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Oldies Music Glossary: "Doo Wop"


Definition: Surprisingly few pop music genres attempt to define themselves through onomatopoeia, but doo-wop is one of them: you can always recognize a doo-wop song by the rhythmic notes laid down by the bass singer, or (often) the whole backing group at once. This was born out of necessity, since the genre is a homespun offshoot of postwar vocal group music, an a capella bit of harmonizing developed on street corners, largely in New York City, and therefore expected to carry melody, rhythm, and harmony all at once.

This also means, ironically, for a style of music often associated with the romantic ballad, most music considered doo-wop in the strictest sense tends to be uptempo. The more romantic ballads grew mostly from the postwar pop tradition, resulting in some pop vocal groups, like the Platters, who get lumped in with doo-wop even though they have little to do with the style.

The typical doo-wop song features four or five-part harmony, singing a rhythmic pattern anchored in a vocal bass line, with a high tenor lead vocal on top. The subject matter is almost always love, its tragedy, and glory (although, having grown out of the postwar pop scene, the overall view of romance is optimistic and filled with wonder); some uptempo songs, however, can deal blackcomic "shaggy-dog" stories or unusual situations of the kind usually found in novelty songs. Nonsense phrases that hold down the rhythm are commonplace, and though the genre developed without instruments, recorded doo-wop songs are always backed by a basic band (and, sometimes, more elaborate pop arrangements). Like most Fifties rock styles, doo-wop was preserved in amber when the British Invasion arrived, but that also means it remains, intact, as an historic style with a massive cult following. The genre's innovations would largely be folded into the vocal group styles of the '60s and '70s.

Also Known As: Vocal group, Fifties R&B
  1. "Come Go With Me," The Del-Vikings
  2. "Sh-Boom," The Chords
  3. "Speedoo," The Cadillacs
  4. "Get A Job," The Silhouettes
  5. "Book Of Love," The Monotones
  6. "Blue Moon," The Marcels
  7. "In The Still Of The Nite," The Five Satins
  8. "At My Front Door (Crazy Little Mama)," The El Dorados
  9. "Sincerely," The Moonglows
  10. "Little Darlin'," The Diamonds
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