Sunday, March 12, 2006

Doris is Everywhere

My project this weekend has been to finish up a seminar paper before I head out of town this week. The topic is doo-wop, specifically the early African-American vocal quartets of the late forties and early fifties who sang in what is called the "sweet gospel" style. It includes groups like the Ink Spots, the Drifters, the Orioles, the Penguins, and so on. Anyhow, I've been struggling for a specific topic to focus on. I've always been intrigued by the classic doo-wop chord progression: I-vi-IV-V. (The educated reader might know it best from a song like "Earth Angel.") Rarely in popular music is a single chord progression so utterly dominant--there are literally thousands of songs from this genre that use it.

So anyways, I was jut listening to lots of this music, when I stumbled across the fact that two of these early groups, the Orioles, and the Moonglows, recorded cover versions of the hit 1953 Doris Day song "Secret Love," a song I know quite well having just delivered a paper on it at a conference. The weird thing is that while the Orioles version does a fairly straight version of it--a bit jazzed up, but otherwise so straight it could be a parody--the Moonglows version reharmonizes the song to fit a variant of the doo-wop progression. They keep the melody the same, but underneath it just paste I-vi-ii-V. It doesn't fit at all, and when they get to the chorus they have to give it up and go back to the original chords. Still, the compulsion to use the doo-wop progression makes them do pretty weird things to the tune. So bizarre!

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