Howdy music lovers!
Group Vocal Harmony Rhythm and Blues has been called the forgotten third of rock n roll, after Rockabilly and Rhythm and Blues. Which I think is not accurate as it remains a hugely popular subset of rock n roll. Yes I know – huge sweeping generalities but let’s take it that everyone here knows, or at least has their own understanding of, the subtleties.
Amongst our huge RnB 45 section, we have some great group vocal harmony Rhythm and Blues. So here are six to give you the flavour.
The Flairs were a quintet including Cornell Gunter, Richard Berry and Obie (Young) Jessie all of whom became stars in their own rights. This is superb vocal harmony rhythm and blues from 1954. On the topside, Richard and Cornell take double lead and on the flip it is Richard. The band backing the group is led by Ike Turner and his distinctive guitar is evident in particular on Love Me Girl.
Zindy Lou from 1964 is a cover of the Chimes’ 1955 original. A great pounding number that features drums almost as much as the vocal group. Snow White is a fine New York Doo-Wop mover. The Devotions still exist today.
Yep before Soul became a thing, Tamla was putting out amongst other styles, glorious Group Vocal Harmony Rhythm and Blues 45s like this. Way Over There reveals the music’s debt to the church background of so many of its finest exponents. Depend on Me is a wonderful ballad that sounds like three o’clock in the morning in a bar as the object of the singer’s unrequited love passes by him.
Many many great Vocal Group 45s have a ‘rocker’ side and a ballad side. This 45 is a mega example of this with one of the craziest vocal workouts coupled with a beautiful ballad. Shombalor is a nonsense song that sounds like it was inspired by The Chips’ Rubber Biscuit which was inspired by a double-time march chant from a reform school. This is wild enough that The Cramps covered it and this is still the craziest version.
The “5” Royales are pure vocal harmony, the lead and backing vocals interweave to create the real sound of the song. The guitar may ring out but it really just reflects the intensity of the vocal. You may know both of these tracks from the covers by James Brown and The Shirelles but these are the real deal.
The Five Keys are a revered vocal harmony group with a history going back to the 1940s. They changed lineups and style over the years and in particular, their ballads are loved by the vocal harmony connoisseurs but here is something different to end on a high. For this list let’s hear a couple of pretty much perfect jive number from 1956 and 1957 respectively. It is not all crying in the chapel.