65) Gene Chandler – “Duke of Earl”

Dion jumping ship from The Belmonts may have been symptomatic of pop’s drift toward rock and roll, but doo wop wasn’t dead yet.  Though “Duke of Earl” is billed as a Gene Chandler solo record, it’s actually built on the layered vocals of The Dukays.  It’s Chandler’s former group that provides the song’s big, memorable hook, the chants of “Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl” that lay the foundation for Chandler to sing the “real” song over.  That The Dukays are uncredited on the record is a grave injustice. The vocals of Chandler himself are so smooth as to be almost slippery, with none of the intriguingly ragged edges or creases of a Ben E. King or similar talent.  Nevertheless, “Duke of Earl” doesn’t aspire to be more than an elegant, romantic song, and Chandler’s voice is appropriate for the material.  But there’s no doubt that it’s the relentless “Duke-Duke-Duke” backing vocals, among the most memorable in the history of the Hot 100, that are what took the record to #1.  The simple trick of giving real words to the previously doo wop nonsense syllables points to the reconfiguration of doo wop into something else (even if the phrase “duke of earl” still doesn’t make much sense).  Although Chandler never again achieved a hit quite as big as this one, he spent the rest of the decade promoting musicians such as Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions who would further the course of doo wop’s transition into soul.  So while “Duke of Earl” itself may be little more than a middling ballad well sung, its production marks it as a notable milestone in the evolution of popular music. 6

Hit #1 on February 17, 1962; total of 3 weeks at #1
65 of 970 #1’s reviewed; 6.70% through the Hot 100

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1 Comment

Filed under 06, 1962

One response to “65) Gene Chandler – “Duke of Earl”

  1. GeorgeL

    Okay, this is a fun song but I really have a problem with the fact that to get recognition, Chandler still has to dress up & do the whole “Duke of Earl” act over 50 years later. And he did have other hits (Rainbow ; Groovy Situation; Just Be True; Nothing Can Stop Me). He was able to move into the soul period of the mid 60s quite well & was still making decent music into the early 80s (take a listen to “Does She Have A Friend For Me”). He also made some good duet recordings with Jerry Butler in the late 60s & duetted with songstress Barbara Acklin. Much more to the man than Duke of Earl.

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