Long before punk, new wave, or alt-anything, 1950s doo-wop was roots-rock’s D.I.Y. showcase. All you needed were a few teens with a range of voices — bass, baritone, tenor, falsetto. The songs, like the music, could come from the air: On-the-spot remakes of standards, or just collections of nonsense syllables created on a street corner. Or a combination of the two. It was, as Charlie Gillette called it in his seminal book, The Sound Of The City.
All but ignored by major labels, doo-wop thrived as indigenous regional, if not local, music, on shoestring labels. In Chicago in the 1950s, Chess and VeeJay knew their primary audience had come from the rural south, a culture of crossroads rather than street corners. Neither were dumb, however, so Chess had the Flamingos and the Moonglows, while VeeJay had the Spaniels and the El-Dorados, all seminal doo-wop groups.
Windy City entrepreneur Leonard Allen had two small labels from 1951 to 1957: United and, you guessed it, States. Recently, Chicago’s Delmark label, known for its blues and jazz recordings, has been releasing vocal group compilations from the United/States archives. Bang Goes My Heart is the most recent. Like its predecessor, the Dandeliers’ Chop Chop Boom, its value is partly that it exists at all. These tunes weren’t even big in Chicago, and went unheard elsewhere. Half a century after being recorded, obscurity has its rewards.
The uptempo novelty tunes on this generous 28-track set — which also features the Answers, the Sheppards and the Pastels — beat the ballads, with one exception: the Moroccos’ ever so poignant “What Is A Teenagers Prayer?” The best performances are turned in by the Sheppards: “Sherry” has wonderful bass-through-falsetto acceleration, while the earthy, energetic singing in “Pretty Little Girl” benefits from a stirring piano backdrop.
Though neither these Sheppards nor Pastels are the groups with identical names that established renown, their insignificance is undeserved, if not unexpected. Consider that the Moroccos were so named not because they loved the movie Casablanca, but because there was a set of maracas in the studio. Delmark hasn’t unearthed the ninth wonder of the world, but like almost any quality doo-wop that resurfaces from the ether, it has the virtue of an archaeological dig that’s easy to dig.