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The Kingston Trio – Tom Dooley

The Kingston Trio – Tom Dooley

3:03

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In 1957 the Kingston Trio emerged from San Francisco's North Beach club scene to reignite the American folk music movement and bring it successfully into the popular mainstream. Bob Shane, Nick Reynold, and Dave Guard were young musicians just out of college and were thus not burdened with the left-wing political associations that created problems with older folk singers. In the 1930s labor unions, aid societies, and populist movements embraced folk music to publicize the plight of farmers displaced by the Dust Bowl, the iniquities suffered by southern blacks, and the despair of millions of Americans. Folk musicians were generally supportive and often performed for social organizations. When Senator Joseph McCarthy convened the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1954, folk singers were among the groups accused of being communists or having communist sympathies; many were listed in the infamous "Red Channels," a pamphlet of suspected communist entertainers. Though none were charged with a crime (save for Pete Seeger, who was charged with contempt because he refused to testify), folk music, which was just beginning to enjoy popular success, was stopped dead in its tracks. The Kingston Trio avoided political statements, favoring instead old ballads that they infused with pop music levity; they also carefully crafted a professional image, taking lessons in singing and professional comportment and choosing a name that would capitalize on the current fad for calypso music. Additionally, their sound was timely; it was fresh and spontaneous, and provided an alterative to rock and roll and slick pop hits. The group had a number of hit records, but they faded from the charts as topical singers like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan emerged to address the social issues of the early 1960s.

Even though "Tom Dooley" is credited to "Frank Warner, John Lomax, and Alan Lomax," none of them wrote either the lyrics or the melody. The song was a traditional ballad about the 1866 murder of Laura Foster by her ex-lover Tom Dula and his new lover Annie Melton. Song collector Frank Warner learned it from farmer Frank Proffitt, and later recorded it. He gave Alan Lomax permission to transcribe his version for an upcoming book, Folk Music U.S.A., which credited Frank Proffitt as the arranger and original source. When the Kingston Trio recorded the song their record company listed the song as "traditional" and credited the arrangement to the trio. Alan Lomax sued; the book, he argued, gave him, Warner, and Proffitt a valid copyright on the song. The courts decided in their favor, as the Kingston Trio had clearly learned the song from Frank Warner's record.

Also see: Traditional Hawaiian music, Harry Belafonte, the Weavers, the Almanac Singers

Must Haves:
  • "Sloop John B."
  • "Hard, Ain't It Hard"
  • "Three Jolly Coachmen"
  • "Lei Pakalana"
Performers Influenced By This Artist:
  • The Smothers Brothers
  • the Limeliters
  • Peter, Paul and Mary
  • the New Christy Minstrels
  • the Folksmen (actors Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean)

The Coasters – Down in Mexico

The Coasters – Down in Mexico

3:17

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The Coasters, also known as "The Clown Princes of Rock and Roll" and "Those Hoodlum Friends," were not the first successful doo-wop group, but more than any other they helped bring vocal harmonization into the mainstream. The Coasters began their existence as an a capella sextet called the Robins (1949-1955). They were "discovered" while performing at the Barrelhouse Club in Watts, a night spot owned by R&B bandleader Johnny Otis. Otis—who was of Greek descent but culturally identified himself as African American—established himself with the hit song "Harlem Nocturne" and used his fame to provide exposure to up-and-coming artists. He made the Ravens a featured act in his touring Johnny Otis Rhythm and Blues Caravan; in the studio they provided vocal backing for Little Esther Phillips and other Otis-affiliated acts. As a collective the Caravan recorded several R&B hits, including "Double Crossing Blues" (later recorded by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers) and "Mistrustin' Blues."

