The Marcels was an American doo-wop group known for turning popular music songs into rock and roll. The group formed in 1959 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and signed to Colpix Records with lead Cornelius Harp, bass Fred Johnson, Gene Bricker, Ron Mundy, and Richard Knauss. The group was named after a popular hair style of the day, the marcel wave, by Fred Johnson's younger sister Priscilla.
|Years active||1959–1962, 1972|
In 1961, the Marcels released a new version of the ballad "Blue Moon" that began with the bass singer singing, "bomp-baba-bomp-ba-bomp-ba-bomp-bomp... vedanga-dang-dang-vadinga-dong-ding...". The record sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. It is featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
The disc went to number one in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart. In the US, additional revivals in the same vein as "Blue Moon"—"Heartaches" and "My Melancholy Baby"—were less successful, although "Heartaches" peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and eventually sold over one million copies worldwide.
The introduction to "Blue Moon" was an excerpt of an original song that the group had in its act, a cover of "Zoom" by the Cadillacs. Colpix A&R director Stu Phillips transferred the introduction to "Blue Moon" in order to give the song additional flair. The Marcels recorded "Blue Moon" in two takes. A promotion man asked for and got a copy of the finished tape, which found its way to DJ Murray the K. He promoted it as an "exclusive" and reportedly played it 26 times on one show.
In August 1961, due to racial problems encountered while touring in the Deep South because of the group being multi-racial, Knauss and Bricker—the group's white members—left and were replaced by Allen Johnson (brother of Fred) and Walt Maddox. Mundy left soon after, leaving the group a quartet. In 1962, Harp and Allen Johnson left and were replaced by Richard Harris and William Herndon. There was a brief reunion of the original members in 1973. The group made several recordings in 1975 with Harp back on lead. Original member Gene Bricker died on December 10, 1983. Allen Johnson died of cancer on September 28, 1995 at age 55. By the early 1990s, the group included Johnson, Maddox, Harris, Jules Hopson, and Richard Merritt. The group split around 1995. Fred Johnson formed his own group with new members, while the other four members recruited new bassist Ted Smith. Maddox won a lawsuit against Sunny James Svetnic, the manager of Johnson's group, for trademark infringement in 1996. Johnson reunited with Harp, Mundy and Knauss in 1999 for the PBS special Doo Wop 50.
Original lead singer Cornelius "Nini" Harp died on June 4, 2013 at the age of 73.
"Teeter-Totter Love" (1963 version)
The Marcels' popularity in 1961 was so great that they were included in the Oscar Rudolph film Twist Around the Clock. Released on December 30, 1961, with the tagline "It's Twist-eriffic! The first full-length movie about the Twist!" the film also showcased fellow artists Chubby Checker, Dion DiMucci, Vicki Spencer and singer-songwriter and TV show host turned actor Clay Cole. Allen Johnson, Gene Bricker, Cornelius Harp, Fred Johnson, Richard Knauss and Ronald Mundy of The Marcels were all included--and had speaking parts in addition to performing musical numbers. They sing "Merry Twist-Mas", which was released over Christmas 1961, though no chart action ensued.
This Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon movie, about a millionaire who sets out to prove his theory that his pet chimpanzee is as intelligent as the teenagers who hang out on the local beach where he is intending to build a retirement home but ends in hilarious results, also included two of The Marcels, Gene Bricker and Cornelius Harp. They provided backing vocals for two songs, Avalon's "Gimme Your Love Yeah Yeah Yeah" and Little Stevie Wonder's "(Happy Feelin') Dance And Shout".