Various Artists – Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups vol one (review)

Various Artists – Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups, vol.1 (Real Gone Music / ABKCO) review

When the words “unreleased” and “doo wop” are put together these days, it usually means bottom-of-the-barrel material – leftover tracks which shouldn’t have been released in the first place – all to satisfy the rabid fanbase that the genre still enjoys.  That’s what makes The Cameo Parkway Vocal Groups, vol 1 such a surprise – the disc is jam-packed full of songs that could easily sit alongside the finest R&B vocal group hits of the late Fifties and early Sixties. The collection comprises 24 tracks recorded for the Philadelphia independent label – all of them making their debut on CD, and not one of them cracked the Billboard Hot 100 charts.  But, don’t let that dissuade you.  These songs are from top-notch groups, many who had success with other hits (like the Skyliners, Rays, and Dovells).  Other tracks come from bands like Rick and the Masters and the Lydells, who were more regional in their popularity, but not on a national level.

One of the finest examples is from the Rays, who were just coming off the Top Five success of their hit “Silhouettes.”  The followup single, “Triangle,” had the same arrangement, and featured the same delicious vocal harmonies.  Heck, it even had a surprise ending to the lyrics – yet it inexplicably never charted, leaving the Rays as a true “one-hit wonder.”  Perhaps the song’s lyrics – “when I find that so-and-so / gonna bust him in the nose,” shied radio away from playing it.

Other bands like the Skyliners, Lee Andrews, and Pookie Hudson & the Spaniels, all went to Cameo/Parkway after their hits on other labels had dried up, but these singles still are of great quality.  The soaring falsetto of the Turbans re-recording of their previous hit “When You Dance” actually outdoes the original – aping a little of the arrangement of the Drifters‘ “Save the Last Dance for Me.”  While the Anglos pay homage to the Flamingos‘ version of “I Only Have Eyes for You” with their “Raining Teardrops.”

Some of the tracks were left in the archives when bands left for other labels.  The Tymes had a successful stint with the company, but then jumped ship, leaving “Did You Ever Get My Letter” in the vaults, sounding very much like a re-write of “Stand By Me” from Ben E. King.  The Dovells’ “Bristol Stomp” was a huge smash in 1961, yet somehow, “Short on Bread” never saw release either, despite it’s frenetic drumming and honking horn solo.

There are also artists included who went on to bigger and better things – Garnet Mimms, who would score a monster soul hit with “Cry Baby” in 1963, sings lead for the Gainors’ “You Must Be An Angel,” complete with a killer Vibro-guitar sound.  And, the great Curtis Mayfield plays piano on the ballad “Sandra Baby” from the Gleems.

While most record labels have long ago bled their archives dry, the Cameo/Parkway vaults are still plentiful – largely the result of them only recently agreeing for their material to come out on CD.  As a result, there is still a treasure trove of material worth hearing (hence the “vol 1” in the title).  The accompanying booklet features track by track annotation by Ed Osborne, giving a little history to these long-forgotten tracks.  If you call yourself a doo wop fan – this is a must own.  –Tony Peters