Records practically invented the
60s dance craze. Ever hear of
Chubby Checker is perceived by some as a one-hit-wonder for his revolutionary recording that persuaded people of all ages around the world to get out on the dance floor. The fact of the matter is that the underrated performer from South Philly was as prolific as he was terrific. One of my favorite records by Chubby is "The Fly," a dance number
that broke into the top 10 during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season of 1961.
"The Fly" - Chubby Checker
(November 1961, highest chart position #7)
During the golden era of doo-wop and rock and roll there were many acts named after birds (Flamingos, Penguins, Larks, Wrens, Robins, Crows, Ravens, Orioles) and cars (Edsels, Cadillacs, Cobras, Stingrays, GTO's, Fleetwoods, Impalas, El Dorados). There were also quite a number of groups named after fabrics or articles of clothing (Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, the Swinging Blue Jeans, the
Turbans, Chiffons, Five Satins, Velvets).
You can add to that list the Philly vocal group The Orlons. The Orlons came up with their name as a friendly poke at
the Cashmeres, another vocal group at their high school that was named after a type of fabric. As the story goes, school friend Len Barry, lead singer of the Dovells, urged the Orlons to audition for Cameo-Parkway. C-P had already established Len and the Dovells as hit makers with "Bristol Stomp." As you are about to learn, several Cameo-Parkway releases that shoulda been, coulda been and woulda been #1 hits, were instead denied that honor by the songs of other artists. "Bristol Stomp," for example, reached #2 on the Billboard chart before being turned back by "Runaround Sue" (Dion) and "Big Bad John" (Jimmy Dean).
"Bristol Stomp" - Dovells
(November 1961, highest chart position #2)
Upon signing with Cameo the Orlons were initially used as backing vocalists for soloist Dee Dee Sharp. The Orlons sang backup on Dee Dee's first two dance hits beginning with "Mashed Potato Time," one of the most exciting records to emerge during the pre-Beatles 60s.
"Mashed Potato Time" ran into the same brick wall as had "Bristol Stomp." The record was headed straight for #1 but was blocked from that spot for several weeks, first by "Johnny Angel" (Shelley Fabares) and then by "Soldier Boy" (Shirelles). Listen now to "Mashed Potato Time" and I think you'll agree...Dee Dee Sharp and the Orlons cook!
"Mashed Potato Time" - Dee Dee Sharp
(April 1962, highest chart position #2)
In the summer of 1962 the Orlons backed Dee Dee on her follow-up hit "Gravy (for My Mashed Potatoes)." The Orlons recorded their own version of "Gravy" which became a track on their debut album The Wah-Watusi.
"Gravy" - Orlons
(track from 1962 album The Wah-Watusi)
Now, here's that first smash hit for the Orlons, held back from the #1 chart position by "Roses are Red" (Bobby Vinton) and by "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" (Neil Sedaka).
"Wah-Watusi" - Orlons (August 1962,
highest chart position #2)
Dee Dee Sharp, who had also started as a background singer and rose through the ranks at Cameo, capped off the year with her third top 10 hit in a row, a super fast dancer entitled "Ride!"
"Ride!" - Dee Dee Sharp (December 1962,
highest chart position #5)
"Stompin' Everywhere," the flip side of "You Can't Sit Down," is highly derivative of "Bristol Stomp." Nevertheless, the Dovells' killer bee is another fine Philly style dance record, tailor made for Jerry Blavat's yon teens and the Geator's gang at Memories in Margate, New Jersey!
"Stompin' Everywhere" - Dovells
(June 1963, uncharted flip side of
"You Can't Sit Down")
In 1963 the Orlons had a hit single with an ear pleasing cover of "Not Me," a song recorded two years earlier by R&B rocker Gary U.S. Bonds.
"Not Me" - Orlons (July 1963,
highest chart position #12)
The Orlons version of "Not Me" was smooth and polished. Now listen to Bonds' rough, raw and rowdy rendition and
I think you'll agree that the original's still the greatest.
"Not Me" - Gary U.S. Bonds (track from
1961 album Dance 'Til Quarter to Three)
To conclude my six degrees of Cameo post let's jump ahead to 1967, the end of the line for Cameo Records. By 1967 it was an entirely different decade and a different world. Dance singles, Cameo-Parkway's bread and butter, had started going out of style at the beginning of 1964 when the Beatles conquered the world. The era of the singer/songwiter was upon us. Cameo tried to adapt but it was too little too late. Financially crippled, Cameo Records went belly up. Evie Sands, one of the greatest and most overlooked artists of the 60s, had the dubious honor of recording the last single on the Cameo label. The song that I would like you to hear was one of the last. It's the original recording of songwriter Chip Taylor's "Angel of the Morning" waxed by Evie Sands a full year before Merrillee Rush turned the song into a top 10 hit. As was so often the case in Evie's hard luck career, her fine rendition never charted.
"Angel of the Morning" - Evie Sands
(May 1967, uncharted)
For decades, record collectors fussed and fumed as the Cameo-Parkway vaults remained sealed amid litigation, preventing the release on compact disc of dozens of essential songs produced by the company. Finally, a few years ago, the long awaited four disc C-P box set hit the market and I highly recommend it. You can forget about that slick, high gloss 70s stuff. If you want to hear the real sound of Philadelphia, then Cameo-Parkway in the early 60s is the place to start!
Have a Shady day!