As most long-time music fans know, early rock and roll was filled with examples of cutting-edge music being reissued in less ‘threatening’ versions, the intent being to make them accessible to a wider audience. Even though there were sometimes other factors, the key component in the process was usually the race of the performers.
One of the earliest instances occurred in 1954, when a doo-wop song called “Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)” became a hit for the guys who had written it, but didn’t reach its full sales potential until a ‘safer’ bunch recorded it. The former group was the Chords and the latter was the Crew Cuts.
Based in the Bronx, the original Chords consisted of the Feaster brothers — Carl and Claude — along with Jimmy Keyes, Floyd “Buddy” McRae, and Ricky Edwards. They pretty much scuffled along without a lot of success at first, but then they recorded what would be their signature song. Ironically, it was the ‘B’ side of the record, but it ended up rising to near the top of the R&B charts — and also drew a lot of attention by placing in the Top Ten on the pop charts.
Enter the Crew Cuts, a bunch of Canadian guys as conservative as the name would suggest. Made up of brothers John and Ray Perkins, Rudi Maugeri, and Pat Barrett, the Crew Cuts’ style was something closer to the likes of the Four Freshmen. The group had already had some success, but its version of “Sh-Boom” would rocket to the top of the pop charts and set the stage for several years of solid record sales, fueled by best-sellers on revised versions of other R&B songs (which also earned a lot of scorn from critics).
As for the Chords, the guys went through some ups and downs, beginning with having to change the name of their group to the Chordcats to avoid confusion with another combo. But even though the original name was eventually reclaimed and the group continued to entertain fans, the Chords never had another hit as big as the first.
The Chords – “Sh-Boom (Life Would Be a Dream)”