A musical campaign interlude: deep doo-wop

Election campaigns can be tuneful. There are the theme songs they crank up  when the leaders make their entrances at campaign events. Jack Layton is famous for pulling out his guitar during long flights.

But mostly, these days, there are iPods. So instead of a shared campaign soundtrack, we each create private ones, although Michael Ignatieff made his playlist public when he took a Bruce Springsteen “rise up” refrain and turned it into a riff in his speeches.

When I take listening break, I’ve been liking Paul Simon’s “Afterlife,” from his new album So Beautiful or So What. In it, Simon imagines a kind of heaven, singing as his fade-out conclusion:

And you feel like swimming in an ocean of love, and the current is strong.

But all that remains when you try to explain is a fragment of song…

Lord is it, Be Bop A Lu La or Ooh Poppa Do Lord, Be Bop A Lu La or Ooh Poppa Do

Be Bop A Lu La

It’s made me bring back into rotation my favourite song from 2009, Jesse Winchester’s “Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding,” which also distills everything that matters down to a goofy doo-wop refrain.

O those sweet old love songs

Every word rings true

Sham-a-ling-dong-ding means sweetheart

Sham-a-ling-dang-dong does too

And it means that right here in my arms

That’s where you belong

And it means sham-a-ling-dong-ding


Simon and Winchester were both born in the early 1940s, so some of their earliest memories of pop music would have been from the doo-wop heyday of the 1950s. Early in their careers, they reached into “folk” to lend their songwriting depth. Now that they’re older, they’re inclined to hear mantras in the sweet harmonies and nonsense syllables of their childhood.

And doo-wop’s claims are so modest—unlike, say, the earnestness of a lot singer-songwriter stuff or the bombast of too much rock—that this particular corner of boomer nostalgia is easy to enjoy.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.