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The Chords

Sh-Boom

No R&B vocal group record had ever navigated the rarified pop heights that The Chords' Sh-Boom did in 1954. Ironically, Atlantic Records didn't even designate it the original A-side of their debut single for its fledgling Cat subsidiary. With its distinctive acappella intro, driving tempo, lighthearted lyrics, and a roaring Sam 'The Man' Taylor sax solo, Sh-Boom seems an obvious hit pick, but Atlantic brought the group aboard to cover a then-hot Patti Page pop ballad, Cross Over The Bridge.

The Chords hailed from New York's South Bronx. All veterans of other street corner groups, brothers Carl and Claude Feaster (respectively first tenor and baritone), tenors Jimmy Keyes and Floyd 'Buddy' McRae, and bass William 'Ricky' Edwards joined forces in 1951, pianist Rupert Branker coming in a little later. They wrote Sh-Boom themselves. Atlantic let them cut it with Carl Feaster leading at their March 14, 1954 debut date and stuck it on the other side of Cross Over The Bridge in April. Out in L.A., deejay Dick 'Huggy Boy' Hugg spun Sh-Boom instead, instigating a national trend. Atlantic soon deep-sixed the Page cover and repressed Sh-Boom with another Chords original, Little Maiden, as the new flip.

By any yardstick, Sh-Boom was a smash that summer: #2 on 'Billboard's R&B 'Juke Box' lists, an amazing #5 pop. The Chords sang their creation that August on NBC-TV's network program 'The Colgate Comedy Hour,' just as unheard-of as their incursion onto the pop hit parade. But a schlocky Crew Cuts cover on Mercury did even better than their original version, sitting at the top of the pop charts. Comic Stan Freberg made a condescending parody for Capitol.

Washington, D.C. vocal group manager Lillian Claiborne sued The Chords; one of her acts of the same name had issued an obscure single on the Gem label the year before. Atlantic renamed our heroes The Chordcats in the midst of their encore single's emergence. It didn't help Zippity Zum (I'm In Love), penned by Carl Feaster, one bit to have pressings came out under both names, and it sank without trace. So did The Chordcats' next outing late in the year, Carl's A Girl To Love.

The quintet was none too thrilled with the replacement name Atlantic devised for them, so they changed it again to The Sh-Booms (what else?). Cat tried one more time in the fall of '55 with Could It Be, printing '(Formerly The Chords)' under The Sh-Booms' name. It didn't work, and the group with three monikers left Atlantic, turning up in '57 for a single on RCA's Vik imprint as The Sh-Booms before breaking up. Carl Feaster had two solo singles in 1959-60 on Roulette under the name of Lionel Thorpe before the quintet reformed and returned to Atlantic in 1960 as The Sh-Booms for a revival of Blue Moon that referenced the carefree Sh-Boom sound.

Maybe if Claiborne hadn't forced that name change, The Chords' story would have a happier ending. Still, Sh-Boom holds an exalted place in vocal group history, proving R&B aggregations could invade the pop hit parade with the right song. 

- Bill Dahl -

Various Vol.6, Street Corner Symphonies 1954

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