Playlist: The Glory of Love

An oldies playlist of classic doo-wop love songs and romantic ballads

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The Glory of Love

Rising as it did out of two separate traditions -- urban R&B and pop vocal groups -- doo-wop often walked a fine line between throwing a knowing elbow jab into its listeners' sexuality and whispering sweet nothings in their ears. Fortunately, the genre proved equally suited to both, but it's arguably the romantic side that has outlasted its era best. Enjoy this mixtape featuring hits (and rarities) of rock's last great romantic era.

 

  • The Penguins, "Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)"
    The first of the big doo-wop crossover ballads, and, some say, one of the first rock and roll records, period. Simple and crude, almost to the point of being amateurish, but that only adds to its sincerity.
  • The Moonglows, "Sincerely"
    Perhaps the greatest doo-wop ballad ever waxed, with a stunning, jazz-inflected performance from Bobby Lester, this highly emotional ballad has happily eclipsed the McGuire Sisters cover in recognition (even if they did lyrically crib from the Dominoes).
  • The Platters, "Twilight Time"
    The Platters were too pop-oriented, too tied to the restrictions of classic vocal groups, to make them a true doo-wop group for many purists. But that same affinity for standards helped make them perfect make-out music, and this hit contains the essence of everything they were.
  • The Five Satins, "In The Still Of The Nite"
    Written by member Fred Parris while serving on guard duty in the Army -- talk about the still of the night! -- this song was romantic enough to become a modern pop standard all its own (though it did have to fudge the spelling to avoid comparison with a Cole Porter song of the same name).
  • The Jive Five, "My True Story"
    One of the more inscrutable and mysterious ballads in rock history, detailing a triangle of sorts between Earl, Sue... and Lorraine? Doesn't matter -- the names, in the final twist, are revealed as having "been changed to protect you and I." The anguished "cry cry cry" chorus is the real hook, anyway.
  • The Skyliners, "Since I Don't Have You"
    Another instant pop standard, this heartwrenching ballad was also more vocal group than doo-wop, resorting to a female falsetto countermelody at the song's heartbreaking conclusion. But heartbreak is, after all, the point.
  • Little Anthony and the Imperials, "Tears On My Pillow"
    This one mines the same sort of anyone-can-do-it simplicity of "Earth Angel" -- no surprise, that, since the record company couldn't afford to cut a new backing track and instead had the Imperials sing a new song over the old one! Little Anthony displays here his uncanny ability to sound like Everyteen in the throes of romantic upheaval.
  • The Platters, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"
    Already a real American Songbook favorite when recorded, this forgotten track from the operetta "Roberta" was resusicated, dramatic moves and all, for the sock-hop crowd by the Platters. The group adds its own traditional elegance, which somehow makes the pain even more palpable.
  • The Crests, "16 Candles"
    A real crowd favorite, this sweet little number retained its popularity long enough to inspire a Eighties teen sex comedy. The Crests never had another big hit after this ode to the coming-of-age milestone, but leader Johnny Maestro went on to success with the Brooklyn Bridge ("Worst That Could Happen"), while writer Luther Dixon went on to pen hits for the Shirelles.
  • The Mello-Kings, "Tonite, Tonite"
    A rare case of a white group with a black manager, "Tonite Tonite" is one of those also rare records that seemed ubiquitous at the time -- it was featured on Art Laboe's very first "Oldies But Goodies" album in 1959 -- but never made it to the increasingly tight playlists of modern oldies stations.
  • The Capris, "There's A Moon Out Tonight"
    Featuring one of the signature falsettoes in all of doo-wop, this late-period classic of the genre languished in obscurity for two years on the artists' own indie label until none other than Murray The K got wind of it and started promoting in on his own show. Success!
  • The Danleers, "One Summer Night"
    Simultaneously one of the great summer songs and one of the great doo-wop ballads, this wondrous one-hit record was the first of its kind to sell one million copies. And with its aching falsetto, it's easy to see why, although no one has ever accurately determined what sort of natural phenomenon is represented by the lyrics' "moon of love."
  • The Harptones, "Sunday Kind Of Love"
    One of the earliest doo-wop singles, and one of the first to be self-arranged, this version of Louis Prima's WWII-era hit features an actual old-fashioned church organ, all the better to drive home its plea for "a love to last past Saturday night." Though not a hit at the time, its transcendent quality eventually won audiences over.
  • The Dubs, "Could This Be Magic"
    Another non-hit that owes its modern popularity almost entirely to doo-wop fiends and their obsessive love, this delicate stunner was one of the first pop singles to use the title phrase (but most assuredly not the last).

