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The Marcels

Blue Moon

By 1961, racially integrated vocal groups weren't as rare as they'd been a few years earlier. The Marcels came together at Pittsburgh's Oliver Allegheny High School in 1959, split between black singers (lead tenor Cornelius 'Nini' Harp, first tenor Ronald 'Bingo' Mundy, and bass Fred Johnson) and white (second tenor Gene Bricker and baritone Richard Knauss). Their name immortalized Johnson's wavy hairstyle.

Manager Jules Kruspir fired off some demos to Colpix Records, a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures. Soon The Marcels headed to New York for a session. They arrived in the middle of a blizzard, but made their debut date with A&R man Stu Phillips on February 15, 1961. Stu dug Johnson's extended bass riff that introduced the group's cover of The Collegians' Zoom Zoom Zoom, but not the song itself. At Phillips' suggestion, they transplanted that bass barrage onto the front of Blue Moon, a pop oldie written by Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart in 1934.

Harp did the tender lyrics of Blue Moon justice in a rock and roll setting, though Rodgers hated the quintet's doo-wop revival so much that he reportedly placed newspaper ads asking the public not to buy it! New York deejay Murray The K got his hands on a tape of The Marcels' Blue Moon and spun it repeatedly over the airwaves of WINS. Colpix pressed it up before month's end, paired with the ballad Goodbye To Love. By early April Blue Moon was the #1 hit on the pop and R&B hit parades. Wasting no time, Colpix had a 'Blue Moon' LP, filled with doo-wop standards, out by July.

The Marcels raided Tin Pan Alley again to take their best shot at George Gershwin's Summertime but it barely made a blip, peaking at #79 pop that spring. A revival of You Are My Sunshine missed altogether. By the time they cut their next big hit that September, The Marcels were no longer integrated: Fred's brother Allen Johnson was the new baritone, and Walt Maddox, formerly of The Blenders (another Pittsburgh outfit), came in that May on second tenor.

Their first session with the new lineup produced Heartaches, another rocking Tin Pan Alley remake harking back to 1931 with Johnson's bass pipes again prominent that sailed to #7 pop at year's end. They lip-synched Blue Moon and the seasonal Merry Twist-Mas in the Sam Katzman-produced film musical 'Twist Around The Clock,' also starring Chubby Checker and Dion, but Mundy left before year's end.

1961 was The Marcels' year. Only a redo of the ancient My Melancholy Baby made a little chart noise for the quartet after that, though they stuck with Colpix into '63. Maddox now owns the name and manages a group that works as The Marcels.

Various Street Corner Symphonies 1961 Vol.13

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