After racking up several Top Ten hits the songwriting and production team Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller decided to found their own label, Spark. They developed several song ideas for a crack doo-wop type group; they immediately thought of the Robins. Though the whole group was not interested, Bobby Nunn and Carl Gardener decided to throw in with Lieber and Stoller. They were paired with two hand-picked musicians, Billy Guy and Leon Hughes, and formed the Coasters in 1955. Over the next three years the group made several Top Ten records; the group was known for witty, well-crafted songs that were nonetheless skillfully executed and drenched in the blues. The Coasters fractured again when Lieber and Stoller proposed a move to New York. Guy and Gardener remained The Coasters (Gardener copyrighted the name after their first hit, assuring that he would maintain control over its use), while Nunn and Hughes remained in Los Angeles and formed the Coasters Mach II. The "classic" Coasters continued to make doo-wop novelty hits into the early 1960s and became the first vocal group inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Also see: The Platters, the Clovers, the Treniers, the Orioles

Must Haves:
  • "Poison Ivy"
  • "Yakety Yak"
  • "Charlie Brown"
  • "Young Blood"
Performers Influenced By This Artist:
  • A number of one or two hit wonders, including the Edsels (Rama-Lama-Ding-Dong), the Rivingtons (The Bird Is the Word), the Pentagons (To Be Loved)
  • Little Anthony and the Imperials
  • the Hollies
  • Southside Johnny and the Amboy Dukes

The Ronettes – Be My Baby

The Ronettes – Be My Baby

2:40

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Ronnie Bennett, her sister Estelle, and their cousin Nedra Talley grew up in New York City and started singing together as children. Ronnie and Estelle's grandmother not only encouraged their career but actively cultivated it; she used to shut the three girls in a room for long periods of time and encourage them to harmonize. When they were teenagers the girls entered a talent contest at the Apollo and won. After that they acquired a manager and started singing at hops and charity shows, but their real break came when the three underage girls tried to get into the fashionable Joey Dee's Peppermint Lounge. To make themselves look older they dressed in tight skirts and heels and high, teased hairdos; they looked so glamorous that the manager assumed they were the singing trio he had booked for the night! They got on stage and sang the Ray Charles hit "What'd I Say" before the real group showed up—by which point they had lost their gig to the young trio, who was promptly booked for regular appearances at the club. They made their first record in 1961 as "Ronnie and the Relatives"; their record company renamed them the Ronettes, but this didn't help their modest sales. They continued to record, singing backup on records for Bobby Rydell and Del Shannon before up-and- coming producer Phil Spector.

Under Spector's tutelage and production the Ronettes became the most famous girl group in rock and roll; their sophisticated image, fashionable dresses, and modern dance moves made them international stars. During their world tour in 1964 they played a number of concerts in England with an up-and-coming London group called the Rolling Stones; they also met the Beatles, who were star struck and asked for their autographs.

The Ronettes had a string of hits before they disbanded in 1966. Ronnie married Phil Spector in 1968; she suffered several years of psychological abuse before fleeing their house with only the clothes on her back. In recent years she has emerged as a feminist icon; she is seen as the first tough-girl in rock music, and praised for her tenacious, fifteen-year battle to recover her royalties from her ex-husband. In 2000 she was awarded $2.6 million, and as a result of her advocacy the U.S. Congress passed legislation making it easier for artists to recover monies from record sales.

Also see: Little Anthony and the Imperials; Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

Must Haves:
  • "Baby, I Love You"
  • "Walking in the Rain"
  • "Is This What I Get for Loving You?"
Performers Influenced By This Artist:
  • The Blossoms
  • the Crystals
  • the Chiffons
  • the Angels

The Drifters – There Goes My Baby

The Drifters – There Goes My Baby

2:12

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The Drifters arose from the ashes of another vocal group, the Dominoes. Clyde McPhatter and his band mates all studied with the respected vocal coach Billy Ward at the Juilliard School of Music; when Ward realized there was money to be made in rhythm and blues he recruited a number of his former students and created a doo-wop group. The group was enjoying tremendous success, but the members found Ward too controlling (and suspected he was shortchanging them financially), and one by one they quit. McPhatter was unquestionably the star of the group, and as soon as he quit Ahmet Ertegun signed him to the Chess label and encouraged him to assemble a new group.

Most of the Drifters were gospel quartet singers McPhatter had worked with in the 1940s. He tried several different combinations before he found the sound he was looking for. He also decided to employ instrumental accompaniment, unlike most vocal harmony groups; as it turned out, the Drifters' guitar player, Jimmy Oliver, was the most prolific composer in the group.

