DJ Bruce Morrow--Cousin Brucie to listeners--sits in his West Village townhouse. It’s decidely 1950s—a curvy, lighted jukebox is in one corner; a toddler’s antique metal car with pedals is in another; on a sideboard table there’s a wax replica of a retro malt shop meal—french fries, hamburger and milkshake. Morrow is tall and welcoming, and his voice resonates as if he’s on the radio as talks about his new book Doo Wop: The Music, the Times, the Era
You play R&B, ’50s rock and ‘60s rock on your show. Of all the music, why highlight doo wop in a book?
This was at the transition of pop—a short period between Vic Damone and rock ’n’ roll. I’ve always been enamored of the human voice as an instrument. When I agreed to do this book on doo wop music, I realized that it has to be more than the music, it has to be the culture and history of the era.
How would you define doo wop?
Doo wop is a salad bowl of music: it has a huge amount of gospel, as well as elements of the blues, r&b, soul, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll. Vocal harmony is the most important part of it—beginning with the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, the Platters. The idea of this kind of harmonizing developed basically because of lack of funds for instruments. You listen to the records, and you think there’s an orchestra there—the voices are just that rich. Doo wop got it’s name from the bass line of the music.
What is doo wop style?
Think of fast cars, tailfins and lights on the jukebox. The 45 rpm, the jukebox, the transistor radio—all these were developed for and marketed to young people and they all meant freedom, freedom of movement. It was rebellious.
Though to the ears of many people today, doo wop doesn’t sound rebellious.
Compare doo wop to the popular music of the time—Fred Astaire, Doris Day, Mills Brothers. Nothing dangerous, nothing that would challenge anyone. In the 1950s, there was racial tension, political strife, financial strife, McCarthyism. Doo wop was gentle in the beginning, but in the late1950s it changed. Dion and The Belmonts came on the scene. Dion had the black blues experience, but was brought up in the Bronx.
Why is there is a great nostalgia for doo wop?
People need something to hang their hat on, and we are in a world of change, everything is changing very quickly. The generation that has the money today—that of the 50s and 60s—wants comfort food. We tend to go to the same restaurant, sit in the same seats, and order the same thing. Habit is comfort. The music we grew up with is very comfortable for us.
How has pop music changed since then?
The difference of course is the enhancement of the human voice by computers. It was different with doo wop—those were the voices, with all the imperfections. I still want to hear the natural voice. Of course, I still hear doo wop influences in today’s music.
Even, say, in hip hop?
Sure, some. Music has always reflected society. Today’s music is angrier than doo wop, which was about love. Both hip hop and doo wop are the music of the streets—but the streets have changed.