Tag Archives: Doo-Wop

The First Man of Motown – Marv Johnson

25 Apr

Marv Johnson

Here is a good trivia question. What was the first song ever released by the Motown/Tamla label (In 1960, the Motown and Tamla Records merged into Motown Record Corporation)? Miracles, Supremes, Vandellas, Four Tops, Temptations? Nope. Try Marv Johnson, the singer and co-writer of “Come To Me,” which, after it was released in 1959, would go on to reach number 30 on the Billboard Top 100 and number six on the national R&B chart. Since Motown was a fledgling label, Berry Gordy, the founder and king of “The Motown Sound,” sold the rights of this incipient piece to United Artists.

Berry Gordy first met Johnson at a carnival in Michigan. Johnson was performing with a doo-wop group called the Serenaders, and Gordy, a tremendous evaluator of vocal talent, implored Johnson to join his label. “Come To Me” was recorded in February of 1959 at United Sound Studios in Detroit. Johnson recorded with future Funk Brothers bassist James Jamerson and drummer Benny Benjamin. Take a listen to the song:

And, as they say, the rest is history. For good reason, Motown burgeoned like a pandemic. But, for a second, let’s imagine we are back in 1959 and listening to Marv Johnson performing this new song “Come to Me.” The song shares similar doo-wop qualities with the popular music of the time, but, the instrumentation and arrangement is different. It’s, dare I say, modern. More than 50 years later, it is easy to say that such characteristics helped spring Gordy, Smokey, and the talented folk at Motown to the cockaigne of music.

On Saturday, I will venture into NYC to see Motown: The Musical. If you have seen it, let me know what you thought of it. All I know, is that there will be the great music of Motown, and that is all I need.

Life Could Be a Dream – One-Hit Wonders

5 Mar

The Chords

“Hey Nonny Ding-Dong Alang Alang Alang, Oh, Wo-Wo Bip, a Doh, a Bip, a Bip”

– Genius Gibberish by The Chords

It doesn’t take much to make teenage girls swoon, but “Sh-Boom” (or “Life Could Be a Dream”) by The Chords made everyone swoon when it was released by a sextet of youngsters in 1954. The Chords, though, would only have one hit – “Sh-Boom.” This doo-wop masterpiece represents one of the first one-hit wonders in modern rock n’ roll history, and, despite all of the wonderful one-hit wonders released since it graced the charts, “Sh-Boom” is still one of the best.

The Chords formed in Bronx, NY, and were signed in 1954 after they were heard performing in the Subway. The band brought “Sh-Boom” with them to Atlantic Records’ Cat Records label. Jerry Wexler, who coined the phrase rhythm & blues and would later become a major record producer, was in his second year as a partner with Atlantic Records and proceeded over the recordings. While Wexler initially had the band perform a cover of a Patti Page song, the Chords’ original was too intriguing to pass up (it was put on the B-Side of the incipient record).

Now, if you are thinking that you have never ever heard of this song, just take a listen.

You recognize it now, right? That is how ubiquitous the song is. Even almost 60 years after its release, the song is still noticeable. Why? It is so damn catchy. It is still used in media today. The song’s light-hearted, bubbly harmonies match the jocular lyric. It is warm-hearted song. The gibberish, like I said above, is genius. The song reached #2 on the Billboard R&B charts and #9 on the Pop charts.

“Sh-Boom,” inevitably, was covered for Mercury Records by a doo-wop group named The Crew Cuts who put a more traditional/organized spin on the song. The song reached #1 on the Billboard charts in for nine weeks during August and September 1954.

%d bloggers like this: