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In the annals of 1950’s era rock, Atlantic usually takes a back seat to no one in the public’s mind when it comes the most important and consistent label of the decade.

The one glaring weakness in their résumé however is their comparative lack of interest in doo-wop groups, which seems particularly surprising considering they were based in New York which had the highest concentration of vocal groups in this style.

Though they weren’t without sporadic success in this field with individual singles, and if you expand the definition of the term they actually had two of the biggest vocal groups ever in The Clovers along with two distinct versions of The Drifters, both of whom were often associated with that rock subgenre. But in many ways they were far removed from the amateur brand of street-corner singing from the “doo wop” milieu.

Some might argue it was merely a case of the company being so flush with big stars that they weren’t in the habit of auditioning groups of teens walking in off the street like smaller labels did, but that clearly wasn’t always the case and so the more likely explanation is… when they did get one of these groups, they just didn’t know what the hell to do with them.


Can’t You Spare A Little Love For Me
We can look at this failure to capitalize on one of the dominant rock sounds of the decade in one of two ways, even though the explanations themselves are more or less the same.

The primary approach to recording these young vocal groups was to retain their ragged sound, but – especially for the more uptempo numbers – to give them a really strong instrumental backing led by a veteran tenor sax player who’d match their enthusiasm with a wild break.

Certainly Atlantic was more than capable of that, as they featured variously Willis Jackson, Sam “The Man” Taylor or King Curtis among other equally notable horn players starting with Frank Culley who was in fact the one to debut this concept on The Clovers’ Don’t You Know I Love You back in 1951.

But that group, not to mention their even more dramatic hits with The Drifters in mid-decade, may have followed that same game plan in theory but had a more professional polished sound than the majority of acts beloved for their loose feel. By contrast Atlantic’s acts were too talented, too well-rehearsed to come across in the sloppy manner that was doo wop’s stock in trade.

Though that explanation certainly stands up to scrutiny, when you delve a little deeper and look at the less accomplished acts they did sign up, such as The Diamonds, we see something different on songs like A Beggar For Your Kisses, one of the few singles in this brand of rock that does get some love from the hardcore doo-wop fan brigade.

Here we have evidence that it’s not just those major acts who were too polished to fit well in that mindset, but rather that Atlantic themselves viewed the polish as a mandatory requirement for all of their groups.


It Would Mean So Much To Me
Though The Diamonds never became famous (in fact, not even the most famous vocal group of the Fifties to use this name, as a white act later on scored some huge hits that are among the most acclaimed songs of that period) it’s clear these guys have one thing going for them in a really talented lead singer in Sonny Wright.

Of course you have to give him a few seconds to get his feet under him here, as at first blush you may think otherwise thanks to a tentative and slightly nasal intro. But Wright quickly settles in and delivers a really expressive vocal, not flashy at all, hardly trying to impress you with the strength of his voice or his technique… in fact almost sounding as if he’s downplaying his role other than to deliver the story, but which in fact makes it more appealing for that modesty.

The story is where A Beggar For Your Kisses really excels though as they use very poetic ways to express desire which manages to overcome Wright’s subservient role in the relationship thanks to some extremely well thought out wordplay. We’ve heard so many of these aching love stories by now that it’s always a surprise when the lines go well beyond the simple one or two syllable words commonly used in so many rhyme schemes and instead chooses more complex ways to get the same points across, giving this a more interesting dynamic.

That in turn causes you to focus more on the sentiments he’s conveying and presumably forge a deeper connection with him as long as you can relate to his feelings if not the excessively deferential approach he displays here.

Throughout most of this the other Diamonds are taking a back seat to their leader, sometimes dropping out altogether. Even when they are more prominent they’re merely humming, oohing or ahhing unobtrusively. They do that well enough, but it’s only adding ambiance rather than anything truly substantial and you’d like a more involved give and take between them to really establish them as a group rather as just a soloist with incidental support.

My Heart’s Is Patched And Torn
That changes during the bridge where suddenly this four man group appears to take on a fifth female accompanist. Apparently it’s just Myles Hardy’s falsetto, something more easily discerned with the better fidelity of remastered tapes, but there are times where it comes damn close to a female soprano which throws off your musical equilibrium.

Even knowing it’s a male voice doesn’t completely overcome your fears though because you can’t shake free of the idea that Atlantic was looking for some crossover appeal… or at least mainstream tolerance. It’s not a fair assumption to make if this was just the four guys huddled around a mic, but when your ears are telling you something your eyes can’t confirm, you still tend to trust what you hear.

That’s not going to completely squash the other charms of A Beggar For Your Kisses by any means, but the last third of the record knocks it down a full point as that bridge is still the weakest aspect of the record, especially as the solo line by bass Daniel Stevens is shaky in its own right. After that they never fully recover their footing even as Wright returns to close it out. The others go from not doing enough early on in the record, to doing too much at the end and muddying the waters.

What the record really needs to vault it into the elite singles of the year is a way to show an ever greater disparity in the arrangement to make Wright’s terrific lead stand out more against something with far different sonic textures. If they’d found a way to incorporate a more prominent instrumental backing, or a delicate instrumental break – guitar or soft sax – it might’ve turned this into a well-deserved hit instead of having it remain just a treasured obscurity for the hardcore fans of the style.


Where’s Your Generosity?
What’s hard to understand on the surface is that with the plethora of vocal group success in rock ‘n’ roll over the next few years, and with New York City being the hotbed of the entire movement in those days, how Atlantic Records didn’t devote more time and attention into breaking The Diamonds commercially.

Lots of great artists need patience before they click and while they got a few more singles, they were sort of an afterthought for the company from the start.

Then again, though the timing was right for a group like this to excel in rock as a whole at this juncture, Atlantic already had The Clovers who were the hottest rock vocal group (with a slightly different stylistic bent) when The Diamonds arrived at the label in the fall of 1952. Then by next summer they’d added the even more dynamic Drifters to the roster who exploded commercially right out of the gate. It’d be easy to get lost in the shuffle wedged between those two groups.

Even though A Beggar For Your Kisses was a quality first effort, and in May was reported that it was starting to pick up some belated action in New York and Philly, the label had no need to keep pushing it when they were already riding high with one hit after another. As a result this record would never join them on any chart.

They’ll stick around for awhile but they remained squarely on the junior varsity squad for a company with no shortage of stars. Since this single remains their best known and most widely appreciated effort, it’s not hard to see why Atlantic left it to other labels to mine this field while they focused on the slightly more professional acts that built their reputation while giving them the majority of their hits.

It deserved better, but there’s a lot of records and artists who could say the same. That’s the thing about rock ‘n’ roll, it’s not always fair, but then again nobody ever said it supposed to be easy.


(Visit the Artist page of The Diamonds for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)