something awful nice

I’m not one of those dedicated diggers for rare vocal group records from the fifties and early sixties, those guys who show up at record fairs with their own portable players, inspect the inner grooves of 45s to see what plants they were pressed in, immediately spot bogus copies. I’m not one of those guys, but I know them. Not personally. But I recognize them when I see them, and I relate: The urge to acquire, to discover, to find something you’ve never seen before in your decades of record collecting, that’s all part of my make-up. And my familiarity with what was never called doo wop when it was just part of rock ‘n’ roll, but is now, so we just have to deal with that, is pretty vast. For a while, I was trying to do a book proposal about that genre and that era, with the astonishingly knowledgeable Kenny Vance, and we spent hours talking about which group lead singers we loved, what records give us chills to this day.

I remember all the nights I spent listening to Gus Gossert on the radio, paying rapt attention, learning about groups who had eluded me. He had a particular affection for records from the late ‘50s with high-tenor leads, the offspring of Frankie Lymon, all those boys whose voices were filled with yearning and wonder and heartbreak. It was a New York City sound, for the most part, and Gossert was an encyclopedic guide. So is it possible I never heard a record by a group called the Escorts (there were a bunch of groups called the Escorts, which makes this even more entangled) called, perfectly, “There’s Something Awful Nice About You”? A couple of weeks ago, my head turned when a commercial came on, for a company called Jet.com, and the song in the spot was familiar, but not. It’s a pure Gossert-type record, dreamy and earnest. Was it Frankie singing? His brother Lewis Lymon with the Teenchords? Maybe the Students? Some B-side that I have on a vocal group anthology somewhere? Why couldn’t I place it?

I don’t know very much more now, but some. The internet can be your friend. It turns out that these particular Escorts recorded “There’s Something Awful Nice About You” for Old Town Records – that great NYC indie label — in 1959, and it remained unreleased for decades, finally popping up in 1993 on an Ace Records compilation of Old Town stuff (Volume 2 of Old Town Doo Wop), where it sits alongside tracks by the Fiestas, the Solitares, the Harptones, the Chimes…Typing those names conjures up not just the nights listening to Gossert, but years before that, when Murray the K would play them as “Blasts from the Past” and songs for “Submarine Race Watching.” I caught the tail end of that era; the first rock ‘n’ roll show I saw featured the Marcels, the Capris, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs, Rosie from the Originals, Ben E. King from the Drifters. It’s part of the sound of my childhood.

One day in 1959, a bunch of kids found themselves in an actual recording studio, and it must have been a dream they had when they were harmonizing in their schoolyard, or on the street at night. They cut a couple of songs (let’s say, because every single had a flip side), “There’s Something Awful Nice About You” and the up-tempo “Why Does the World Go Round” (which was kind of “Every Day of the Week” crossed with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”), and they waited. It took decades, and then one of those tracks found its way onto a CD. More waiting, another quarter-century! Someone finds “There’s Something Awful Nice About You” and decides to build a TV campaign featuring it, and people (like me) are bopping around online trying to get to the bottom of this, and they’re finding the song on YouTube and on Spotify. Are any of the Escorts still around to be mystified by this circle of fate? To hear their voices on television a few times a day? To tell their grandchildren about when they thought they were going to be played on the radio, or be on the bill at the Brooklyn Paramount? The song is an oldie that was never really new, so it’s new now, and ancient at the same time.

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