Those of us old enough to look back fondly on the doo wop days of the ’50s and early ’60s, those who watch those public TV fundraisers and buy the CDs and DVDs filled with music to warm the heart of any septuagenarian with a heart still capable of warmth, and those of us looking to remember and perhaps even revive some of the joy of a youth long gone, may be a little disappointed in Real Gone Music’s compendium of early rock and roll, Remember Me Baby: Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups, Vol. 1. It’s not that the 24 selections on the album are atypical. They have the doo wop sound; they have the often inane doo wop lyrics. They could well have been tunes you heard on the radio and shuffled to at local dances. They could well have been, but unfortunately they weren’t.
The joy of nostalgia is tied to memory. It is in the remembrance of things past—the first time you heard Frankie Lymon doing “the fish” to “Earth Angel,” singing along with The Platters. Unless you spent a lot of time listening to vocal groups with songs that never quite made it to the top of the charts, you are going to find very little that you remember on Remember Me Baby. This is not music that got a lot of airplay. If you’re looking for gems from the past, you will find a wealth of the “undiscovered.” Actual gems are another story.
It’s not that these songs are in any way always inferior to the hits you remember. Some of them sound derivative, and some of them sound fine. Why it is that one song becomes a hit and another doesn’t is a riddle still to be solved. Whatever the reason, these are songs and groups with an exceptional song or two that most of us have never heard before. If there is any nostalgic pleasure here it won’t be because you remember the song. Perhaps the only legitimate hit on the album is The Turbans’ “When You Dance.”
“Sunday Kind of Love” will sound familiar, but the version here is by a group called The Roommates covering The Harptones’ classic. There are a couple of songs from The Skyliners, perhaps the best known group on the album, including a cover of “Three Coins in the Fountain,” but again nothing you are likely to have heard on the radio.
The pleasures of Remember Me Baby are not the pleasures of nostalgia; the pleasures of this disc, are the pleasures of the esoteric. There are previously unreleased tracks from The Dovells and The Tymes, and 23 of the 24 tunes on the album are new on CD. In this sense, the album is a gold mine for the collector, but for the ordinary listener, not so much. Ed Osborne’s liner notes supply a great deal of information about each of the groups’ personnel and recording histories, so you may recognize names you know from other incarnations. If you believe Cameo Parkway Records did for Philadelphia what Motown did for Detroit, you may well want this collection of recordings from their catalogue, and indeed all the others that may be coming down the pike, for its historical importance.
You’ll hear things that sound familiar. The Rays’ “Triangle” sounds a lot like—or rips off, some might say—”Silhouettes.” You’ll hear the familiar harmonies. You’ll hear a melody that sounds like you’ve heard it before, like parts of The Anglos’ “Raining Teardrops,” but your memory will betray you, and it will bother the hell out of you. If you listen long enough, it may come to you. If not, well that’s what age is all about.
There are some tracks on the disc that stand out in their own right. The Dovells’ “Short on Bread” is a pleasing reworking of “Shortnin’ Bread” with a traditional rocking saxophone solo. “Turn Out the Lights” by Pookie Hudson and The Spaniels has a country vibe that makes it unique on the album. The lead singer on The Exceptions’ “Down By the Ocean” has the kind of rich voice that can turn dross into gold. The Skyliners’ cover of “Three Coins in the Fountain” is more than simply a copy. The Tymes’ “Did You Ever Get My Letter?” is the kind of song that could have been a hit with a little bit of luck.