Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The Coasters

As I have said before in this blog, I have always had fairly eclectic music tastes. Indeed, among the genres of music I have always liked has been doo wop. And the doo wop group I have always loved the most has been The Coasters. The Coasters had a string of hits starting in 1956 and lasting into the Sixties.

The Coasters evolved out of a previous group called The Robins, which had been formed William and Ray Richards in 1945 as the A-Sharp Trio. The Trio became a quartet with the introduction of Bobby Nunn. They also adopted a new name--The Four Bluebirds. It was in 1949 with their first recording session that they became The Robins. It was also this year that they had their first hit on the R&B charts. It was 1954 that would see several changes with regards to The Robins. They signed to a new label, the brand new Spark Records, which had been started by legendary songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Michael Stoller. The Robins also picked up two new members in the form of Carl Gardner and Grady Chapman.

It was not long after the giant Atlantic Records had bought Spark Records that The Robins broke up. At the time their song "Smokey Joe's Cafe" was moving up the charts. At the suggeston of Leiber and Stoller, Carl Gardner and Bobby Nunn formed The Coasters. They quickly added Billy Guy, Leon Hughes, and Adolph Jacobs. Their first single, "Down in Mexico," went top ten on the R&B charts. It was with "Searchin'" that they had their breakthrough hit. The song not only did well on the R&B charts, but crossed over to the pop charts where it became their first #1 hit.

Even though "Searchin'" was a bona fide hit, The Coasters would go sometime without a hit. It was not until "Yakety-Yak" that they would again hit the charts. "Yakety-Yak" went #1 on the pop charts in 1958. It not only re-established The Coasters as hit makers, but also established the style for which they would best be known. A song about the problems of teenagers done in a humourous style, their biggest hits from that point forward would also be played for laughs. Indeed, they followed "Yakety-Yak" with "Charlie Brown (which went to #2 on the charts in 1959)," a song about a teenage troublemaker, "Along Came Jones (my personl favourite, which went to #9 on the charts that same year)," a tribute to the old Western serials, and "Poison Ivy (which also went to #7 in 1959--the song was apparently a veiled reference to STDs...)."

The Coasters continued to chart hits (among them "Little Egypt" and "Shoppin' for Clothes" into 1960 and 1961. Unfortunately, the Sixties would prove rough for The Coasters. With changes in membership during the decade, The Coasters found themeselves unable to chart records as they once did. Their last hit came in 1971, with a remake of "Love Potion #9." The last record they ever released was "If I Had a Hammer" in 1976. Since that time various groups have used the name "The Coasters," even though Gardner owned the rights to the name. The Coasters not only tried to keep other groups from falsely calling themselves "The Coasters," but started billing themselves as "The Original Coasters." They still perform to this day, although Gardner's son, Carl Gardner Jr., took over his role as leader of the group.

I don't know that The Coasters were necessarily among the most influential groups of the Sixties, but it seems to me that they are certainly among the best remembered. Their songs are still recongisable by many and still receive their fair share of air play on oldies stations. Many of their songs would be covered by other artists, among them "Poison Ivy (covered by The Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann, and many other artists)," "Searchin' (by both The Hollies and The Lovin' Spoonful), "Young Blood (covered by The Beatles in their BBC sessions, Leon Russell, and Bad Company)," and "Three Cool Cats (recorded by The Beatles)." Although they have not had a hit record in over thirty years, The Coasters continue to be one of the most popular doo wop groups of all time.

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