Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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A Trip Back to the Gravy Days, When Philly Knew How to Take a Dump

Cameo Parkway 1957-1967

Bernie Lowe's Cameo Parkway label was synonymous with Philadelphia when Philadelphia was synonymous with Dick Clark rather than Gamble & Huff--in other words, when Philadelphia was synonymous with crap. The teen idols were mostly from Philly, including Cameo Parkway's Bobby Rydell, right behind Bobby Vinton in sales and the corniest of the lot. But sometimes Philadelphia took a really great crap--Danny & the Juniors' "At the Hop," or the Silhouettes' "Get a Job," which had their CP equivalents in the Dovells' "Bristol Stomp" and (you expected another "Get a Job"?) the Rays' "Silhouettes." The Orlons were great crap from "The Wah Wahtusi" through "Don't Hang Up" to the civic-minded "South Street." Chubby Checker was Chubby Checker.

Long controlled by control freak Allen B. Klein, the CP catalog hasn't been compiled to death, which has had the paradoxical effect of putting it on life support. On this four-CD set, it finally walks like a man. Listen close for the backup girls on Rydell's "Volare" remake cooing "your behind," for the Dovells' first recorded use of the phrase "hip hop never stop." Only a churl would disdain Dee Dee Sharp's "Mashed Potato Time" follow-up "Gravy," which is code for saliva. And you've got to hear Clint Eastwood's "Rawhide" rip "Rowdy" once. But you need never apprise yourself of how sappily future disco baron Neil Bogart did teen soul, or--especially--how phobically and ineptly Lowe countered the British Invasion. The stumbling "Long Tall Sally" that evokes one of those American knockoffs who used "Beetles" in their name to go with their brows? It's by the sainted Kinks. Some moments in history are best forgotten.

Village Voice, June 21, 2005