Bristol Stomp (1961)

The Dovells

Written by Kal Mann and Dave Appell
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Bristol The Dovells main“(The) Bristol Stomp” is so happy it ends up making you sad. It embodies everything that was dazzlingly great about Rock-N-Roll in its first 10 years. And now, as the King James Bible says, here we are, wandering “in the wilderness in a solitary way,” and we find “no city to dwell in.”

“The Bristol Stomp” is ridiculously happy. The kind of happy you feel on the best day of your life. The kind of day when you get an “A,” your lover loves you, you make some good money, or you’ve woken up after a good night’s sleep to discover you’re actually on vacation.


The stars are spinning every Friday night…

It has a groove so strong and a beat so deep you better check to make sure you’re alive if your feet aren’t moving. The singing is a killer example of doo-wop vocals at their most intricate and appealing. Tenors, baritones, bassos and altos drop in and out like moths against a lamp in late July, swirling, celebrating, lighting up the joint with passion.

Bristol stomp single coverIt has a groove so strong and a beat so deep you better check to make sure you’re alive if your feet aren’t moving. The singing is a killer example of doo-wop vocals at their most intricate and appealing. Tenors, baritones, bassos and altos drop in and out like moths against a lamp in late July, swirling, celebrating, lighting up the joint with passion.

The rhythm is done in pompom-shaking time. A neat, unassuming strummed guitar lead judiciously picks its spots. But make no mistake – that lead is Rock-N-Roll in its purest form, like uranium before it’s enriched, its potential waiting to be unlocked. In fact, the complete lack of affectedness imbues the song with an innocent joy that perhaps we might not hear recaptured for another hundred years. (And that’s what makes you so sad amidst all the happiness.)

Clark

Dick Clark was the king of teens on Philly’s own American Bandstand.

Philadelphia had a prolific music scene in the 1950s and ’60s that hung on well into the 1970s. This was due in no small part to Dick Clark and his TV show, American Bandstand, on one hand. On the other hand, there was Cameo-Parkway Records, founded by Karl Mann and Bernie Lowe. The two were songwriters and producers. They wrote, for instance, Elvis Presley’s “(Be My Little) Teddy Bear” and Dee Dee Sharp’s dance monster, “Mashed Potato Time.”

They would also produce and foster artists like Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, The Orlons and The Thymes (“So Much In Love”). Their last #1 hit was 96 Tears by ? And The Mysterians.

Behind the fervent singing of Arnie Silver, Mark Gordesky, Len Borisoff (better known as Len Barry), Jerry Gross, Mike Freda and Jim Mealey played in The Applejacks, a versatile house band formed and led by the son of “Bristol Stomp” writer Dave Appell. Almost as quickly as the label grew, it withered away.

Bristol Stomp bandstand early days

Before Bandstand decamped for sunnier climes

Dick Clark moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in 1964 and took with him the many, many opportunities for Cameo-Parkway to place their artists for gigs on Bandstand. Clark had his own record label in Philly, Swan, and that, too, moved to the West Coast. The heart and soul of a soulful, thriving music scene was dismantled.

“The Bristol Stomp” stands as one of the many monuments to the era. Bristol, PA, is about 23 miles northeast of Philadelphia’s Center City district. In 1961 it was a blue-collar, middle-class town and the slammin’ sound of The Dovells’ songs would have accurately articulated the feelings let loose on weekend nights.

The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol
When they do the Bristol Stomp
It’s really somethin when the joint is jumpin
When they do the Bristol Stomp 

Whoa, whoa they start spinnin every Friday night
They dance the greatest and they do it right
Well, it’s the latest it’s the greatest sight to see

The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol, etc.

Whoa, whoa it started in Bristol at a dee jay hop
They hollered and whistled never wanted to stop
We pony and twisted and we rocked with Daddy G

The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol, etc.

bristol stomp bruce and gary U S

Bruce Springsteen and Gary U.S. Bonds

“Daddy G” is a reference to Gene Barge, saxophonist for Gary U.S. Bonds of “(We Danced Till A) Quarter To Three” fame. Both Bonds and Barge came to Rock-N-Roll via Norfolk, VA, but are South Jersey-Philadelphians by adoption.

Another Jersey boy, Bruce Springsteen, also has snatched this comet of happiness from the sky. Listening to him work his songs of celebration one can hear that he draws directly upon the Cameo-Parkway catalog and other sounds of Philly from the period, which include Bruce’s coming of age years. You can’t be a great rocker without turning and bowing while facing Philly. It just can’t be done.

Maybe all life can be reduced to the kicked-up musical and lyrical bridge:

It’s got that groovy beat
That makes you stomp your feet
Come along and try
Gonna feel fine
And once you dance with me
You’ll fall in love you see
The Bristol Stomp will make you mine
All mine

The dancing fools, the kids, the new breed called “teenagers,” become the stars of the show. You can almost see them now:

The stars are spinnin every Friday night
They dance the greatest if they do it right
But it’s the latest it’s the greatest sight to see

The kids in Bristol are sharp as a pistol, etc.

Bristol Stomp Dovells slantedThat’s pretty much it. No deep lyrics. No mood swings. Not a trace of irony. No Zanax, acid, ecstasy or heroin. Just a hormone-laced, big-beat setting wriggling, wiggling bodies on fire.

Be happy to be alive. Be happy you got feet to dance and arms to make romance. In “The Bristol Stomp,” The Dovells seem to grasp that they are portraying something larger than themselves, a blissful moment in time and place. Their soulfulness is intense and filled with good will, a sense that the sky really was the limit.

Hey:

They hollered and whistled
never wanted to stop.

mangoids
  • Len Barry of The Dovells would have a modestly successful solo career. His biggest hit was called “1-2-3 (That’s how elementary it’s gonna be).” 
  • Songwriters Mann and Appell also wrote “Teddy Bear” for Elvis Presley; “Let’s Twist Again” for Chubby Checker and “Wild One” for Bobby Rydell. They started and ran Caemo-Parkway Records in Philly, which issued dozens of Top 10 hits in the late-’50s through the early-’60s.

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