Friday, January 06, 2006

The Jive Five with Eugene Pitt - What Time Is It

The Jive Five
Here we are. It’s Friday again. If you stop by here regularly, you’ll know that I like to drop something heavy on Friday, in anticipation of the weekend. On most Fridays, that means some heavy soul or funk, i.e. the kind of thing that’ll get you up out of your seat and moving. However, I recently snagged a copy of one of my all time favorite records, and while it’s heavy in many senses, the only kind of dancing it’ll inspire is slow and close. When you take a long look at the birth of soul music, and the kind of sounds that produced it’s most memorable performances, there are a couple of benchmarks that keep popping up again and again. The first of these – and the one you tend to hear about the most – is gospel. One need only read back a few months in this blog right here to see repeated references to great soul singers who got their start in the amen corner, offering up their shouts and hollers to the greater glory of God. The other “soul source”, and in many ways the model (and root) of the greatest soul groups is R&B harmony vocals, better known as doo wop. Now doo wop itself may be a slightly misleading term, because it really covers a wide variety of styles. Pick up Rhino records ‘Doo Wop Box’ and you’ll hear everything from ‘Speedoo’ by the Cadillacs and ‘Buzz Buzz Buzz’ by the Hollywood Flames (both upbeat, quasi novelty numbers) to monumental ballads like ‘In The Still of the Night’ by the Five Satins and one of the greatest records ever made ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ by the Flamingos*. The music was made by black vocal groups that went back to the days of early R&B like the Ravens, integrated groups like the Crests and groups of white teenagers like Dion & The Belmonts. No matter how many permutations there were/are, it all boils down to voices joined in harmony, rooted in rhythm & blues. You just can’t listen to a group like the Temptations, or especially later “sweet” soul groups like the Intruders, Persuasions or Stylistics without hearing the direct influence of the doo wop era on their records. Today’s selection is by a group that straddled eras, starting out in the late 50’s and recording into the 1970’s. The Jive Five formed in Brooklyn, and had their first hit with ‘My True Story’ which went to #1 in 1961. Led by Eugene Pitt, the Jive Five took the sound of the harmony group and imbued it with a more modern, urban edge. The records they made are important bridge between classic doo wop and early soul (in much the same way as a group like Little Anthony & The Imperials who charted steadily from 1958 to 1970). I first heard the song ‘What Time Is It’ in the early 80’s when it was covered (faithfully) by power popper Marshall Crenshaw. For many years I had no idea it was a Jive Five tune, until a few years later when I caught it one night on the late lamented WCBS-FM in New York. I was absolutely blown away by the vocals and production. The record is the tale of a guy getting ready for a date, in which he will reveal his feelings to his girl. The lyrics run from the pedestrian (“better put my tie on, it’s almost time”) to the poetic (“I will kiss her sweet lips while the magic of the moonlight makes her mine.”). Both the lead vocal by Pitt and the soaring backing vocals (and the repeating chime in the background) make this one of the great “night time” records ever made. The coda of the record, where the group sings ‘It’s time for love’ in a crescendo, followed by the repeated “weeeoooo” is a moment of pure brilliance. The instrumentation is very spare, with traces of bass, guitar and drums, but little more. Strangely enough, 'What Time Is It' does not appear to have charted outside of NYC. The tune was written by Gerald Goldstein, Robert Feldman and Richard Gottehrer, who also wrote ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ for the Angels, and went on to form the Strangeloves. Gottehrer went on to a major career as a punk/new wave record producer (coincidentally he produced Marshall Crenshaw’s first LP).
*Unfortunately you won't find 'What Time Is It' on Rhino's 'Doo Wop Box Vol 1' (you'll need to get vol 2)
NOTE: Word just came in that Lou Rawls passed away today. He was one of the great singers of his time. Click here to see out tribute to him on December 12th of last year. He will be missed.


Blogger Dave said...

I heard it on the radio: Lou Rawls passed away.

1/06/2006 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Lucas said...

Nice, the Jive Five rarely disappoint. "My True Story" certainly has grit for a slower tune and it's flipside, "When I Was Single" is an excellent faster tempo number. Their mid-sixties album for United Artists is also a keeper.

1/06/2006 06:17:00 PM  
Anonymous cj grogan said...

Always liked Marshall's version, I don't think I ever heard the original. Thoug I must have on Don K. Reed's Doo Wop Shop. Sorry to hear about Lou Rawls.. I was listening to WBGO when I heard and they started playing some of his best stuff as a tribute

1/06/2006 08:58:00 PM  
Blogger peter said...

Great minds think alike, and all that. I was listening to this song and My True Story just yesterday. I'm another graduate of Don K. Reed's Doo Wop Shop (when that went off the air was when CBS-FM really died), although living in VT now.

Lou Rawls' passing is sad. He was one of the classier and more versatile acts. Jazz, soul, pop, gospel -- he could do it all, and well.

1/07/2006 08:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw The Jive Five in concert last weekend and was amazed at their harmonies. After all these years, they sound as good, if not better, than in the 60s. Eugene Pitt sang one song by himself with no accompaniment and I would love to hear him do more. Why this group isn't in the vocal group Hall of Fame is beyond me.

6/13/2006 03:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Ed W from Port Huron said...

In all of my 5+ decades of loving R&B & Doo Wop, there is only one song that rates (almost) as high as "What Time Is It?" as the perfect song, that being Otis Redding's "I've been loving you too long".

I agree with the question, "Why didn't "What Time Is It?" ever chart out side of NYC?

10/23/2006 09:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seem to remember that back in 1961, (My True Story) Eugene Pitt used the name "Samuel Eugene Pitt" -- Is that so?

11/15/2006 01:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw the Jive Five at UGHA (United in Group Harmony) on Saturday 2/24/07. Unbelievable show. Eugene Pitt still has what it takes!

2/26/2007 07:08:00 PM  

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