Doo-wop is a style of vocal-based rhythm and blues music popular in the mid-1950s to the early 1960s in America. The term was coined by a DJ, Gus Gossert, in the 1970s referring to (mostly) white Rock & Roll groups of the late 50s and early 60s. It became the fashion in the 1990s to keep expanding the definition backward to take in Rhythm & Blues groups from the mid-1950s and then further back to include groups from the early 1950s and even the 1940s. There is absolutely no consensus of opinion as to what constitutes a Doo-Wop song, and many, many aficionados of R&B music dislike the term intensely.
The style was at first characterized by upbeat harmony vocals that used nonsense syllables from which the name of the style is derived. The name was later extended to group harmony ballads. Examples of doo-wop can be found in the music of The Clovers, The Ravens, and The Larks. Debate continues to rage among aficionados about the start of true doo-wop - the term seems to mean all things to all fans - but while the alternating lead voices of The Ink Spots and the scat singing of the Mills Brothers undoubtedly had an influence on the form, the crucial absence of gospel inflection in the singing style of either group means that they predate the genre. The Orioles, featuring the tremulous lead of Sonny Til, and the Ravens, blessed with the fathoms-deep voice of Jimmy Ricks, are more recognisably part of the style: Ricks' intro to "Count Every Star" (1950), as though imitating the plucking of a double bass, created a template for later groups.
1951 was perhaps the year doo-wop broke into the mainstream in a consistent manner. Hit songs included "My Reverie" by The Larks, "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" by The Mello-Moods, "Glory of Love" by The Five Keys, "Shouldn't I Know" by The Cardinals and "It Ain't the Meat" by The Swallows.
By 1953, doo wop was extremely popular, and disc jockey Alan Freed began introducing black groups' music to his white audiences, with great success. Groups included The Spaniels, The Moonglows and The Flamingos, whose "Golden Teardrops" is a classic of the genre. Other groups, like The Castelles and The Penguins, innovated new styles, most famously uptempo doo wop, established by The Crows 1953 "Gee" and Cleftones' 1956 "Little Girl of Mine. That same year, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers became a teen pop sensation with songs like "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?". Some consider a 1956 hit by The Five Satins, "In the Still of the Night," to be the quintessential doo-wop record.
Doo-wop remained popular until the British Invasion in the early to mid 1960s. Dion & the Belmonts' "I Wonder Why" (1958) was a major hit that is sometimes regarded as the anthem for doo wop, while The Five Discs added a wide range of sounds and pitched vocals.
1961 may be the peak of doo-wop, with hits that include The Marcels', an interracial group, "Blue Moon". There was a revival of the nonsense-syllable form of doo-wop in the early 1960s, with popular records by The Marcels, The Rivingtons, and Vito & the Salutations. A few years later, the genre had reached the self-referential stage, with songs about the singers ("Mr. Bass Man") and the songwriters ("Who Put the Bomp?")
The genre has seen mild surges throughout the years, with many radio shows dedicated to doo-wop. It has its roots in 1930s and 40s music, like songs by the Ink Spots and Mills Brothers. Its main artists are concentrated in urban areas (New York Metro Area, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles etc), with a few exceptions. Revival shows on TV, and boxed CD sets, have kept interest in the music. Groups have done remakes of doo-wops with great success over the years.
It has been noted that doo-wop groups tend to be named after birds. These include The Ravens, The Cardinals, The Crows, The Wrens, The Robins, The Swallows, The Larks, The Flamingoes, The Penguins and The Feathers.
See also Scat singing, Vocalese
- Download sample of The Ink Spots' "If I Didn’t Care", the first hit for The Ink Spots, a major influence on doo wop groups
- Download sample of The Flamingos' "Nobody Loves Me Like You" (composed by Sam Cooke) from Respectfully Yours, a popular doo wop song, although you are advised to seek out the ethereal Golden Teardrops to hear them at their peak.