Some early R&B vocal harmony group cross-over hits of the 1950s
See also the related pages:
- Vocal harmony group interpretations of standards, 1933-1966
- My Foolish Heart: selected vocal harmony group recordings, 1956-1966
- White Christmas: selected vocal harmony group recordings, 1948-1965
Sh-Boom (aka “Life Could Be a Dream”) was first recorded by The Chords for Cat Records on 15 March 1954. It peaked at #2 on the Billboard R&B charts and #9 on the pop charts.
It was written by James Keyes, Claude Feaster, Carl Feaster, Floyd F. McRae, and James Edwards, members of the R&B vocal group The Chords and published in 1954. It was a U.S. top ten hit that year for both The Chords (who first recorded the song) and The Crew-Cuts.
The Chords — recorded on 15 March 1954; issued in June 1954 on Cat 45-104, b/w “Little Maiden”
“Sh-Boom” is usually considered one of the earliest R&B hits to “cross over” and become a pop hit as well. Much earlier, however, the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots had each scored numerous pop hitsm, many of which were also hits on charts which preceded Billboard’s earliest R&B chart (1949).
- The Harlem Hit Parade: October 1942 – February 1945
- Race Records: February 1945 – June 1949
In 1954 [R&B vocal harmony] groups played a significant role in ushering in the rock and roll era when two big rhythm and blues hits by vocal harmony groups, “Gee” by The Crows and “Sh-Boom” by The Chords crossed over onto the pop music charts. Quickly other R&B vocal groups began entering the pop charts, particularly in 1955, which saw such cross-over [vocal harmony group] hits as “Sincerely” by The Moonglows, “Earth Angel” by The Penguins, and “Only You” by The Platters. — Wikipedia
“Gee,” with songwriting credited to William Davis and Viola Watkins, was recorded in New York City in February 1953 by the vocal harmony group The Crows on the independent label, Rama Records. The record didn’t chart until April 1954. It was the first recording session for Rama, and the first for The Crows as well. William Davis was the group’s baritone who, according to Wikipedia, citing the 1992 book What Was the Rirst Rock ’n’ Roll Record?, by Jim Dawson & Steve Propes, pp. 124-127, “put the song together in a few minutes.” According to her bio at AllMusic.com, Viola Watkins also played piano on the hit recording of Gee, and co-arranged it (with Davis I presume).
Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine) — words and music by Curtis Williams, recorded by The Penguins, 1954
Originally released in 1954 by The Penguins as the B-side to Hey Señorita. Citing Dawson & Propes (1992), Wikipedia says that Earth Angel was “first recorded as a demo at Ted Brinson’s garage studio in South Los Angeles in October 1954,” and notes that it “quickly outstripped its A-side in popularity and reached #1 on the Billboard R&B chart for three weeks in early 1955 and #8 on the pop chart.”[2, Joel Whitburn]
[“Sincerely”] was originally recorded by The Moonglows, who scored a…number twenty pop [chart hit]*.[1, Joel Whitburn (2004)] The biggest-selling version was a cover version recorded by The McGuire Sisters, entering the charts in 1954 and reaching number one the next year. Many Rhythm & Blues collectors decry the cover version by the McGuire Sisters which kept the Moonglows off the Pop charts, but the Moonglows version stole lyrics from a 1951 Dominoes tune, “That’s What You’re Doing to Me.” The bridge in both songs is almost identical: “Lord, won’t you tell me/ Why I love that woman so?/ She doesn’t want me/ But I’ll never let her go”.
Only You (And You Alone) – w.m. Buck Ram — recorded on 26 April 1955; issued in May (Wikipedia) or June (45cat.com) 1955 on Mercury 70633X45, b/w “Bark, Battle and Ball” — Note: The original May 1954 Federal Records recording by the Platters was released in November 1955, after the success of the later Mercury version, but it sold poorly.
The Platters appeared in the 1956 film Rock Around the Clock, the first major motion picture focused on rock and roll, in which they performed both Only You and The Great Pretender. The Platters perform the song in the film:
The Great Pretender (Buck Ram) – The Platters introduced the song with a single released 3 November 1955. The record topped three of the four Billboard pop singles charts in February 1956, becoming the first #1 hit for the group. It was also a #1 R&B hit for eleven weeks that year.
* In their page on The Moonglows, Wikipedia incorrectly states that their recording of Sincerely became number one on Billboard’s Juke Box chart. It didn’t. However, it did become #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart for two weeks beginning in late January 1955: List of (Billboard) number-one R&B hits of 1955. The cover by the McGuire Sisters was hugely popular, with lengthy stays at #1 on all three Billboard pop singles charts in 1955 (a fourth chart, Top 100, was added later that year), including ten straight weeks atop the Most Played by Jockeys list.