McPhatter quit the Drifters in late 1954; he felt that Ahmet and Neshui Ertegun interfered too much in creative matters. Rather than disband the group the Erteguns looked for a replacement, but this proved to be rather difficult. The Drifters had a fluctuating lineup for the next two years and had some modest successes, but they had not yet topped the charts. In 1956 every member of the band had quit, but rather than disband a group with name recognition owner George Treadwell recruited a successful Brooklyn group, the Five Crowns, and renamed them. He then assigned Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller to produce the first record, "There Goes My Baby"; they daringly added strings, horns, and Latin percussion to the mix, as was common in popular songs of the period. Though Jerry Wexler thought it sounded like a radio caught between classical and R&B stations he released it anyway, and the song was a smash hit. Extensive overdubbing and passionately delivered vocals that dealt with small, intimate scenes became the typical "Drifters sound" until the mid sixties.

Also see: The Platters, the Ink Spots, the Orioles, Billy Ward and the Dominoes

Must Haves:
  • "Up on the Roof"
  • "On Broadway"
  • "Save the Last Dance for Me"
  • "Under the Boardwalk"
  • "Some Kind of Wonderful"
Performers Influenced By This Artist:
  • The Cleftones
  • the Searchers
  • Jay and the Americans
  • the Temptations

The Everly Brothers – All I Have to Do Is Dream

The Everly Brothers – All I Have to Do Is Dream

2:19

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Don and Phil Everly were immersed in country and "roots" music from early in life; their parents and two uncles had a country and folk music group that was popular in the Midwest and parts of the south. The boys started singing with the act at the ages of eight and six, respectively.

By the 1940s the family had settled in Shenandoah, Iowa, where the boys' father Ike played several times daily on a local radio station. At that time most music heard on regional radio was performed live; the young Everly brothers occasionally sang with their father and filled in when other scheduled performers didn't show up. The Everly Family Show was the most popular in the Midwest in the early 1950s, but recordings were fast replacing live music on the radio. After several moves to potentially larger markets didn't yield jobs, the young brothers decided to pursue other options.

One day after high school graduation Don and Phil Everly set out for Nashville, Tennessee, with hopes of breaking into the country music recording industry. A family friend, Chet Atkins, was working as a session guitarist in Nashville, and through his contacts he got the boys a six month recording contract at Columbia Records. They recorded four tracks, but only one, "Keep On Lovin' Me," was even a modest success. To make ends meet Don became a songwriter for Acuff-Rose, the large country music publishing house founded by Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff.

In 1957 the brothers got word that Archie Bleyer, the owner of the small, independent Cadence label, was looking for new talent. He offered the duo "Bye Bye Love," written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. Thirty other artists had passed on the tune, but Bleyer still felt it could be a hit if given the right treatment. Don and Phil thought they knew what would work. Their family's travels had landed them in Chicago for a time, and they were familiar with urban blues and rhythm and blues; Don was a particularly fervent fan of Bo Diddley. The Everly brothers fused the aggressive, syncopated rhythm guitar of early Chicago blues with the close vocal harmonies and short, broken phrase structure of early country music in a way that sounded different from anything else in the marketplace. "Bye Bye Love" became a smash hit that rose to the top of the country, pop, and R&B charts.

Over the next several years the Everly Brothers put six more songs, including "All I Have to Do is Dream," in the country top ten and seven on the pop charts; all walked the line between the two styles. The brothers' fortunes faded somewhat after 1964, when the British invasion hit the United States, but they continued to make records until the early 1970s. Ironically, the new British acts sang harmonies that were modeled on those of the Everly Brothers, as did the folk rock artists emerging in California and New York. Even today, the Everly Brothers are recognized as the founding fathers of rock and roll vocal harmony.

