Mon | Jan 21, 2019

The Platters were the real deal

Published:Sunday | December 9, 2012 | 12:00 AM
The Platters, whose show drew much attention at the Regal Theatre on their visit to Jamaica.

Back in 1951 in Cleveland, Ohio, a phrase was coined that became the biggest pop music genre in the world - the words rock and roll.

Many people think of rock and roll as all noisy and uptempo, but it has a slower romantic side to it.

Throughout the early years of the genre, there were many No.1 rock and roll ballads executed in a manner that have thrilled millions and have left audiences spellbound.

Sometimes referred to as 'Doo-wop', and occupying a period between 1951 and 1958, singing groups became the order of the day, insofar as it relates to the slow, romantic side of Rock and Roll.

The genre was filled with quartets and quintets, the most flamboyant with accompanying hits being, The Moonglows (Sincerely), Little Anthony and the Imperials (Tears On My Pillow), The Dells (Oh What a Night), The Crests (16 Candles), The Orioles (Crying In The Chapel), The Five Satins (In The Still Of The Night), and the Penguins (Earth Angel), which was later reworked by the group New Edition in 1986.


The Platters vocal quintet was part of an even more exclusive fraternity of that period, and managed to carve out for themselves, a niche that was unmatched in the history of rock and roll balladry.

For a group to debut with four consecutive million sellers on their first four outings, is no ordinary feat.

The Platters did just that with, Only You, The Great Pretender, The Magic Touch and My Prayer, thus establishing one of the music industry's most phenomenal and unbelievable statistics.

The group was formed in a Los Angeles High School in 1953, and after doing a few undistinguished recordings for Federal Records, (no relation to the local entity), and undergoing several line-up changes, they finally settled with Tony Williams (lead vocal), David Lynch (tenor), Paul Robi (baritone), Herb Reed (bass), and the beautiful, vivacious teenager Zola Taylor, thought to be drafted more for her beauty than for her singing ability. She proved them wrong in later years.

The Platters meteoric rise to fame, really began in 1955, when Lawyer Samuel 'Buck' Ram, who previously worked with Count Basie and Duke Ellington, became their manager. It came at a time when Ram, as manager of the Penguins, had the big hit Earth Angel. Mercury was interested in the group, and Ram would agree to sign them on condition that they also sign the Platters. Their debut with Mercury, Only You, a Ram composition, with Ram himself on piano, was a 'sleeper', which eventually became their first million seller with the label in 1955.

The true test of stardom is the ability to follow one success with another.

Faced with the king-sized task of convincing the 'doubting Thomases', that their first effort was no fluke, the Platters, not only came good on their second outing with a second million seller, The Great Pretender (1955), but created musical history, by becoming the first black group to put a No.1 single on the US charts.

In the meantime, Only You - the sleeper, awoke and slowly crept to No.1, where it stayed for 22 weeks.

The group's sweet vocal blend, spiced up by Taylor's shrilly intonations, captured the admiration of teenagers, and soon they were all impersonating the Platters style.

After such a dynamic start, it was perhaps too much to expect the group to follow up with a third consecutive million seller. But the Platters, like true champions, provided the magic touch to create that third million seller, appropriately titled The Magic Touch in 1956. It stayed on the charts for 20 weeks, peaking at No. 4.


The public's appetite for Platters recordings, became insatiable, not only in the US, but in distant places like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, parts of Europe, South America, and even here in Jamaica, where they rode high on the island's charts until the turn of the decade.

The influence of The Platters can be heard on several early Jamaican ballads by Keith and Enid, Alton and Eddy, The Blues Busters and Chuck and Dobby.

The group's first album, The Platters, which contained their fourth million seller, was the result of excessive demands from youths and adults alike.

Within a few months of its release, it became Mercury's all-time best-selling album.

Staying the course, the impeccably attired Platters, continued in the late 1950s, to release top-class rock ballads like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Enchanted, Remember When, Heaven On Earth, I'm Sorry, On My Word Of Honour and To Each His Own.

Another of Ram's composition, Twilight Time (1958), became one of the first songs in the rock era to include a string section, and is worth reciting as an example of the romantic verbosity that the Platters offered:

Heavenly shades of night are falling,

it's twilight time.

Out of the mist your voice is calling,

it's twilight time.

Deepening shadows gather splendour

as day is done.

Fingers of night will soon surrender

the setting sun.

I count the moments darling, till you're here with me

together at last at twilight time.

Success on records, however, is only half the measure of true talent. A group's ability on stage accounts for the other extremely important half.

The Platters proved they were masters of that art as well, by employing some deft stage craft and dance steps on each outing.

When that is added to Tony Williams' excellent lead vocals, considered the best ever group lead vocalist, it amounts to the quintessence of entertainment.

The versatility of the group is underlined by Zola Taylor's excellent lead on He's Mine, Someone To Watch Over Me and I Don't Know Why, while making their last trip to the top-10 charts with Harbour Lights in 1960.

Selling over 80 million records, The Platters emerged as the Kings of rock ballads, appeared in several movies, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. The group's career continued with new members, up to the mid 1960s, with a pair of pop-flavoured, I Love A Thousand Times, and With This Ring, their last chart entries.