When the Drifters first got together in 1953, their primary purpose was to provide backup vocals for Clyde McPhatter. While the doo wop group eventually grew into their own, they were often paid poorly and as a result their lineup changed on numerous occasions. In fact, they have had about sixty different members over the course of their existence. Even so, they have recorded a number of memorable songs, such as “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “This Magic Moment” and “Under the Boardwalk.” Aside from Clyde McPhatter, the band has been associated with other big names such as Ben E. King (who recorded “This Magic Moment” with them in 1960).
They had a number of other hit songs as well. In 1955, they recorded “Ruby Baby” with lead vocals provided by Johnny Moore. Three years later, Ben E. King would enter their lineup. Some of their most popular songs are from the time of King’s tenure with the group, such as “There Goes My Baby.” He left in 1960, and Rudy Lewis took over as lead singer for most of their hits. During this time, they recorded songs such as “Up on the Roof.” In 1964, Rudy Lewis passed away. This led to a reunion of sorts, with Johnny Moore returning to sing lead for “Under the Boardwalk.”
While most of their songs come from the 1950s and 1960s, the group’s reputation for an ever-changing lineup enabled them to maintain a long life span. In fact, while no original members of the group are performing with the Drifters today, they still continue to perform with all-new members.
Even so, their oldest music is what landed them on the map and it is the music for which they are remembered to this day. This is especially true of Ben E. King, who demonstrated in songs such as “There Goes My Baby” that his youth did not stand in the way of the maturity of his voice and his overall professionalism. In fact, King’s work with the Drifters had a great impact on the success of Motown music by popularizing songs that utilized the “Wall of Sound” method.
The Drifters were primarily a vocal group, but they generally had background music to complement their voices. In fact, the Drifters was one of the first groups to incorporate string music and rock instruments into the same songs. They also had a number of talented writers working behind them, such as Carole King. The Drifters also met with several other major stars in their heyday, such as Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick.
No matter what their lineup, every Drifters song seems to have the same sensational vocal quality. Even through the radio, it is not too difficult to tell that this is a group with the ability to fill a room. Behind the astounding volume, which is peppered with restraint where needed, there is a genuine warmth that makes their lyrics truly believable. This is one of the defining characteristics that has made the Drifters’ music so able to resonate through the ages in classics that can still be enjoyed today.
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