July 8, 2013

The Bird Group Era 1950-1962

The Penguins Earth Angel

What A Great Era It Was!

by Eddie Estrada


t inspired the black vocal groups to no end: groups like the early Robins, Orioles, Larks, Ravens and Flamingos, to mention a few. Almost any bird you can think of had a group named after it. I remember the first time I heard that phrase; it was from a price guide that Steve Propes wrote back in 1973. God bless you, Steve. That book inspired me so much, I became an avid collector and these days I do a little dealing.

Going back to why these groups were so instrumental in the classic Doo Wop sound is that they crossed over the white pop barrier, which, in my humble opinion, was predictable and boring. You take a song like “Gee” by the Crows and give it to Pat Boone; it’s like night and day. You can relate to a song like “Ten Days in Jail” by the Robins (not that you want to experience it). These up-tempos and ballads were sung with heart and soul. The up-tempos were fun. Take a record like “Earth Angel” by the Penguins, it’s a monster! Belongs in the Hall of Fame. It came out in 1954 and it’s still a great song today. A lot of these songs have passed the test of time.

Earth Angel DootoneBefore the bird groups, you had the Ink Spots and Mills Brothers; black groups that had more of a pop sound. The early bird groups began the transitional period when groups like the Flamingos went from that beautiful smooth harmony to a more modern sound in the mid-‘60s. Some bird groups like the Robins started off with a bluesy style, then went to novelty up-tempo on the Spark label, and hit their stride when they became the Coasters.

Some groups adapted to the times and some just did their thing during their time. You find original 45s buy the Larks on the Apollo Label; you’re talking 4-digit numbers. You find red wax records by the Flamingos on Chance, same thing. I sometimes feel guilty listening to these marvelous sounds, knowing there are lots of young collectors today who don’t know or appreciate how great this music was, and still is for Doo Wop collectors. You listen to “Dream of a Lifetime” by the Flamingos on Parrot label or “Chimes” by the Pelicans on the Imperial label – these sounds will just blow you away.

So, if you can’t find the record, do the second best thing and get it on CD or a compilation LP because the chances of finding them are very slim and in most cases very expensive. I’d like to sum it up by saying the Great Doo Wop Era is for the birds, but as a wise owl once said, “who gives a hoot?”


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