Monday, January 10, 2005


a long road to Dallas

The Orioles, It's Too Soon To Know.

You could say rock and roll starts here, or doo-wop--"Too Soon" seems like the zero point of something, the omphalos of postwar pop music.

In 1993, Greil Marcus untangled the story behind "Too Soon," how a salesclerk/amateur songwriter named Deborah Chessler became involved with a black vocal group from Baltimore, then known as the Vibranaires; how Chessler, struck by inspiration at a hotel one night, wrote the first verse of "Too Soon" down on a piece of toilet paper; how she came to manage the Vibranaires (soon to be the Orioles) after hearing them sing on the telephone to her. On August 21, 1948, the song was released--it became a smash, and Chessler recalled walking down Broadway one evening and hearing her song coming from every store she passed.

Other vocal groups of the '40s, like the Ink Spots or the Mills Brothers, sound composed, so arranged compared with the Orioles. On "Too Soon," Sonny Til's lead tenor seems filled with fear and doom, forcing out each word--the others, Alexander Sharp, Johnny Reed and George Nelson, hum and moan behind him. Nelson briefly takes the lead, and then the song is Til's to haunt again.

You can find "Too Soon" here. Marcus' detailed history of it is in this collection.

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