I was reminded of my longtime romance with doo-wop by “Acapella,” the new album by Kenny Vance and the Planotones, which showed up in my inbox earlier this month. Vance, a founding member of Jay & The Americans, is clearly a man on a mission: He’s recorded some of these classics before, but never sans instruments, and his sheer love and appreciation for the songs is palpable — from the first bom-bom-bom of The Cadillacs’ “Zoom” to the last “wee-hee-eee” of the Flamingos’ gorgeous “I’ll Be Home.”
In between, Vance and his group go deep on oldies that most people probably haven’t heard unless they’re among the group that popped the originals onto their turntables 50-plus years ago.
“I felt like it was time to do a tribute to the days when we started,” Vance says, and on “Acapella” he nails numbers by such long-forgotten groups as The Charades, The Collegians and The Paragons (not to be confused with The Paradons, who are also represented here with a silky-smooth version of their one hit, “Diamonds and Pearls”).
Even though I’m not part of the demographic who heard these songs their first time around — KISS, Queen and Foreigner were on my school-bus soundtrack — I’ve had a soft spot for doo-wop as long as I can remember. And for that I have to credit my father, who was growing up in the Bronx when Dion DiMucci was just a guy from the neighborhood, not the frontman for The Belmonts.
To hear my dad tell it, pretty much any group of guys with the inclination could (and would) gather on the street corner and form a doo-wop group. He even recalls doing a doo-wop competition with his sister and two friends at Mt. Carmel Church Hall in the Bronx, a gig that he thought went well until the other groups got up — all of them made up of “black kids who sounded like they should have been on the radio,” my dad recalls, laughing. “We didn’t even stay for the rest of the contest.”