Also see: The Carter Family, Les Paul and Mary Ford, The Louvin Brothers, Bo Diddley

Must Haves:
  • "Bye Bye Love"
  • "When Will I Be Loved"
  • "Wake Up Little Susie"
  • "Cathy's Clown"
Performers Influenced By This Artist:
  • Simon and Garfunkel
  • The Flying Burrito Brothers
  • The Byrds
  • Peter and Gordon

Roy Orbison – Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel)

Roy Orbison – Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel)

2:25

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Although Roy Orbison is sometimes called the "last rockabilly singer," he might also be considered the first rock musician, who invested a fading genre with new life. Orbison played with several western swing bands in high school but he thought a musical career was a long shot and determined to pursue a more practical vocation. He enrolled in college but found he couldn't give up on music, so he put together a band and headed for Memphis to try his luck. Orbison successfully auditioned for Sam Phillips and made several records on the Sun label, but he had only one modest national hit. Success as a rockabilly star seemed to elude him, so he began to focus on songwriting. He developed a relationship with Acuff-Rose Music in Nashville and wrote a number of successful songs for acts like the Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis. In 1960 he brought a song he'd written to Don and Phil Everly for their approval; after hearing it they convinced Orbison that he should record it himself. "Only the Lonely" went to number two on the charts and established Orbison as a unique voice in rock music. His songs were poetic and lyrical, and despite their naked expressiveness they were never saccharine or trite. His quasi-operatic vocal tone, three-octave range, and melodramatic style of delivery was unprecedented in American popular music, and earned him a legion of devoted fans; Bruce Springsteen has praised the effectiveness of his "ethereal spirit voice," and Elvis Presley believed him to be the "greatest singer in the world." Though he specialized in ballads, Orbison was also capable of delivering straight-ahead rhythm and blues, which he colored with his trademark "purr."

His songs expanded the possibilities of rock and roll, and nearly every serious lyricist of the 1960s cited him as an influence. He was unable to sustain mainstream popularity and vanished from the American charts after 1967, though he continued to have hit records in Europe and Asia. In the 1980s he surprised the musical establishment with a comeback of then-unprecedented proportions; collaborations with Emmylou Harris and k.d. lang earned him Grammy awards and gold records, and after a popular Cinemax concert special he emerged with new band, the Traveling Wilburys, composed of Tom Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne of the ELO. The Traveling Wilburys' first album went to number three on the charts and yielded two hit singles, though Orbison died of a heart attack only a few weeks after its release.

Also see: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash

Must Haves:
  • "Oh, Pretty Woman"
  • "Crying"
  • "Mean Woman Blues"
  • "In Dreams"
Performers Influenced By This Artist:
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Chris Isaak
  • Gene Pitney
  • Don McLean
  • the Beatles
  • Bob Dylan
Video:

The Beach Boys – Surfin' U.S.A.

The Beach Boys – Surfin' U.S.A.

2:29

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The Beach Boys started as a garage band in Hawthorne, California, in 1961; the group included brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and friend Al Jardine. Like many others in California, the group was influenced by Chuck Berry and the black pioneers of rock and roll, and it embraced the guitar-oriented sound emerging on the west coast with Dick Dale and Duane Eddy. Dennis Wilson was part of the surfer subculture that was beginning to take shape in southern California; he thought surfing might be a good subject for a song and suggested it to Brian. Their first hit, "Surfin' Safari" (aggressively promoted by their manager/father/uncle Murray Wilson) sparked a nationwide craze for surfer fashion and lingo and for several years the band's lyrics focused on surfing, car racing, sun, and California fun. However, the band's breezy, bright lyrics were supported by surprisingly sophisticated musicianship. The distinguishing characteristic of the Beach Boys sound, their vocal harmonies, was adapted from the jazz vocal group the Four Freshmen, whom Brian Wilson greatly admired.

Also see: The Four Freshmen (vocal jazz group), the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry.

Must Haves:
  • "Surfin' Safari"
  • "Fun, Fun, Fun"
  • "Little Deuce Coupe"
  • "Catch a Wave"
  • "Be True to Your School"
Performers Influenced By This Artist:
  • The Surfaris
  • the Mamas and the Papas
  • Jan and Dean
  • Huey Lewis and the News
  • the Raspberries