Thursday, September 1, 2011

Old Song Review: Dion - Runaround Sue

I've been on a bit of a Doo-Wop kick lately. And by bit, I mean almost listening almost exclusively after being devastated by the Lil Wayne's mediocre Carter IV and having exhausted most other decade stations on my XM Radio (60's on 6, etc). I curiously turned the dial to 50's on 5, expecting to hear Buddy Holly, and was pleased to hear music that was much more varied and exciting than I anticipated. I've always associated the 60's with Rock and Roll music and the 40's with big band era sounds, and had generally assumed that the 50's were an wasteland of Americana, with Buddy Holly and Woody Guthrie the notable exceptions. As luck would have it, Doo-Wop music, the precursor to Motown and Rock and Roll as we know it, came to be in the 50's.

Doo-wop music revolved around sophisticated four-part harmonies, complete with a booming baritone to lay down the bass notes and an energetic alto to handle the higher octaves. Often with little insrument accompaniment, Doo-wop style evolved from the barbershop quartets of the 1940's and instead relied on the singers to mimic the instruments themselves. It wasn't until later in the decade that strings and drums became
regular players and the genre truly took off, gaining the name "doo-wop" after the song "In The Still of the Night" by The Five Satins used a "doo-wop doo-wah" refrain in 1956.

Dion and the Belmonts were a huge group in the late 50's and early 60's, before frontman Dion Dimucci entered rehab for heroin addiction in 1960 and embarked on a solo career. His first hit of this solo career was a little number called "Runaround Sue" that I can't get enough of and falls neatly into the second of two categories of doo-wop, which are as follows:

1. Pining/Lusting - Singer dramatically pines for girl, expresses undying love if only she acknowledged his desperate gaze. Some of these songs approach a Pepe Le Pew level of harassment.

Example: The Four Seasons - Sherry

2. Devastation/Heartbroken - Singer is dumped/discovers disturbing information about lover which causes pain and agony.

Example: Dion - Runaround Sue

Seriously, that's pretty much how they break down, with about 80% in the first category. But the second category is where the most memorable songs are found. There's only so many ways you can express your undying devotion, but any number of creative ways that you can be cheated on or otherwise disgraced.

In Dion's case, he finds out that his girlfriend is a ho. In those days, they called her a "runaround", but today we call that a ho. Pretty racy subject matter for a pop song 50 years ago, but I suppose infidelity never goes out of style.

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