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Rockin' and Driftin'

The Drifters

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Album Review

The second LP by the Drifters was, almost as much as its predecessor Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters, a catch-up effort comprised of three years of recordings by a group whose membership was in a constant state of flux. The lead singers were Johnny Moore, Bobby Hendricks, Gerhart Thrasher, or David Baughn, McPhatter's successors from 1955 through 1958. This collection lacks the mystique of the first album, partly because none of these singers approached McPhatter's name recognition, and also because the records themselves simply weren't as good. (This isn't meant to put them down — it's difficult to imagine a body of 20-plus songs that could match the Drifters' output from 1953-1954.) Additionally, these were all very different vocalists. Johnny Moore was as close as any of them to his predecessor's style and he lacked McPhatter's sheer power, although he had excellent intonation and on occasion sounded remarkably like Jackie Wilson (nowhere more than on "It Was a Tear"). However, his ballads lacked the almost otherworldly quality that imbued McPhatter's work, and his tenure with the group, as represented here, was a far more conventional period without much commercial success.

"On Moonlight Bay" is the album's nadir, an abortive attempt to turn the pop standard into a doo wop style number. By contrast, "Adorable," dating from 1955, anticipated Sam Cooke's attempt to meld soul balladry with mainstream pop by a good three years — indeed, it even calls to mind Cooke's "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons" in its opening and chorus. There are also signs of an attempt to transform the Drifters into an outfit similar to their Atco labelmates the Coasters, doing highly animated novelty songs like "Yodee Yakee." There is one classic rock & roll number here, "Ruby Baby," which didn't sell much at the time but, along with another track off this record, "Drip Drop," became a huge hit for Dion early in the following decade. There's also a gorgeous ballad in "I Know" and a trio of killer R&B dance numbers in "Fools Fall in Love," "Hypnotized," and "I Got to Get Myself a Woman" (the latter featuring Bill Pinkney), but a lot of the rest is good but relatively unexceptional R&B. The LP is worth hearing just for Sam "The Man" Taylor's sax solo on "Drip Drop." As reflected by this album, the Drifters were in a constant state of commercial and artistic turmoil during the years represented by these recordings, which ultimately led to their breakup in 1959.

Biography

Formed: May, 1953 in New York, NY

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

The history of rhythm and blues is filled with vocal groups whose names — the Orioles, the Cadillacs, the Crows, the Flamingos, the Moonglows, the Coasters, the Penguins — are held in reverence by fanatics and devotees. The Drifters are part of an even more exclusive fraternity, as a group that managed to carve out a place for themselves in the R&B firmament and also define that music, not only at its inception as a national chart phenomenon in the early '50s but also in the decade...
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Rockin' and Driftin', The Drifters
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