musicology #388


Modernist #16

(The Orlons – The Wah Watusi)

Have to keep it brief today as I’m up to my eyeballs with various things that demand my full attention making it nigh on impossible to wax lyrical about Mod/ernists, Musicology, Sociology, Philosophy, The Bauhaus and all of the other strands that woven together inform who I am or even ‘we’ are.

So without delay hold this cut. Yet another from the magic year of 1962 by vocal group The Orlons..one of the important things about this cut is that it made #2 in the U.S Pop chart which for an ‘R&B’ vocal group was no mean feat and for me highlights one of the reasons that 1962 was an important year sociologically. Before then the likelyhood is that it would have been re-recorded by a more shall we say marketable vocal group but ‘walls’ were breaking down especially in America and ‘Race’ music was leading the charge.

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12 thoughts on “musicology #388

  1. As one of the best themes on themusicologist as far as I’m concerned winds down I’m still not really any the wiser about Modernist other than He did in fact exist. But now I’m certainly wiser on Mod/ernist…. and a lot wiser about my own roots… Now That’s Really Saying Something.

    The first paragraph of the text to the opening slice of music was…….
    “‘Modernist’ was a word used by some on the London scene in the early 1960’s to describe the ‘new breed’ of young bloods that had emerged out of the post war doldrums in Great Britain and had begun to throw off the shackles imposed on them by the establishment to do their own thing. They weren’t catered for or to so had to create a new set of ‘rules’, (clothes, music and attitude), and as a predominantly youth movement were unknown and unrecognizable, (this was when adolescents/teenagers were not even seen let alone heard), to all but those in the know. The influences of this movement were varied, (and will be gone into in greater detail as the theme unfolds), but as is often the case, (in England anyway), they were fused together by a creative vanguard to bear Englands first and most important youth movement.”

    And I questioned His very existence. Modernist, I asked, Who was he? Well, it seems He was a clued-up, not short of a few bob, slim built, 17/18 year old “face” (individualist) from a “cosmopolitan” striving class background who avoided trouble like the plague but was no-ones coward. He wasn’t “heard” (didn’t want to be) but He was “seen” (winkle-pickers with laces up the side for instance).
    Where was he I asked? The West End of London (mainly).
    Then When was he? 1959-1961 (lording it) 1962 (waning). What was he into? Continental style/cut clothes, (French and Italian New-Wave films) and Modern Jazz (plus the emerging American R&B).
    So How many of hims? Not “that” many!!!

    Please note : recent information/knowledge in brackets

    During the course of the debate, having established that He did in fact exist, I’m forced to ask myself WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM?
    Well, if you want my opinion, He didn’t move on to pastures new. Like the Teddy Boys and Beatniks from whence He came, He settled down, got a job/career, got married, had kids…

    “and the band played on”

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    1. my ‘conclusion’, (and i use that word lightly), is that the mod/ernist was a different breed to his predecessors, (the teddy boy, beatnick and elusive modernist), and in my opinion your last sentance nails it. His/her predecessors didn’t move on to pastures new because for them it doesn’t seem like there wasn’t much to move on to. the Mod/ernist on the other hand seems to have stayed true to his ‘ideals’ and didn’t truly settle down, get a job, recede into the background and become a member of the establishment mainly because his world was not made for him. he/she carried the torch well into the next decade and even beyond. You can still spot the mod/ernist today..they are still among us scheming and dreaming about how to get ‘up on the roof’.

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  2. …I liked this group, and remember buying “Don’t hang Up” by them in this period. They were on a label called Cameo-Parkway, which had a lot of hits around this time – Chubby Checker’s success must have bankrolled it to some extent, but also had tunes like for eg the Dovells “Bristol Stomp”, another one I remember from those days. Anyway, been enjoying this ‘series’, but now I’m just going ‘up on the roof’ myself….

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    1. Bristol Stomp…know it well. Strong memories of my uncle playing it when I was a boy growing up in the 70’s. Another one that sticks out for me from them days is Frankie Ford’s Sea Cruise. Evocative..
      Glad to hear that you have been enjoying this trip down ‘the lane’ Steve. You, the Countess and Tony Blue have provided priceless dialogue..thank you all.

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  3. There are a handful of songs that bring that early period back in sharp focus to me, and this is one of them…made even more special because it hasn’t had much airplay outside of them times, so a big thanks for including it in an already memorable list of tunes.
    As for the Mod/ernist, the devil lives on as ever in the detail.

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  4. “You can still spot the mod/ernist today..they are still among us scheming and dreaming about how to get ‘up on the roof’.”

    True, true. Put like that, how can I disagree?

    Anyone for The Exciters – Tell Him?
    Or The Chiffons – He’s So Fine?
    Or The Clovers – Love Potion Number Nine?

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    1. Yep, know the first two very well. The Clovers i’m not so sure of…I know the group but more for their 50’s doo wop.

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  5. Love Potion Number Nine – The Clovers.

    Make a mental note of it…. very big on the British “covers” scene. The original Leiber-Stoller song a 1959 Mod/ernist classic which was still being aired and danced to 1961/2.

    Covered by all and sundry (mainly Northern for some strange reason) British post-skiffle bands struggling to find themselves musically from 1960 0nwards (Beatles fans would probably dispute that date), it goes without saying it got “the Spanish Archer” at Mod venues 1963 onwards.

    In 1963 The Merseybeats (or The Searchers?) had a major hit with it.

