recorded October 1957, Philadelphia, PA
Originally conceived by the songwriter as "Do The Bop," no less an authority than Dick Clark convinced Danny and the Juniors to rename this song to take advantage of the record/sock hop craze (after all, Danny and the Juvenairs -- as they were known before their manager got to them -- were discovered at a hop). Modeled as a sort of doo-wop take on Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," this went on to define an era where you could calypso and chicken.
recorded November 1961, New York, NY
Already dated when it was cut, perhaps, but time smooths out those edges in our memory, anyway, and Chandler's whole rep is based on this late-period doo-wop classic. The Dukays, Gene's group, turned their vocal "doo doo doo"s into "Duke"s, and Dukay Earl Edwards provided the finishing touch to the name. The result is a pledge of fidelity only matched in its era by Ben E. King's "Stand By Me."
recorded 15 February 1961, New York, NY
Laid down in the last ten minutes of a recording session and done in one unbelievable take, this came about because the Marcel's producer wanted the group to combine the intro of one song, the Collegians' "Zoom Zoom Zoom," with the Rodgers-Hart standard "Heart And Soul." One problem: the band didn't know that song. But they did know another standard by the same team. The rest, as they say, is history. Murray the K made this one a smash, playing the acetate over and over before it was even turned into a record!
recorded 21 July 1961, New York, NY
One of the stranger anomalies in rock history, "Lion" began life as a spontaneous recorded outburst by a Zulu tribesman, morphed into a misinterpreted folk smash, found its way to a Noo Yawk doo-wop group, and eventually wound up in the hands of the Sam Cooke producing duo known as Hugo and Luigi, who added tympani, silly woodwinds, and an opera singer. You have to hear it to believe it. But you already have.
recorded October 1957, New York, NY
Staten Island made its most enduring contribution to New York Italian-American doo-wop with these five teens, who adapted the words if not the actual melody of Mozart's "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" (itself an adaptation) to create one of the era's most breathlessly beautiful odes. Recast as a romantic idyll, it shot up the charts, but the Elegants, like many of their brethren, never found success again.
recorded July 1960, New York, NY
Written way back in '53 by the composer of "Little Darlin'," this was one of the finer entries in doo-wop's latter-day Golden Era; if it sounds flat, that's because the producer wanted the vocals sung just that way so that Joe Average could hum it on the street. And that's just what happened. Matters may have been helped by the abbreviated length (1:36), as this remains the shortest ever Number One record.
recorded February 1957, Chicago, IL
When is a parody not a parody? This white quartet (Canadians, no less!) takes a lot of heat to this day for covering the (black) Gladiolas' original and then inserting a silly spoken-word bridge. But if it's just a joke, then why is it such an improvement, right down to those immortal opening castanets? Writer Maurice Williams went on to front the Zodiacs ("Stay") and the Diamonds went on to "The Stroll.
recorded 12 August 1958, New York, NY
A real crowd favorite, this sweet little number -- originally titled "21 Candles" but quickly changed once the teenage market started booming -- retained its popularity long enough to inspire a Eighties teen sex comedy. The Crests never had another big hit after this ode to the coming-of-age milestone, but leader Johnny Maestro went on to success with the Brooklyn Bridge ("Worst That Could Happen"), while writer Luther Dixon went on to pen hits for the Shirelles.
recorded 6 March 1959, New York, NY
One of the strangest and yet most breathtaking productions in rock history, this number -- another important soul milestone, but more urbane and filled with Latin inflections and off-tune tympani -- caused Atlantic's Jerry Wexler to threaten to throw the master out the window. There's no denying the dizzying romantic swell of the orchestration, however, which would guide singer Ben E. King through his own solo career.
recorded November 1956, Pittsburgh, PA
Another example of a hit that shouldn't have been; this integrated group of Air Force buddies recorded this classic, written by their bass vocalist, as the b-side. One of the rare doo-wop records from this era that incorporates the feel of a real rock and roll band, it led to two more hits -- rather, two more hits for members using the group name. (It's complicated.)