parodies by nacrowe
so i was talking with my father the other night about this recent UNREQUITED INFATUATIONS (HACHETTE, 2021) memoir by STEVE VAN ZANDT (of BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's E-STREET BAND fame) that he is currently finishing up. in it VAN ZANDT at some point talks about the fact that DOO WOP is one of the LEAST CELEBRATED AMERICAN musical forms in modern culture. in fact, the only places ive come across it specifically being played on terrestrial radio are retro-themed AM stations that seek to provide a stale facsimile of a "wholesome" 1950s AMERICANA experience. in essence the art form of DOO WOP and ACAPELLA VOCAL GROUPS in general are effectively DEAD.
and that got me thinking. why is that?
my guess is that recording technology has advanced and the taste and culture has moved along with it. DOO WOP to me represents a group creative effort in which the accompanying music is made up of vocal harmonies with MINIMAL, if none altogether, actual instrumentation. it was an art form that one could perform on a street corner, no stage needed. that is the roots of the genre in my estimation and in some sense modern HIP HOP has taken over in that EGALITARIAN regard. theoretically one can rap anywhere without an accompanying beat and provide a VIRTUOSIC experience, or they can have a friend accompany them by beatboxing with them. seems very similar in that street-level, back-to-basics ETHIC with the roots of DOO WOP. that interplay is also similarly intimately nuanced with much active listening involved.
i also think that in some sense DOO WOP does still exist, it just morphed into modern R&B with its integrated BLUES, GOSPEL and ROCK N ROLL elements as well as production techniques. aesthetically, groups like BONE THUGS-N-HARMONY, BOYZ II MEN, NEW EDITION, TLC or any of the myriad of so-called "BOY BANDS" of the late 90s/00s are not as unadorned and minimal as their DOO WOP forbearers, but the DNA is undeniably still there.
just like RAGTIME was outmoded by JAZZ and 80s HAIR METAL was supplanted wholesale by 90s ALTERNATIVE ROCK, cultural progression will always be a fluid phenomena. to expect a genre to come back or be appreciated on its own terms by a newer generation with no emotional connection to it is a bit NAIVE, PATRONIZING and more than a little UNREALISTIC. i believe the best shot at relevance is to connect it to something happening right now. contextualize those harmonizing techniques in music production techniques still in use to this day. that strategy would provide incentive for further deep dives and investigations into old sounds that may sound fresh in today's cultural context.
just a thought.
embedded below is the DEER GOD RADIO episode #110 from late 2020 which focuses on DOO WOP and vocal groups form the 1950s and 1960s. enjoy!