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Doo-Wop Progressions


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Doo-Wop Progressions

Doo-wop is a style of vocal-based rhythm and blues music popular in the mid-1950s to the early 1960s in America. The term was coined by a DJ, Gus Gossert, in the 1970s referring to (mostly) white Rock & Roll groups of the late 50s and early 60s. It became the fashion in the 1990s to keep expanding the definion backward to take in Rhythm & Blues groups from the mid-1950s and then further back to include groups from the early 1950s and even the 1940s. There is no consensus as to what constitutes a Doo-wop song, and many aficionados of R&B music dislike the term intensely.

The style was at first characterized by upbeat harmony vocals that used nonsense syllables from which the name of the style is derived. The name was later extended to group harmony ballads. Examples "Count Every Star" (1950), as though imitating the plucking of a double bass, created a template for later groups.

1951 was perhaps the year doo-wop broke into the mainstream in a consistent manner. Hit songs included "My Reverie" by The Larks, "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" by The Mello-Moods, "Glory of Love" by The Five Keys, "Shouldn't I Know" by The Cardinals and "It Ain't the Meat" by The Swallows.

By 1953, doo-wop was extremely popular, and disc jockey Alan Freed began introducing black groups' music to his white audiences, with great success. Groups included The Spaniels, The Moonglows and The Flamingos, whose "Golden Teardrops" is a classic of the genre. Other groups, like The Castelles and The Penguins, innovated new styles, most famously uptempo doo wop, established by The Crows 1953 "Gee" and Cleftones' 1956 "Little Girl of Mine". That same year, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers became a teen pop sensation with songs like "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?". Some consider a 1956 hit by The Five Satins, "In the Still of the Night," to be the quintessential doo-wop record.

Doo-wop remained popular until the British Invasion in the early to mid 1960s. Dion & the Belmonts' "I Wonder Why" (1958) was a major hit that is sometimes regarded as the anthem for doo wop, while The Five Discs added a wide range of sounds and pitched vocals.

1961 may be the peak of doo-wop, with hits that include The Marcels', an interracial group, "Blue Moon". There was a revival of the nonsense-syllable form of doo-wop in the early 1960s, with popular records by The Marcels, The Rivingtons, and Vito & the Salutations. A few years later, the genre had reached the self-referential stage, with songs about the singers ("Mr. Bass Man") and the songwriters ("Who Put the Bomp?")

The genre has seen mild surges throughout the years, with many radio shows dedicated to doo-wop. It has its roots in 1930s and 40s music, like songs by the Ink Spots and Mills Brothers. Its main artists are concentrated in urban areas (New York Metro Area, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles etc), with a few exceptions. Revival shows on TV and boxed CD sets have kept interest in the music. Groups have done remakes of doo-wops with great success over the years. Part of the regional beach music or shag music scene, centered in the Carolinas and surrounding states, includes both the original classic recordings and numerous re-makes over the years. Other artists have had doo-wop or doo-wop-influnced hits in later years, such as Billy Joel's 1983 hit, Longest Time, Frank Zappa's 1981 hit, Fine Girl, or Electric Light Orchestra's 1976 hit Telephone Line.

It has been noted that doo-wop groups tend to be named after birds. These include The Ravens, The Cardinals, The Crows, The Wrens, The Robins, The Swallows, The Larks, The Flamingos, The Penguins and The Feathers.

Doo-wop is popular among collegiate a capella groups due to its easy adaptation to an all-vocal form.

Also, Japenese doo-wop musical group Chanels (afterward, it was renamed Rats & Star), including famous sex offender Masashi Tashiro, came out in 80's Japan.

The musical Little Shop of Horrors used doo-wop (and similar styles) as a pastiche, especially by the three narrator girls in songs such as Da-Doo and Some Fun Now. Stephen Sondheim also makes use of this style in his musical Company with the song You Could Drive a Person Crazy. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

"The “E-C#m-A-B7” Doo-Wop Progression, which has been a Rock staple since the late 1950s, is closely related to the ["E-C#m-F#m-B7"] Standard Changes except the harder sounding “A” chord was substituted for the softer “F#m” chord. Generally, either chord progression can readily be substituted for the other. A great example of this Doo-Wop sequence is Maurice Williams’ 1960 classic Stay." (Excerpt from Money Chords - A Songwriter's Sourcebook of Popular Chord Progressions © 2000 by Richard J. Scott) Three great examples of doo-wop progressions are shown below in the key of C.

Stay (Maurice Williams - 1960) main verse progression

C / Am / F / G7 /

Wonderful World (Sam Cook - 1960) main verse progression

C / / / Am / / / F / / / G7 / / /

Please, Mister Postman (Marvelettes - 1961) main verse progression

C / / / / / / / Am / / / / / / /
F / / / / / / / G7 / / / / / / /

Click below for the best in free Doo-Wop Progressions lessons available on the web as well as links to various song examples.

The 50's cliche Part 1: I-vi-IV-V7-I (Olav Torvund)
The 50s Cliche - Part 2: Relations between chords (Olav Torvund)
Building a mystery (Ger Tillekens)
Doo-Wop Progressions Part 1 (MoneyChords)
vi - Relative minor (Submediant) - Chord (Olav Torvund)

Song Examples
Let It Be (MoneyChords)
My Sweet Lord (MoneyChords)

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