Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Orlons: "The Wah-Watusi/South Street" (2010) CD Review

This CD contains two complete albums by The Orlons: The Wah-Watusi (1962) and South Street (1963). The Orlons were Shirley Brickley, Rosetta Hightower, Marlena Davis and Stephen Caldwell, all teenagers when they formed the band.

It is mind-boggling that these albums were not released on CD before this. This music is so much fun, and most of it is stuff people will remember, wonderful songs from the early 1960s. This CD is one of the best releases of the year so far. It's impossible to say too many good things about this album.

"Dedicated To The One I Love"

It begins with the best version ever of "Dedicated To The One I Love." (Yes, better than the version by The Shirelles, and better than that by The Mamas & The Papas.) The vocals are phenomenal. This song was written by Lowman Pauling and Paul Brass.

"Tonight" has male lead vocals. Who knew that Stephen Caldwell sang lead at all in this band? It's a great song, with a nice early rock and roll beat and some cool flourishes on the saxophone.
Kal Mann Wrote Songs For The Orlons

"Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)" was written by Kal Mann and Dave Appell. Kal Mann was co-founder of Cameo-Parkway (along with Bernie Lowe), and he wrote or co-wrote a lot of songs for The Orlons.

"I'll Be True" was also written by Kal Mann. This song was the band's first single, released in 1961. It's about a girl singing to her boy who is a soldier, saying she'll be true to him until he returns.

"The Wah-Watusi"

"The Wah-Watusi," the title track, was also a single for The Orlons. It was their third single, released in 1962, and it reached #2 on the U.S. pop chart. This song was also written by Kal Mann and Dave Appell. It's a fun dance song with great fills on drums.

This CD has a really great version of "Let Me In," driven by the simple drum beat. It features that great saxophone.

"I Met Him On A Sunday (Ronde Ronde)" was originally done by The Shirelles. The version by The Orlons is wonderful. It's a little playful in the vocals, which is a nice touch.

"(Happy Birthday) Mr. Twenty-One"

"(Happy Birthday) Mr. Twenty-One" was The Orlons' second single, and the last song on The Wah-Watusi. It's a slower song about a girl who will finally get married now that her boyfriend is twenty-one. Ah, young love, the lyrics include this line: "Long since I became sixteen, we wanted to walk down the aisle."

"Walk Right In"

The second album on this CD, South Street, begins with a cool version of "Walk Right In." This is the folk song done by The Rooftop Singers. This version is quite different - firstly because of Stephen Caldwell's vocals (first just adding little touches, then taking lines), and secondly due to the excellent saxophone solo and handclaps. It all really works well. This is a wonderful version of the song.

Stephen Caldwell's Frog Voice

On "Big Daddy," Stephen Caldwell does his low, frog-like voice, something he hadn't done on the other album. This album, however, has a lot of him doing that voice. This song has a fun, fast sax that sounds like the theme to The Benny Hill Show.

Stephen does the frog voice on "Cement Mixer" too, which is a wonderful contrast to the very pretty voices of the girls. This is a silly, fun song written by Slim Gaillard and Lee Ricks.

The most well known version of "Mr. Sandman" is by The Chordettes. But this version by The Orlons is really good too. Their voices are so beautiful on this one. The drums seem louder, more prominent, on this version.

"Charlie Brown"

The Orlons' version of "Charlie Brown" is more relaxed, not as frantic as that by The Coasters, but it features Caldwell doing his frog voice, and it has a wonderful piano part during the chorus where the saxophone would be.

"South Street"

"South Street" is probably The Orlons' most famous song, about "the hippest street in town." It was also released as a single - the band's fifth - and it reached #3 on the U.S. pop chart. It was written by Kal Mann and Dave Appell, and was originally going to be titled "Samson Street," the strip in Philadelphia where the clubs were located. But then Kal Mann changed the lyric to "Where all the hippies meet," which was South Street.

"Don't Let Go"

"Don't Let Go" is a song written by Jesse Stone, one that the Jerry Garcia Band would play regularly, stretching out on it. But here is a quick, fun version of it, with interesting pauses. And of course a bit of frog voice, "Don't let go, don't let go." Roy Hamilton had a hit with this song in 1958. Isaac Hayes recorded a disco version of this song in 1979.

The album ends with "We Got Love," a song written by Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe, the founders of Cameo-Parkway.

CD Track List
  1. Dedicated To The One I Love
  2. Tonight
  3. Mashed Potato Time
  4. The Plea
  5. Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)
  6. I'll Be True
  7. The Wah-Watusi
  8. He's Gone
  9. Let Me In
  10. Over The Mountain, Across The Sea
  11. I Met Him On A Sunday (Ronde Ronde)
  12. (Happy Birthday) Mr. Twenty-One
  13. Walk Right In
  14. Big Daddy
  15. Cement Mixer
  16. Mister Sandman
  17. Charlie Brown
  18. Gather 'Round
  19. South Street
  20. Between 18th & 19th On Chestnut Street
  21. Don't Let Go
  22. Muskrat Ramble
  23. Pokey
  24. We Got Love
What is orlon? Well, according to Webster's Dictionary, it's a fabric of synthetic acrylic fiber similar to nylon. It also became a brand name. They named themselves The Orlons as a nod to a rival band called The Cashmeres.

This CD is one of the initial six Cameo-Parkway classic records to be released through Collectors' Choice Music in conjunction with ABKCO. The Wah-Watusi/South Street is scheduled to be released June 22, 2010.

(Note: I originally posted this review on May 13, 2010 on another web site.)

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