Doo Wop Music And Its Origins
The origins of doo wop music, the trademark sound of the 1950s era, which is characteristized by it's "nonsensical" lyrics.
When people think of “doo-wop” music, they usually think of poodle skirts, saddle shoes, bobby socks, argyle, sock hops, and all of the other things that are so characteristic of the 1950’s era.
Although its roots can be traced all the way back to the 1940’s, the early 1950’s signaled the real beginning of Doo-Wop music, which was born out of the jazz and rhythm and blues music styles. Doo-Wop began with friends gathering on street corners, on their back porches, or just about anywhere, and making up songs. Doo-wop first began in the inner cities, most notably Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Doo-wop got its name for its characteristically "nonsensical" lyrics. It is filled with lines like "doo-be-doo-be", "sh-boom, sh-boom", “do-be-do-be-do”, etc., which are most often sung by the baritone singer. Mostly these nonsensical lyrics were used as background while somebody sang the lead on top. The nonsensical lyrics replaced musical instruments, as doo-wop was most often done acapella. The nonsensical lyrics were an imitation of the instruments that normally played the background for the singer, most notably the double bass.
The key word to doo-wop music is “harmony”. Instead of one singer with musicians to back them up, doo-wop relied solely on the singers themselves to create all the harmonies. While later doo-wop was sometimes done with instruments, the instrumentation was very minimal, and voiced harmonies still remained the main aspect of doo-wop music.
There are, of course, many characteristics of doo-wop music, and one of them is the unique range of voices. The typical range of voices in a doo-wop group are the lead singer, the falsetto/first tenor, second tenor, and a baritone singer. While falsetto was normally done as background, one group, the 4 Seasons, capitalized on their lead singer, Frankie Valli’s, amazing 3 and a half octave vocal range, making falsetto the lead voice. Another characteristic of doo-wop music is that it is usually very simple and easy to sing along to, which is one of the main factors of its success. People enjoyed it because they could participate in it, and recreate it themselves.
Some of the first doo-wop groups were the Ravens and the Orioles in the early 1950’s. By 1954, doo-wop was the main music style of the time. Typical examples of doo-wop are songs like “Blue Moon”, “Sh-boom (Life Could Be a Dream)” or “I Wonder Why”, which is often considered to be the National Anthem of the doo-wop music style.
From the year 1954 til around 1964, doo-wop ruled the radio waves. Doo-wop was nearly wiped out by the British invasion of the mid-sixties, when the Beatles and other British Groups came onto the music scene. Several groups did still continue to record doo-wop style music though, most notably the 4 Seasons, who are known as the “fifties doo-wop group of the sixties”. Neil Sedaka also continued to record doo-wop hits, such as “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” and “Next Door to an Angel”. The seventies musical group “Sha-na-na” is also a doo-wop revival group.
Doo-wop is still a favorite music style among many people, and many vocal groups of the nineties covered famous doo-wop songs. Most notably there was the musical group from Philadelphia, Boys II Men, with their version of “In the Still of the Night”.