Before Tamla/Motown, there was Cameo/Parkway. A groundbreaking Philadelphia imprint, the label churned out an astonishing number of huge hits (most written in-house) during its 12-year heyday and turned a gaggle of unknown young locals into stars. Sound familiar?
Although primarily remembered for its myriad dance craze hits, the catalogue actually encompasses the whole of rock’s golden era: instrumentals, novelties, doo wop, girl groups, soul, teen idols, British Invasion, garage bands and bubblegum, etc. Label honchos Bernie Lowe, Kal Mann and Dave Appell spared no expense, releasing singles with beautiful colour picture sleeves and flooding the market with an unprecedented torrent of LPs.
Cameo-Parkway material has been unavailable for decades, and collectors have waited impatiently for many years for the hits to make their digital debut. A label overview in 2005 and a few subsequent hits packages skimmed the surface. Out this month on Ace are 10 full albums on five CDs, along with a compilation of vocal group classics. The floodgates are now open, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
With five consecutive Top 20 hits, the Orlons were Cameo/Parkway’s premier group, with the tight harmonies of Rosetta Hightower, Marlena Davis and Shirley Brickley offset by Steve Caldwell’s froggy bass interjections. 1962’s “The Wah-Watusi”, their first long-player, showcases each member on a collection of mostly covers, but the real Orlons masterpiece is “South Street” from 1963, by which time they had perfected their signature sound and applied it to a wildly disparate repertoire. Amidst jangling tambourines, honking saxes and thumping kettle drums, the group Orlon-izes folk favourite ‘Walk Right In’, big band warhorses such as ‘Muskrat Ramble’ and ‘Cement Mixer’ and a highly imaginative take on Bobby Rydell’s ‘We Got Love’. Other highlights include Roy Hamilton’s ‘Don’t Let Go’ (check out the modulations in perfect harmony) and, of course, the insanely infectious title song. I challenge you to listen to this album without smiling!