    This tune was/is of real musicological inportance (I’d say historical too).

    Other ripped off songs that spring to mind being…..
    The Drifters, Pomus-Shuman song, Sweets For My Sweets. Earl-Jean (of Cookies fame) Goffin-Kind song I’m Into Something Good.
    There were many others and I’m sure Steve can nail a few more… I can’t (it hurts too much).

    “ripped off” is not a fair discription I suppose. Many of the original singers, and definately all the songwriters, were more than happy with the situation…. Untill it all went ‘orribly wrong for them that is!!!

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  6. If you get time, read this short biography… there’s something about it which, while in no way unique to The Orlons, captures one (just one) of the many threads woven into the Modernist-Mod/ernist-Mod(s) story. And it also picks out another… one which hasn’t been discussed yet: the “British Invasion” (note the media term/word “invasion”).

    This thread: the “in” music of 1962.

    “Fun filled dances tunes were the Orlons specialty, making them one of the most popular groups to ever come out of Philadelphia.


    Originally called Audrey and the Teenettes, the group was formed  at a Philadelphia junior high school in the early Fifties and consisted of Audrey, Jean, and Shirley Brickley, Rosetta Hightower, and Marlena Davis. When Mrs. Brickley refused to let Audrey, who was thirteen, sing with the others in one of Philadelphia’s small teen clubs she and sister Jean quit the group.

    Shirley, Rosetta, and Marlena continued to singing at Overland High School where they were heard by fellow student Stephan Caldwell, who sang with a local group called the Romeos. Caldwell brought his baritone lead to the girls attention and joined the group.

    The group was influenced by acts like The Chantels, Ray Charles, and The Moonglows.

    Len Barry, lead singer for the Cashmeres/Dovells and a friend from Overbrook High School, where the Orlons were students suggested they audution for Cameo-Parkway Records. So in the fall of 1961 the Orlons auditioned for Kai Mann. They did just that, but failed to stand out from the many that auditioned daily.

    Perservering the group came back for two more auduitions and were signed to record for Cameo Records. A&R director Dave Appell started writing songs for the group and decided to feature Rosetta on lead.

    The Orlons’ first single “I’ll Be True” elicited little interest as did their early 1962 follow-up “Happy Birthday 21.”

    In early 1962 The Orlons provided back-up vocals on Dee Dee Sharp’s Mashed Potato Time” (#2 Pop, #1 R&B).

    That spring they recorded “The Wah Watusi” which in July made it nationally to the #2 spot

    At the same time they again provided back-up vocals on Dee Dee Sharp’s second hit “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)” which went to #9.

    The follow-up to “The Wah Watusi” “Don’t Hang Up” reached #4 Pop and #3 R&B in the fall and winter of 1962.

    The Orlons’ first major performance was at New York’s Apollo Theatre with The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, Chuck Jackson, Tommy Hunt, and Gene Chandler.

    In 1963 they had hits with “South Street” (#3 Pop, #4 R&B) and “Crossfire” (#19 Pop, #25 R&B). The Orlons became mainstays of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars.

    In 1964 with the start of the British Invasion the best three of the four singles could do was make it into the 60s on the charts (“Shimmy Shimmy,” #66 “Rules of Love” #66, and “Knock Knock,” #64). These were the last of the Orlons’ chart hits.

    Marlena was the first to leave in October, 1963 to be replaced by Sandy Person, the wife of a member of the backup band. By this time Bernie Lowe had sold Cameo/Parkway to record distributor Alfred Rosenthal with little insight into the recording processs. Rosenthal hired Neil Scott, a telented producer, but it was already to late to fight the Brirish invasion.

    Steve left the group in late 1964, and was not replaced, followed by Sandy replaced by Yvonne Young, who was soon replaced by original member Audrey Brickley.

    In 1965 they moved to Calla Records and in 1967 to ABC Records with no success. However, their past successes allowed them to work into the 70s until Rosetta decided to move to England.

    In 1968, she worked with Joe Cocker singing backup on his first heit “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Rosetta worked with artists as diverse as Yvonne Ellman and Muddy Waters.

    She married an English musician and became a popular singer in England, where she still lives.

    Shirley and Audrey continued as Orlons using local singers to fill in at live performances.

    In 1977, Shirley was killed by an intruder in her home in Philadelphia.

    Steve became president of the local bus drivers’ union and was elected to the shol board where he was a member for twenty-five years.

    In the ’80s, “Don’t Hang Up was used by Macy’s and AT&T in television and radio commercials, which led to more work for the group.

    In 1988, Steve and Marlena reformed the group, but she passed away in 1993.

    Currently, the Orlons consist of Steve, Jean Brickly Maddox, Audrey Brickley and Lillian Washington Taylor, who had been with the group in the ’70s.

    Shirley died that year.

    Acknowledgements to http://www.history-of-Rock.com (keep up the fantastic work!)

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  7. Yes, I also remember buying “South Street” at the time, with the line “Where do all the hippies meet – South Street, South Street” – this a few years before there were any ‘hippies’. Always liked their name – sounds like a new fabric !

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  8. I liked Dont Hang Up, another really good record to jive to……I’d forgotten South Street! so thanks for that memory jog, I can hear it clearly in my ‘minds ear’!

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  9. “New fabric”…. you pulling legs there Steve?

    As I’m sure you’re aware…. The name came about when Steven Caldwell checked out the label of a roll-neck sweater he was wearing…. on the label were washing instructions for, yes, Orlon!!!

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