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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Universal's 'Doo Wopp' Ditties

December 25, 1987|CRAIG LEE

"Oldies" shows are often desultory affairs featuring groups with only one original member (if that) supported by indifferent backing bands. Which is why the periodic "New York Doo Wopp" shows at the Universal Amphitheatre are usually a joy for anyone who enjoys vintage rock 'n' roll. The backing band, the Monte Carlos, pumps new lifeblood into the old classics, and past shows have presented little-known but outstanding vocalists like Vito & the Salutations.

Wednesday's Christmas edition of "New York Doo Wopp" at the Amphitheatre was a tad weak compared to earlier editions. Especially disconcerting was the inclusion of the Diamonds. The quartet's bleached versions of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" and "Silhouettes" were an annoying reminder of how white groups in the '50s capitalized on black artists by sanitizing their hits for white teenagers.

Curiously, the Diamonds didn't perform their 1957 dance hit "The Stroll," one of their darker, moodier and more interesting originals. The crowd loved their slick, Vegas-like show, but remained a bit cool for the highlight of the evening, headliners Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, who were soulful, sexy and salacious as they romped through early risque R & B routines like "Work With Me Annie" and the original "The Twist." Backed by a crackerjack vocal trio and his own hot-shot band, Ballard kept his tradition alive and kicking--or twisting.

Though Shirelles lead singer Shirley Alston left the group a long time ago, original member Doris Kenner had enough of Alston's phrasing and an overdose of spunky energy Wednesday, helping the group revitalize some of the greatest girl-group anthems ("Soldier Boy," "Will You Love Me Tommorrow," "Dedicated to the One I Love") in pop history.

Also appearing: the Jaguars, the Rivingtons, Lenny Welch (whose gruff, soulful style was a far cry from the high tenor that made "Since I Feel For You" a sentimental classic) and the a cappella quintet West Coast. Not all of these oldies were doo-wopp goodies, but when they were good, they could shing-a-ling-a-bing-bam-boom with the best of them.

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