Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Immortals #81 - The Drifters

It goes like this: Brian Wilson heard "Be My Baby" ringing in his ears as he composed his teenage symphonies to God, and Phil Spector heard The Drifters when he composed "Be My Baby"...

The Drifters weren't necessarily the best of the early R&B groups, not any more than the Ronettes were the greatest of Spector's stable of "pet" production projects (The Crystals and especially Darlene Love spring to mind there), but they definitely deserve credit as largely responsible for their era's advancement of black American music into the dominant popular form of 20th century. Though the charts were littered with pop vocal groups in the 1950s, the Drifters' evolution of straightforward doo-wop into full-fledged orchestrations and overwhelming success and popularity influenced artists across many genres as that decade gave way to the 1960s.

There would arguably be no Wall of Sound without the Drifters', who also happened to serve as the penultimate production vehicle of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (whose shared denial of a place on the Immortals list is borderline criminal). There would also be no Motown without the blueprint set by Leiber and Stoller's efforts with the Drifters, which fused pre-soul rhythm and blues to lush pop arrangements, yet still remained, unmistakably, "rock and roll."

Wedding orchestral strings and brass to the fledgling sounds of young R&B hardly seems like a revolutionary act today, but it is also telling that seemingly every genre-of-the-moment now "matures" into replicating exactly that once it becomes sufficiently mainstream today.

Oh, and they might actually have been the best of the early R&B vocal groups to boot. More than enough reason to warrant inclusion on this list.

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