Who Put the Bomp in the Bomp Bah Bomp Bah Bomp?

Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong? Who put the bop in the bop shoo bop shoo bop? Who put the dip in the dip da dip da dip? Who was that man? I’d like to shake his hand. He made my baby fall in love with me.

Barry Mann and Gerry Goffin wrote those immortal lines that now can be downloaded for cell phone ringtones. Back in the late 1950s, this was a record-breaking record, and there were many more Doo Wop hits just like it on the AM radio dial. Catchy lyric, foot stomping beat, clean melody, and sweet story about undying love.

In 1970, when I was art director of Rock magazine, the publisher was also the promoter of “Oldies” concerts. I was the defacto advertising director for them—and what a great job, too. Reprising vintage Doo Wop groups, most of them remembered although their individual members were long lost or forgotten, was a full-time exercise. But a dogged detective at Rock was responsible for finding them—and he found quite a few. Whenever he hooked one or more, we cleaned them up and rushed them into the photo studio so that in the printed program for “The Original Rock & Roll Show” we could show then-and-now shots.

I was a very young kid during the height of Doo Wop, although I recall all the really popular AM hit songs as vividly as I do the FM tunes by Dylan or Jefferson Airplane from my own generation’s songbook. So when the performers—many of whom were adored by the thirty- and fortysomething fans who filled our 2,500-seat New York Academy of Music theater for one of the four shows we offered on a weekend—came on the set for their close-ups, I was not as impressed as some of the studio staff who were Doo Wop fanatics.

Nonetheless, it was fascinating to watch these once proud performers who subsequent to their moments of fame had taken jobs in various non-musical fields, some menial, dressed to the nines for the occasion. They believed, with a certain amount of encouragement from Rock‘s quick-talkin’ publisher/producer, that this would jump-start their new careers.

We featured Fats Domino and Lloyd Price, who were still on top of their game, but we also resurrected the likes of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, The Platters, The Cleftones, and many more, who began traveling the burgeoning Oldies circuit.

Not all the acts, however, wanted to be reunited. The Doo Wop period, which was also the time of payola scandals when hugely influential DJs like Alan Freed were ruined for taking bribes and kickbacks to air music, was a time of considerable talent exploitation. Many performers were quite bitter. Yet it was also a time when Freed, among others, helped bridge the segregation gap and reoriented teenage Americans’ perceptions, presenting music by African-American artists and integrated groups. Out of this tumultuous time, smoldering feuds from ten years earlier had to be addressed before some of the acts agreed to appear on stage together.

For me, these shows offered a chance to have design fun. So before you is one of the three programs I designed. The cover by Brad Holland is a caricature of me (long hair and glasses), writer Ray Schultz (large nose), book jacket designer Wendell Minor (bald with tongue), and Brad himself (lips and beard). We hung out together, so Brad was having his illustrator’s joke. In those days I played air-bass, so through the power of imagination, I was holding a “real” one.

Our little band was not exactly the typical Doo Wop image, but it was a great drawing nonetheless. The interior layouts used the then-and-now shots where possible; otherwise we just ran their old promo pictures. Printed on a web offset press in three colors, it was not the best production ever done, but seeing it again, after all these years, reminded me of how exciting it was to produce. For my enjoyment, at least, and yours, here is the program from “The Second Original Rock & Roll Show” (1970).

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For more Steven Heller, check out The Education of an Art Director—one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.

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