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Pledgers rally to the tunes of 'Doo Wop'

Sunday, August 12, 2001

By Ed By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

With "Doo Wop 50," T.J. Lubinsky of WQED produced the highest-grossing pledge event in public television history.

So what do you for an encore? "Doo Wop 51," of course.

But after "Doo Wop 52," the producer - who wasn't even born when doo-wop ruled the airwaves - expanded the format, brought in Little Richard and other rockers to rip it up and called the concert "Rock, Rhythm and Doo Wop."

Filmed at the Benedum Center in May and airing tonight on WQED/WQEX, the latest installment in Lubinsky's oldies series is blessed with a jaw-dropping three-song performance by a not-so-little Little Anthony and his original Imperials that's so good, so amazing, oldies fans would be advised to tune in just for that. "Goin' Out of My Head" and a truly phenomenal "Tears On My Pillow," in particular, make good on Frankie Valli's introduction, in which he gushes, "This next group sings as strong now as they did in the day."

And their set is surrounded by a number of other incredible highlights, beginning with surprise guest Little Richard pounding out a raucous "Keep a Knockin' " while the sweat pours down his face like old-school Nixon in a televised debate.

The Contours bring the oldies-lovers in attendance to their feet with a rousing, surprisingly youthful performance of "Do You Love Me," a chart-topping R&B classic from the early days of Gordy records. As a smile-inducing plus, they change the spoken introduction to "Now, we're back to let you know we may be older but we can still shake 'em down."


"Rock, Rhythm and Doo Wop"

When: 8 tonight on WQEX/WQED.

Hosts: Frankie Valli, Jerry Butler, Lloyd Price.


Local-boy-made-good Lou Christie strikes again with "Lightnin' Strikes," while taking home an honorary prize for Artist Most Likely to Age a Day For Every 20 Years of Life. Two-hit wonder Bobby Lewis rocks the house with his chart-topping "Tossin' and Turnin'." Mr. Personality, Lloyd Price, turns in a rocking "Stagger Lee." And Valli leads an all-star cast of dozens in an encore performance of "Let's Hang On."

Jerry Butler, one of several masters of ceremony, sets the mood: "Tonight, we celebrate our American history, American heritage and the American spirit with super groups, super performers and superstars."

And for the most part, "Rock, Rhythm and Doo Wop" makes good on that promise.

If there is a major downside to the program, it's the way superstars of Little Richard's magnitude are treated with the same respect as artists such as Kathy Young and the Innocents - a somewhat marginal group capable of stumping even oldies fetishists on "Name That Tune."

It's not that Young is bad. In fact, she's kind of hot for someone who was charting back in 1960. But it's more than just a little odd that she and Little Richard are given the same amount of time to showcase what it was that made them special - one song each.

There are at least a half a dozen performances here that - as good as they are - any rock 'n' roll fan would have gladly lived without if it meant extra time with Little Richard, whose set at the Benedum also featured "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Rip It Up."

Other artists doing one hit each include the Iceman, Jerry Butler; the Casinos; the Rays; the Earls; Lenny Welch; a Five Satins reunion with retired vocalist Fred Parris; Ed Townshend; and the Fleetwoods, whose easy-listening classic "Mr. Blue" inspires an introduction guaranteed to sound a little strange to anyone who's followed rock 'n' roll since Lenny Welch stopped having hits. "Now, from the softer side of rock," says Valli, "a group that hails from Seattle."

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