This reissue makes a pair of fun albums by the early-‘60s R&B vocal group The Orlons available again. The Wah-Watusi first hit record store shelves in the summer of 1962. While it didn’t have a particularly significant chart impact, its title track was a huge hit and one of the group’s signature songs. South Street came out the following summer, faring even worse on the album charts. But again, the title track caught the public’s ear, giving the group another hit.
If you’re not familiar at all with The Orlons, think of early Motown girl groups like The Marvelettes. That is, at least with The Wah-Watusi. The harmonies are tight and the musicianship is upbeat, groove-oriented, and tasteful. Their version of “Mashed Potato Time” quite easily gives Dee Dee Sharp’s better-known version a run for its money (the three female Orlons contributed backing vocals to Sharp’s recording). Later in the album we get “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes),” another Dee Dee Sharp hit. The song sounds like a rehashed cross between “Please Mr. Postman” and “Locomotion,” but The Orlons give it their all. While The Shirelles and The Mamas & the Papas both had hits with it, the album-opening “Dedicated to the One I Love” sounds pretty sweet as well.
Sort of a novelty sound creeps into South Street, with the lone male Orlon Stephen Caldwell overusing what the liner notes call his “frog voice” (sort of a guttural, growling type of singing). Luckily there is still plenty of wailing saxophone to keep things grounded. In fact, the uncredited sax playing is one of the strongest aspects of these albums. It’s disappointing that there are no musician credits in the liner notes (written by Gene Sculatti in 2010). Highlights of the album include an appealing version of Leiber/Stoller’s “Charlie Brown” and a bouncy take on Dick Rogers and Will Osborne’s “Between 18th & 19th on Chestnut Street.”
Despite a couple of very big hits, The Orlons remain kind of obscure. If you’re a fan of that period of poppy vocal R&B groups, this twofer reissue is a safe bet.