Sometimes music is best appreciated by understanding the context in which it was made. This is the case for Chop Chop Boom, a compilation of doo-wop from an obscure 1950s Chicago label.
According to the liner notes, United Records was the first successful black-owned record company. Leonard Allen, a tailor and retired policeman, founded the label along with its subsidiary States Records. Under Allen's direction, United and States issued jazz, blues, gospel, and R&B recordings between 1951 and 1957. Few of these records sold outside of Chicago, and many faded into obscurity. Chicago-based label Delmark has compiled a generous sampling from States Records, featuring songs by The Danderliers (misspelled the Dandeliers on this collection), The Hornets, The Strollers, The Drakes, The Palms, and the Five Changes. In general, the CD provides an education in doo-wop and reveals some should-have-been-hits from the 1950s that now have a second life through this compilation.
Chop Chop Boom features extended liner notes by Robert Pruter, author of Doowop: The Chicago Scene. Pruter details the history of the label and provides short biographies on each of the groups (although not much is known about The Strollers and the Drakes). An impressive aspect of these recordings lies in their quality; the songs were taped in studios that pioneered high fidelity recording in the '50s, according to the liner notes. The stellar sound quality exemplifies this statement, as the tracks resound in crystal-clear, full sound, particularly when heard over headphones.
The Danderliers are heavily represented in Chop Chop Boom, and their harmonies certainly justify their presence. "Shu-Wop" entails huge tempo changes, which the singers handle with ease. "Loving Partner" conjures images of 50s sock hops, although the bass-heavy beat and bluesy vocals lean more toward R&B than pop. But the group's harmonies really shine on "Little Man," a rocker that lets the singers use their voices to mimic bass lines, guitar and horn solos, and other instrumentation. Try to sit still while listening to this catchy number. "She's Mine" may not contain the most original lyrics, but its finger-popping beat and perfect doo-wop style transcend its commercial quality. Romantics will enjoy the beautiful "My Love," which shows just how lovely and straightforward doo-wop can be. All that is needed is a simple chord progression and a group of superior harmonizers to create a classic record.
Another group on this collection, The Hornets, may be best known for a member who went on to greater fame: Johnny Moore, who eventually joined The Drifters. However, they clearly had talent in harmonization; "You Played the Game" is a should-have-been-hit that represents the best of the music genre. But they could rock out, too, as proven by the foot-tapping "Ridin' and Rockin'" and "Big City Bound." Again, both songs contain typical chord progressions, but the superb blending of voices transport the songs from mediocrity. Chop Chop Boom effectively argues that The Hornets should have experienced more success, and perhaps this collection will expose them to more listeners.
Another standout cut is The Strollers "Go Where My Baby Lives," with the group imitating various instruments with their voices. Those who aren't familiar with doo-wop should hear this cut to fully appreciate the art form; chances are this song will demand repeated hearings. Feel like a fly on the wall with The Drakes's "Mellow Daddy," which includes a false start. Hearing the producer's voice in the background gives the listener a feeling of sitting in on the recording.
The Drakes, The Palms, and the Five Chances will appeal to hard-core doo-wop fans who wish to fill in gaps in their collection, as these bands remain obscure. Yet their songs contain their own charm, such as the Palms' sprightly "I Knew I Had A Chance," which slightly echoes a humorous Coasters tune.
Fans of '50s music as well as doo-wop should add Chop Chop Boom to their music libraries—its superb sound and delightful tracks made it a valuable addition to any collection.
For more information, visit Delmark's United Records site.