You may find this surprising, but I’m a BIG fan of doo-wop music and 1950’s rock and roll music. The best of it captures a pure joy and simplicity that isn’t found in many other styles of music. It’s certainly not “cool” to write about painless naïve joy today, and hasn’t been for most of my adult life. And consequently, I find it very difficult to write eloquently about pure joy and simplicity. There is something so transcendent to me about the fact that “la la la la la la la la LAH” means “I love you.” It’s so simple and so complex at the same time. It’s as if everyone decided to create a new language, most of the time without translation. But instead of it turning sock hops into the Tower of Babel, everyone actually learned the same dances.
And it isn’t all just about fun and games. Because of the way people recorded back then—live in a room during a three-hour session—the sound of those recordings is so visceral and real to me. The Flamingos’ 1959 recording of “I Only Have Eyes For You” is still one of the spookiest things I have ever heard. Those bone-chilling doo-bop sh-bops still freak me out every time I hear them. The above video of them performing the song, obviously from the 1960s, is just as spooky if you ask me. (The story behind the recording is here.)
Actually, when I think about it, Sigur Ros might be the closest thing we have to an extreme doo-wop group today, at least in style and approach. Jonsi created the Hopelandic language in order to get away from words and try to express something deeper. There is something so timeless about that concept, and the way that it resounds with me is so uncategorizable. The songs have a different meaning every time, completely present in the moment, but it always seems to revolve around love and beauty.
My wife and I play all kinds of music for our daughter every day, but something special happens when old doo-wop comes on. Her face lights up with recognition at every single “ooh wah,” and she starts to lip sync all of the nonsense lyrics. Not surprisingly, I think these syllables actually have meaning to her, the same meaning that they have for us—they’re really really fun to say.