April 11, 1994 12:00 PM

Various artists

To grownups in the ’50s, a writer once said, it must have seemed that America’s teenagers had absolutely lost their minds. Gone was the civilized lilt of big-band swing; here—surely not to stay!—was a barnyard of falsello wails (“oo-weee-ooh!”), moronic-sounding basso grunts (“dip-dip-dip-dip”) and nasal lead singers’ pledges of undying devotion (“my dahhrrling!”).

Boy, did it sound great! The brains of countless Americans between the ages of 40 and 55 still echo with the strains of doo-wop, the music of early rock-and-roll harmonizing vocal groups. It seems pretty lame today, but to ’50s teens, doo-wrop was an article of rebellion, a language that parents simply couldn’t share. Though it crossed over to a big white audience, it remained primarily the creation of blacks, street-corner harmonizers with big dreams—who proved easy marks for venal businessmen. Doo-wop’s tragic emblem, fiery little Frankie Lymon, had a Top 10 hit (“Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”) at 13, a heroin habit at 17 and a funeral at 26.

This 101-song box set, with coproducer Bob Hyde’s superb track-by-track annotation, hits all the high spots: late-’40s pioneers like the Ravens; early birds like the Crows (“Gee”) and the Penguins (“Earth Angel”); the big guns—Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Platters (“Only You [and You Alone]”), the Dell-Vikings (Come Go with Me); and the late classics, circa 1960, like the Earls’ “Remember Then.”

Sure, doo-wop was often idiotic, but at its best it produced gems like the Cadillacs’ shimmering “Gloria” and the Marcels’ irresistibly dopey “Blue Moon.” And for millions, it will always evoke the memory of their first crush, their first kiss. (Rhino)

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