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Music Review: Various Artists – It All Started With Doo Wop

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Doo Wop has to be one of the most fascinating music sub-genres ever. During its long and vibrant life it's been reinvented again and again, but has remained ever popular. That last fact helps explain the frequent PBS specials and other TV events, along with boxed sets such as the one we're reviewing here.

Time-Life, that vast repository of all media relating to nostalgia, has put together a boxed set called It All Started With Doo Wop. It consists of 9 CDs containing 146 songs, plus a bonus DVD containing 78 minutes of video from the aforementioned PBS shows. It's all housed in a cute little miniature replica of one of those hinged boxes that teenagers in the 1950's used to hold their 45's. (45 rpm records, not .45 Colts.)

For those who have recently returned from outer space or might have been otherwise occupied, I'll take a moment to attempt to explain Doo Wop. Most music experts agree that it can be loosely defined as the music produced by a group of singers performing together in close harmony, often with little or no musical accompaniment other than their own inventive sounds.

Doo Wop is generally considered to have started in the early 1950's, coming out of black communities in big Eastern cities. Smooth-singing groups such as the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots had already found a lot of success in pop music, providing inspiration for newer groups like the Mello-Moods and the Clovers. And although some of the earliest Doo Wop groups had names like the Orioles, the Ravens, the Cardinals, the Swallows and the Larks, their music was definitely not for the birds.

Later the Doo Wop sound became a popular specialty for white groups too, especially Italian-American New Yorkers, and there were even a few groups that were mixed. The Dell-Vikings, who had a super-hit with "Come Go With Me," were a group of servicemen that rotated members so often that they were often racially integrated. (They also had ex-members creating a competing group, the Del-Vikings, confusing fans even more.)

Time-Life has followed its usual methodology with this set by dividing it into four 2-CD mini-sets titled Looking For An Echo, The Closer You Are, The Glory of Love, and Street Corner Symphonies, along with a single CD, Lovers Never Say Goodbye, for a total of nine CDs. (And don't forget the DVD.)

I have to confess that I don't always see the logic in doing that, but I suppose it's a marketing thing. In any case, there is little doubt that the 146 tunes in the set will give any listener a pretty representative sampling of the music of Doo Wop.

There are plenty of familiar songs, such as "Up On The Roof" by the Drifters, and "My Girl" by the Temptations, along with "16 Candles" by the Crests and countless others by everyone from Dion and the Belmonts to the Platters. But there are also some lesser-known pieces, including such gems as "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman" by the Blue-Belles and "Trickle, Trickle" by the unusually named group, the Videos. 

The worth of a huge collection like this is obviously in the music itself, and I could go on all day naming the tunes, but ultimately it's up to the individual. Time-Life has done its usual good job of drawing together a large collection of music representative of the era, and I'd urge interested music lovers to look at a full listing (with sound clips) which is available here.

Oh, and one other thing. If 9 CDs with 146 songs isn't enough to satisfy your Doo Wop craving, Time-Life has a larger set available. That's right folks, the It All Started With Doo Wop Super Set – 17 CDs with 266 songs.

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