Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Marcels

The Marcels I admit it. I got a lot of my rock and roll education from a Sha Na Na album. The LP was called The Golden Age Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, and I picked it up in Fargo, ND. I was about 15, and I was unfamiliar with the majority of the songs on the 4 sides. Over the years, I got to know the originals, one by one.

What became obvious after a while was how the group took so many songs from (slightly) different time periods, of different styles, and rendered them all in the same Sha Na Na style, using the same common denominator. Hearing the originals meant hearing the song without the layer of camp with which the group covered everything.

Blue Moon was the exception. It was the one song that the group did not have to do anything with, because all the camp was there to begin with. The Marcels were not the first doo-wop “comedy” group – The Coasters beat them to it by almost a decade – but they were certainly the first nationally famous group that poked fun at the genre as a genre. And they did it by taking Tin Pan Alley favourites and arranging them in a style that represents doo-wop in excelsis.

The Marcels:

Blue Moon – By Rogers & Hart, the song is almost sacred in its place in American popular culture. The Marcels ripped the sacredness to shreds and got themselves a number 1 hit. Elvis Presley’s cover, recorded for Sun Records at the dawn of his career, was a lot more subtle in its sacrilege, and Bob Dylan’s recording on Self Portrait was almost totally straight. The Cowboy Junkies’ version on The Trinity Sessions has a sanctity of its own. From the spring of 1961.
Heartaches – “Here we go again!” they yell off the top, and indeed they do. Still, the novelty was wearing off; but, even so, this cover of a 1931 Tin Pan Alley standard was top 10 fare. I have versions by The Ames Brothers and Patsy Cline. From the winter of 61 / 62.

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