  • Although best known for the followup, "Teardrops," this Philly quintet crafted a real gem with this hit, even if the lyrics are less than legendary, rhyming, as they do, "face" with, um, "face." Also too much like a pop standard to cut it on the R&B charts.
  • The Heartbeats, "A Thousand Miles Away"
    Written by leader James Sheppard for his girlfriend, who'd left New York for Texas, this pledge of devotion plays out like a tear-stained letter, essentially its own self-contained long-distance dedication.
  • Shep and the Limelites, "Daddy's Home"
    Five years later, Sheppard later went on to become the "Shep" in the Limelites, craftily crafting his own answer record, which was also a huge hit, and delivering on his musical promise to "make it back home to you."
  • The Flamingos, "I Only Have Eyes For You"
    Mystery surrounds the sound of this legendary hit, which seems far too gossamer for its time, especially for a little old doo-wop record. How did they get that effect? And what in the name of rock and roll heaven are the other members singing?
  • The Dells, "Oh What A Nite"
    The only doo-wop group to hit the charts twice with a (dramatically different) new recording of their own song, the Dells wrote this after some female, um, friends, threw them an, er, party. The remake happened thirteen years later, and only because the bass singer never made the original recording!

  • A Rudy Vallee number (!) that was revived by the 5 Keys in 1951, this existential rumination on the ups and downs of love was really knocked out of the park by the Velvetones, who recorded a new dramatic monologue of an intro that nailed the gold-digger aesthetic perfectly.
  • The Platters, "My Prayer"
    Already a well-recognized standard with a lineage stretching all the way back to 1926, this song was nevertheless redefined forever by the Platters, who, from their gloriously dramatic, free-time opening, make it their own forever. A truly holy secular plea.
  • The Channels, "That's My Desire"
    Frankie Laine, believe it or not, actually made the R&B charts with his version of this standard in 1947, but Earl Lewis and his compadres took it back there anyway; although mainly a hit in New York, and recorded by seemingly everyone in the music business, this is the version oldies fans tend to favor.
  • The Diablos, "The Wind"
    By far the most obscure item on this list, the Detroit Diablos nevertheless landed on many rock critics' all-time lists with this bizarrely atmospheric slice of prime vocal group R&B. In fact, other doo-wop groups often tested their abilities with the song... among them a fellow Detroit native named Smokey Robinson.
  • The Dubs, "Don't Ask Me (To Be Lonely)"
    The Dubs' first big single, this was also one of the first doo-wop songs to be sung by its writer, in this case 22-year-old Richard Blandon. Another example of a record that never left the East Coast but has gained national recognition among doo-wop fanatics.
  • The Harptones, "Life Is But A Dream"
    Cribbing lyrically from the smash "Sh-Boom" (already a hit for the Chords and the Crew Cuts), the Harptones original nevertheless establishes its own romantic bonafides right there in the dramatic intro. Who wouldn't want to hear their "significant other" ask them, "Will you take part in my life, my love?"
  • The Five Satins, "To The Aisle"
    As stellar as "In The Still Of The Nite" was, this followup somehow manages to get within the same range of greatness, walking a fictional, nameless couple (helpfully referred to as "you" and "she") through a meeting, a first date, and a presumably happy marriage. All in 2:44!

  • Perhaps the ultimate (respectful) doo-wop take on a recognized pop mainstay, this version of the Hoagy Carmichael warhorse was an important record for the Moonglows, who'd lost lead singer Clyde McPhatter and were still best known to mainstream audiences for the outrage inspired by their salacious "Sixty Minute Man."
  • The Flamingos, "Lovers Never Say Goodbye"
    A beautiful sentiment from the most romantic group in an extremely romantic genre: "Just kiss me dear and hold me tight / For you know this is not our last night / Though we must part there's no reason to cry / Just say so long / Because lovers never say goodbye."
  • The Moonglows, "The Ten Commandments Of Love"
    Romantic and ethereal enough to have been a tremendous influence on none other than Aaron Neville, this slow, measured, and deathly serious pronouncement is delivered with the gravitas of wedding vows. So much, in fact, that you'll never notice there are only nine commandments. (Unless you think the fragment "when we say goodnight" counts. The longer, four-minute version has a real tenth: "And always do what's right.")
  • The Spaniels, "Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite"
    Some prefer Jesse Belvin's "Goodnight My Love" to end a perfect date night, but doo-wop fiends know this is the real deal. It didn't hurt that Sha Na Na used it as their set closer for years, either.