The Nylons/wendy Waldman/thompson Twins/alan Mann

Posted: July 24, 1987

When people think of acapella harmony or "doo wop" music, they usually imagine four staid, stilted guys in their fifties or sixties - relics from the 1950s, if you will - earnestly crooning their tight harmonies on some

obscure, simplistic R&B material.

What you don't expect is a flashy, theatrical troupe of high wire vocal acrobats who joke and dance demonically around the stage, who virtually grab the listener by the throat, who think nothing's wrong when they corrupt doo- wop traditions with high tech flourishes - adding lighting effects, microphone reverbation and even (egads) electronic drum machine accompaniment to punch up the presentation.

The new wave acapella quartet I'm describing is The Nylons - Toronto's hottest new musical export. They're currently touring as opening act to jazz saxophonist David Sanborn, in a package landing at the Mann Music Center tomorrow night. They're getting offers galore to score TV and movie soundtracks (that's them doing the theme on "Throb"). And this week, The Nylons' full-throttle attack on Steam's mid-'70s hit "Kiss Him Goodbye" has soared to the lucky number 13 "with a bullet" slot on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

According to the Nylons' Marc Connors, "ours is only the second or third acapella record to ever get charted. And the others were so long ago nobody can even remember their names."

The fact that "Kiss Him Goodbye" is a favorite crowd chant at football games certainly appealed to the Nylons, Connors conceeds. That's why they opted to break it out as a single from the group's latest (third) album ''Happy Together."

"We were looking for a U.S. hit, something contemporary radio stations could play," he says bluntly. "Up to this point, we'd only gotten noticed at the alternative music stations in States" (WXPN here has long been a Nylons supporter) "although we're considered a mainstream act at home in Canada, and overseas in countries like Australia and Japan."

Connors suggests that the fact the Nylons "created our style in a vacuum works to our advantage. We were not cowed by the groups who came before us. Our only real awareness of acapella music going into this was a couple of Persuasions albums. Our assesment of those was that all the songs sounded alike, because the same guy, Jerry Clawson, always took the lead. And while the Persuasions did it better than others, they didn't do it any differently."

Three of the four Nylons - Connors, Paul Cooper and Claude Morrison - come out of a legitimate theater background, and believe that putting on a great show is the only unshakeable tenant of their profession. Their earthly bridge to R&B music is baritone Arnold Robinson, a former member of The Platters.

To emphasize that they're not merely preserving an ancient form, the group has coined new descriptions for their sound - "rockapella" and "electronic vocal group." And they're integrating a growing repertoire of complimentary original songs into their act, along with interesting remakes of pop, soul and rock classics from several eras - not just '50s street corner stuff.

"We have a very aggressive style of acapella," says Connors. "People often think when they're coming to see acapella that it will be boring. But they tell us afterwards that 'we didn't even notice you didn't have instruments after the first two songs.' The ear becomes conscious that all the harmonies are being taken care of, and there's so much else going on that you're swept away."

The Nylons' remake of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" typifies their dramatic refurbishing approach. Spinning off the 1962 Tokens version, their treatment begins with a haunting jungle soundscape, then builds with a bird-like double falsetto lead that becomes almost a battle. Wee oooh, it's a grabber. And so, too, are their treatments of the Supremes song "Up the Ladder To the Roof" (soon to be heard in the motion picture "Made In Heaven"), Sam Cooke's classic "Chain Gang" and their joyful take on the Turtles' "Happy Together."

WALDMAN RETURNS

Scores of "sensitive" guitar and piano-oriented singer-songwriters who made it big in the 1970s were quietly dropped from record company rosters in the early 1980s. But now they're going to enjoy the last laugh, says Wendy Waldman.

One of the most sophisticated song crafters in the piano-based, introspective ballad crop, Waldman is on the comeback trail with her first album in five years, "Letters Home," and a tour bringing her to the Mann on Tuesday opening for Dan Fogelberg.

"The music business has gone from being an art form that discovered it could sell product to being a full blown business," she observed in a recent interview. "One of the natures of the music industry is that it's very trendy. It's built up a belief that teenagers should dictate the course of music in this country. That's why record companies become more and more oriented to childrens' taste, why executives suddendly decided that 'any artist over 25 or, God forbid, 30 who plays an acoustic guitar will never make it.'

"The one thing they didn't calculate is that the baby boom generation is growing up," Waldman continues. "They don't want to buy the same music that's being pushed on teenagers, though the reverse is sometimes true. Witness the popularity of an old timer like Bruce Springsteen with today's youth.

"And across the board, the record companies' theory is being challenged. Kids can't afford CDs - that new format is booming because of older, yuppie music buyers. Artists like James Taylor and Carly Simon are still selling lots of records. And this whole New Age music field is exploding without mainstream radio or record company support, again thanks to buyers in their thirties and forties."

Her pensive "Letters Home" collection is addressed directly to her contemporaries. "The main issue is the condition we find ourselves in at this age. After you hit 30, you start to find a lot of bitter mixed with the sweet, when you find out those dreams didn't turn out the way you thought they would, the way the idealists of the 1960s imagined it would happen, and the way the media has promised us.

"I don't know if that means we're all unhappy. It does mean we have to accept a new sense of realism. There's a lot of irony and restlessness touched on in my songs. But I'd like to think there's also an underlying sense of optimism, a guideline through the work, that's something to reach for, to pull us through."

And that's music to these aging ears.

THIS ONE'S FOR YOU

Home town favorite Patti LaBelle has stepped into the leading slot for this year's Budweiser Superfest at the Spectrum tomorrow night. Also on this classy, urban contemporary bill are Atlantic Starr, The Whispers and Ashford & Simpson. Some $20 tickets remain for the 7:30 p.m. concert.

CHOICE CHESTNUTS

The club scene is incredibly hot 'n' happening this week. At the Chestnut Cabaret, Jamaica's ribald "toaster" Yellowman raps to the island backbeat tomorrow night. Tuesday, college radio favorites The Replace-ments come in. I like this Minneapolis trio's simple, three-chord strokes and brash, warped attitude, thought I'm not of the cult that worships their recent "Please To Meet Me" LP as one of the "greatest" of the year. On the same show, check out Persian Gulf, whose recent LP "The Movie" deserves a lot more recognition. Also Chestnut-bound are the Washington Squares on Wednesday and David Bromberg on Thursday.

TROC FLOCKERS

Texas-style white-rhythm-and-blues music has been taking off lately, with the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Another

worthwhile arrival from the Lone Star state, debuting Monday at the Trocadero, is Omar and the Howlers, a bristling roadhouse rock and blues band whose debut LP "Hard Times In the Land of Plenty" is taking off big. Front man Omar Dykes is a brash boogie guitar slinger in the Bo Diddley bag, and he sings with deep dark passion, be it on the politicized title track or the lurid back alley expose of "Mississippi Hoo Doo Man."

On Tuesday, the Troc marks the return of the Thompson Twins, one of the few synthi-pop bands of the late 1970s whose creative drive hasn't run dry.

HERE 'N' THERE

Alan Mann, a Phildelphia rocker who has certainly paid his dues, has reason to celebrate Monday in his gig at J.C. Dobbs. This street-smart dude has just released a new album called "Neighborhood" that really cooks on all burners. Strong on words, music and arrangements, it's already getting

WMMR airplay (no small feat!) and deserves national exposure.

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