Lou Christie sings "Lightnin' Strikes"
Saturday night’s 11th annual Ultimate Doo-Wop Show at New York’s Beacon Theatre stretched the definition of the early rock ‘n’ roll vocal group genre, though it certainly featured some of the top vocalists then and now, as well as others ably maintaining the traditions of acts whose original members are long gone.
Remarkably, headliner Lou Christie’s trademark falsetto is not only fully intact, he still sings his classic hits “I’m Gonna Make You Mine,” “Two Faces Have I,” “Rhapsody in the Rain,” and of course, signature set-closer “Lightnin’ Strikes” in the original key. At the Beacon, he also performed “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” introduced by Jeanette MacDonald in the 1930 film Monte Carlo and revived by Christie in 1973 before its use in the 1988 movie hit Rain Man, he said, bought him his New York City brownstone.
Rivalling Christie’s vocal sustainability was The Tokens’ lead singer Jay Siegel, now fielding Jay Siegel’s Tokens. Siegel’s lead on his group’s immortal 1961 hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was downright spooky in its fidelity to the original recording. He also sang a couple big hits he produced: The Happenings’ “See You in September” and The Chiffons’ “One Fine Day,” and “Diamonds and Pearls,” which he first sang a cappella with his bandmates as a teenager at Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School gym; at the Beacon, he brought out his son Jared Siegel, who entered the picture 15 years later.
The Harptones also boasted its original lead singer Willie Winfield—hence its billing as Willie Winfield & The Harptones. This edition also starred Louise Murray, a member of both The Hearts (“Lonely Nights”) and more famously, The Jaynetts (“Sally Go ‘Round the Roses”). They performed the Harptones’ 1955 hit “Life Is But a Dream,” with Winfield—now using a cane—joking about his fear of getting too close to the edge of the stage and falling into a woman’s lap.
The Marvellettes also included one original, Katherine Anderson, who also used a cane. Prior to performing the celebrated Motown female vocal group’s 1961 classic “Please Mr. Postman” Anderson recounted how the song, later covered by The Beatles, came out of meeting so many postmen while out on tour.
Joey Dee was the other original artist on the bill, and was in good voice on his signature hit “Peppermint Twist.” The other artists were The Shades of Blue (singing their 1966 hit “Oh How Happy”) and the cast from The Signal: A Doo Wop Rhapsody, including The Spaniels, Stormy Weather, Willie Rogers of the Soul Stirrers, Pete Mastropaolo & The Coda Band, and The Coasters.
Performing second to last ahead of Christie, The Coasters deserve special mention. While it must be noted that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Coasters inductees—lead vocalist Carl Gardner, baritone Billy Guy, bass Will “Dub” Jones and tenor Cornell Gunter, all from the fabled group’s 1958 configuration--are all deceased, their current stand-ins showed such flair and dedication in filling their spots, both vocally and choreographically, that the once often-litigious issue of performers doing business under the names of oldies groups seemed to hold no relevance, at least to this audience.
All came out for the obvious finale, The Spaniels’ 1954 doo-wop classic “Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite.”