The Platters/The Flying Platters
The Platters were and are one of the most definitive and important doo-wop groups, not only for their sweet harmonies and timeless tunes, but also for their role as one of the biggest (if not the biggest) doo-wop crossover acts of all time. Fifty million record sales says a lot, after all. Even though they formed in 1952 and recorded for tiny Federal Records, their presence on the doo-wop scene was nondescript, and, truthfully, as good as they were, it wasn’t until a management change that they finally recognized and realized the potency of their most effective weapon—the powerful vocals of lead frontman Tony Williams. Manager Buck Ram felt the group needed to let Williams take the lead, and his decision was right; the other members were fine vocalists, but lacked the charisma and ability to fully captivate an audience. He also felt that the band lacked something to give their harmonies a special, unique touch that would set them apart. Thus, he decided to add a woman to the mix, hiring Zola Taylor.
Ram’s instincts were right, and his next suggestion was groundbreaking, impacting the music world and popular culture in a major way. He suggested the group rerecord “Only You (And You Alone),” one of Ram’s compositions, which had been rejected by Federal Records. They did, and this number swiftly took over the top of the charts, as well as being a defining moment in R&B and rock music history, delivering four major hit singles over the next two years. This twofer, featuring the band’s self-titled debut album, released in 1956, and its follow-up from the next year, The Flying Platters, is a fine, powerful collection of a band at the top of its game.
The band’s debut, The Platters, finds the band exploring the traditional doo-wop sounds, resulting in a primary focus on harmonic ballads. The album would also highlight Ram’s songwriting, as his compositions constitute the majority of the material found here. It’s fine stuff, too; album opener “My Prayer” is one of the finest ballads found here, and Williams’ performance is otherworldly in its sweetness and charm, as are “I’m Sorry,” “Remember When,” and “Glory of Love.” Zola Taylor’s lead vocal turn on “Someone To Watch Over Me” is a superb performance, and reportedly its composer Ira Gershwin felt it to be one of the definitive recordings.
The proper follow-up, The Flying Platters, finds the group expanding and innovating the formula of the debut album. It’s a much more varied affair, and thankfully so. The songs are much more varied than the balladry of the debut, with instrumental arrangements enhancing the band’s vocal strengths, while there’s a more widespread focus on the other singers in the group. “Mean To Me” finds Zola Taylor delivering a country-style blues number that others such as Brenda Lee and Patsy Cline would capitalize on, while the deep baritone of Paul Robi gives a humorous edge to “Darktown Strutter’s Ball” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write A Letter.” Furthermore,”Love, You Funny Thing” and “In The Middle Of Nowhere” show that the band’s style could easily transfer over to that new-fangled “rock and roll” scene.
You may notice that none of the band’s hit singles appeared on these albums, and that’s not surprising. At the time, singles and albums were almost considered to be mutually exclusive. Fear not, though; Hoodoo Records has enhanced this deluxe reissue with all five of the band’s hit singles, all of which were recorded at the same time as these two albums. It’s a testament to both the quality of The Platters’ sound and to Buck Ram’s songwriting ability proved so successful; furthermore, all five songs still sound as potent and as vivid as they did sixty years ago, especially the haunting “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and the heartbreaking crooning of The Great Pretender.”
The Platters would continue to have hit records until the 1960s, but none of which matched the chart success of the ones from their first few years. Understandable; times and trends change, and their sound would soon be transformed by groups clearly indebted to them even if they sounded radically different. Though unfortunately the legacy of The Platters has been stained somewhat by the unsavory practice of fake Platters and bands with marginal connection to the original group, the band’s fantastic recordings from the 1950s can never be tainted, and this twofer proves that their music will live on indefinitely.