too many egos to deal with, too many singers to go off-pitch. Fortunately, The Clovers’ sales proved the merits of doo-wop discs.
Rhino’s numerous other doo-wop and R&B reissues include a series of four-CD packages logically titled "The Doo-Wop Box." The first "Doo-Wop Box"proves its mettle by providing The Jewels’ rough-edged, rarely heard 1954 original of “Hearts Of Stone.”