The Doo Wop Sound

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The Chords

A form of R&B based harmony vocalizing using phonetic or nonsense syllables (like a repeated  "doo-wop") for rhythm and intricate harmonic arrangements
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The Evolution of Doo Wop

  • 1948 - 1951 Vocal groups were jazz or rhythm and blues oriented. Nonsense syllables and falsetto were used. Adult themes

  • 1952  The birth of the vocal arrangement and over all feel of rhythm and blues. Blow harmonies and nonsense syllables, use of falsetto to run over tenor leads. suggestive in up tempo innocent love.

  • 1954  Influenced by existing groups. Harmonies are tight and sweet, lead singers not as smooth. Leads alternate between tenor and "falsetto" run above in song ballads and trail off in jump tunes. Bass is given more voice then just background harmony. Nonsense syllables in most songs, but subdued in ballads. Themes are young and of young love.  Suggestive lyrics are rare.

Characteristics of  Doo Wop

  • Vocal Group Harmony

  • Wide Range of Voices (lead, first tenor (falsetto), second tenor, baritone bass.

  • Nonsense Syllables

  • Simple Beat and Light Instrumentation

  • Simple Music and Lyrics

1954 was a year of transition of the vocal sound, from the adult oriented rhythm and blues to  "amateurish" street corner  doo wop.

Doo Wop was an urban North sound that has been romanticized as having been born on the street corner. The truth is that these teenagers first musical experiences were in the home and\or black church Most of the these groups began during high school and were of bonding experience. The members were typical teenagers, socially awkward and shy, trying to impress the girls. They formed groups consisting of  4-6 individuals where each knew their role and part within the group

Like teenagers they were carefree, into what made them happy at the moment and often irresponsible. Knowing very little about the world around them and the groups were easily led and ended up making these mistakes:

  • They overly trusted their contacts to the record company.
  • Believed  labels owner that told them his name would be listed as the composer because it would be more recognizable to the deejays. This caused the lost of mechanical royalties.
  • Agreed to be paid by session rather then by number of records.
  • Money would come from tours. The fact was they were paid very little.
  • signed contracts that allowed record companies to pay studio and promotional costs out of  artists royalties.
  • Gave the companies rights to the original songs.
  • Split 50\50 with their managers
  • Did big rock shows for free.
  • Groups often paid to be on big TV shows

Later this practice would be stopped and the acts received per union scale. Many times they were required to give the check back before the performance and one the one received after was much smaller. Little Joey and the Flips, recounted how this had happened  to them 1958 and 1962 when they appeared on "American Bandstand"

It is ironic that the little companies, that had much to gain by their success, were the villains. Many of these groups would have survived  if they hadn't been cheated of mechanical and performance rights.

Doo Wop Jukebox

Doo Wop Nation
The Doo Wop  Cafe
The Doo Wop Society
Vocal Harmony Lives
Where did the name Doo Wop come from?
Doo Wop: Definition of a genre

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