Given my love for ’60s girl groups, I guess it’s a little strange that I have no real use for doo wop. Structually, they’re pretty much the same – (mostly) anonymous groups of urban teenagers who relied entirely on their vocals to carry their adolescent love songs, even using “ooohs” and “lalalas” and “oh-whoa-whoas” to simulate the instruments they couldn’t afford. But where girl groups are energetic and catchy and fun, often I think of doo wop as part of a slow-moving, undifferentiated mass best suited for boomer nostalgia trips, or, at best, the primitive incarnation of the great soul groups of the ’60s like The Four Tops.
“Little Star” is a doo wop song sure enough, but it is doo wop that has met rock ‘n’ roll and decided it’s not so bad after all. The song opens a capella, with lead singer Vito Picone asking “Where are you, little star?” and the rest of The Elegants echoing “Where are you?” But then Picone bursts into the wordless refrain that soars into the night sky: “Whoa-oh-oh-oh-uh-oh-ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-too-oo-oo.” Doo-wop was built on great nonsense syllables like these. The drums and mild surf guitar kick in, giving the vocals a backbone and propelling the song forward. The lyrics riff on “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star,” but Picone’s sweetly optimistic vocals (and the terrific refrain) lend an unexpected emotional weight to the song. In addition to the instrumentation, “Little Star” alludes to rock ‘n’ roll through Picone’s Buddy Holly-ish inflections in the bridge: “Send me a luh-uh-UH-uh-uhve” is just one step away from outright hiccuping. “Little Star” resolves with with a return to the a capella opening, only this time the question has become an exclamation: “There you are, little star!” The song’s over in a flash, but the singer’s found his love and it’s time to move on. 7
Hit #1 on August 25, 1958; total of 1 week at #1
3 of 963 #1’s reviewed; 0.31% through the Hot 100