Last weekend I had the pleasure of seeing three doo wop/vocal groups from the 50s and 60s perform under one roof. Let me correct that: I saw the current members of three doo wop/vocal groups perform under the same roof, because I'm pretty sure there are few surviving members of The Coasters, The Marvelettes, and The Platters still alive. Despite that, you’d never know that you weren’t listening to the real thing.
All three groups had several hits that harken back to the days of pre-Beatles rock and roll (in fact, the Beatles performed The Coasters’ Young Blood and Searchin’ on the BBC, covered The Marvelettes' Please Mister Postman and John Lennon and Ringo Starr each recorded The Platters' Only You (And You Alone) during their solo careers. It was a time when performers could actually sing and harmonize and often choreographed simple moves while on stage. I can't remember the last time I heard any of these groups on the radio. Today's oldies stations very rarely delve into the treasure chest of anything on vinyl before the Fab Four came along, as if they invented the music genre and anything before the British Invasion is considered pap. I'm not knocking John, Paul, George, and Ringo, by the way; I just wish that radio station managers wouldn't forget the glorious songs that topped the charts during the 50s and early 60s. The chance to see them perform live, even if they weren’t the original members, was a treat.
If you’re familiar with The Coasters, who opened the show, you could probably surmise by their whimsical hits such as Yakity Yak (which was sung, rather badly, by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Twins) and Charlie Brown that their stage persona is a gas as well. Wise cracking with glittery suits, they immediately made it clear that this was a party, as they interacted with the audience and brought them to their feet by performing the aforementioned hits, as well as Searchin’, Poison Ivy, and Young Blood.
The Marvelettes were an all-girl group that had pleasant vocals, but could benefit from the guidance of a professional wardrobe designer. Their spandex gowns were extremely unforgiving to their less than svelte figures, and combined with the stage lighting it was pretty obvious that they weren’t wearing bras; thankfully, there were only adults in attendance. They covered Heat Wave (which was not a Marvelettes hit), Please Mister Postman, and Don’t Mess With Bill, which was preceded by a bit of comedic dialogue and the assistance of a male audience member, who was all too happy to get down with three braless women in front of hundreds of people.
But the most outstanding portion of the show belonged to The Platters, sans Herb Reed, one of the original founding members who is still alive. They oozed class and elegance (their female member wore a beautiful pink gown with matching gloves that put the Marvelettes’ garb to shame) and immediately launched into Only You (And You Alone), Twilight Time, The Great Pretender, and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes - all unforgettable melodies reminiscent of a time when boys actually asked girls out on dates and made out in the backseats of their father’s Chevy. They also performed The Shirelles’ Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and Jackie Wilson’s Your Love is Lifting Me Higher, each member demonstrating powerful vocals that made my eyes teary at times.
The only disappointment during the evening was that the four member backing band (which included a lead guitarist trying way too hard to emulate Eric Clapton in appearance and playing) overpowered the first two groups, to the point that if you weren’t already familiar with the song being sung you’d be rendered helpless in deciphering the lyrics. They were also strangely devoid of a saxophone player, which means many of The Coasters’ hits didn’t sound anything like the original recordings. The sound quality was much better during The Platters’ stage time, because their ballads required a softer touch. That, and having to listen to one member of The Coasters constantly ask the audience who was still in love – a little annoying to a single woman who had taken her mother to see the show!
But these were minor gripes. It was a fabulous show that I'll never forget and hopefully not the last time I’ll get to hear such harmonizing in person.