A revolution (of singing) hits the streets

There I was...6 or 7 years old and snapping my fingers, practicing choreography to a song I wrote called "Teeter Totter."  I guess I figured there weren't enough homages to swing sets out there so I made my own.

I gathered all of the kids from the neighborhood and assigned their parts. Background vocalists sang "t-t-teter totter..." while the soloists jumped forward and sang their parts, "I love to swing on a swing!" Then the backgrounds switched and sang "s..s..." It was such a success that we even took the show on the road to the house next door.  

As far back as I can remember,  I've pined for the time when people sang a cappella in the streets. My favorite musicians were singers who could be found singing on street corners.

To this day, any time I can get a singer on the phone, I try to reignite a revolution of street singing, and once or twice they’ve listened.

Otis Williams is the only founding member left in The Temptations. When I asked him if The Temptations might do more a cappella stuff, I was thrilled to hear him mulling it over.

"You Are Necessary in My Life," starts off a cappella," he said. "I think that we are going to have a cappella on the next album, on a song that Sting did, ‘If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.’
I prodded, "How about a whole song or an album?"

"You can never tell. The album we are getting ready to do has some a cappella. So you like the a cappella on "Necessary?" Williams asked referring to his song.

"I do," I said.

He considered it further.

"We do that in the show and people seem to really enjoy it," said Williams.

And sure enough, the next album The Temptations released after our conversation featured a cappella singing. I am not saying that I single-handedly influenced The Temptations. But that certainly encouraged me to try again with childhood idol John Oates of Hall and Oates.

"Do you think you guys will ever record a cappella? I’ve seen you do a cappella live, but I don’t think you’ve ever put it on a record," I said to Oates.

His voice lifted as he answered. I could tell the idea piqued his interest.

"Oh, that would be a cool thing to do. Maybe one of these days we’ll do a project like that. We’ll do an old a cappella record. That would be fun actually," Oates said. I tried again a year or two after that when I had Daryl Hall on the phone.

Hall's reply – that as he grew as a musician a cappella music couldn't satisfy the harmonic sophistication he craved – made sense. Yet sure enough some time after we talked, there he was hanging out with Frank Stallone (Sly Stallone's brother) singing a cappella doo-wop on his TV show, "Live From Daryl's House."

My friends laugh and call me Mr. A cappella. My singular obsession with the sound is how I bonded with Huey Lewis, who always included a cappella songs in Huey Lewis and The News shows. Co-workers laughed when they found out that last week's column was an interview with Lewis. It gave me flashbacks of my childhood when I alone carried the torch for a cappella singing.

But with shows like "The Sing-Off" and bands like Straight No Chaser gaining in popularity I'm getting the feeling that I'm not alone anymore.  

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