Frankie Lymon

TrackSingle / Album
Why Do Fools Fall In LoveGee GG-1002
ShareGee GG-1022
I'm Not A Juvenile DelinquentGee GG-1026
Teenage LoveGee GG-1032
Out In The Cold AgainGee GG-1036
Portable On My ShoulderRoulette R-4068
Waitin' In SchoolRock & Roll with Frankie Lymon
Send For MeRock & Roll with Frankie Lymon
DianaRock & Roll with Frankie Lymon
Sea BreezeBig Apple BA-100

Frankie Lymon photo 1

Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers (l to r): Jimmy Merchant,
Herman Santiago, Frankie Lymon, Joe Negroni, Sherman Garnes



Frankie Lymon playlist


Contributor: Dave Stephens … with assistance from Cal Taylor

“Only a tiny handful of hits. They lasted no more than eighteen months. But what a reputation. They were the doo-wop group that Britain took to its heart.”

Those were the words I wrote in a review of the two CD set, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers: Their Greatest Recordings which was subsequently incorporated in “RocknRoll”.

Some context. The debut record from Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers, Why Do Fools Fall In Love – which first saw the light of day credited to The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon – hit the Billboard R&B Chart in February 1956 and took possession of the number one spot. There was more. It only roared up the Pop Chart too and settled at #6.

Context part 2. In 1955, we discovered that there was more to pop music than the combination of easy listening, lounge, novelty and big band which had dominated our charts since the year dot – or that’s what it felt like to me though I was pretty young at the time. Bill Haley and rock and roll were the two big things in ’55 though they seemed to be interchangeable. In ’56, we found out that there was more to this exciting new music than Haley; names like Presley, Domino and, right at the end of the year, Little Richard vied for our attention. Somewhere around the middle of all that, a record stood out. It started with some semi-random but definitely rhythmic syllables (from bass man Sherman Garnes), followed by Frankie and the rest of the boys putting a chordal pattern on top of that rhythm, in turn followed by an a cappella title line (as if to make sure the listener knew what to ask for when he or she got to the record shop), all preceding Frankie and the song. This, of course, was Why Do Fools Fall In Love, after UK Columbia had signed up Frankie & co for UK release. We hadn’t heard anything like it before and called it rock and roll in the absence of any other descriptive form of words – according to Wiki, the generic term ‘doo wop’ wouldn’t “appear in print until 1961, when it was used in reference to the Marcels’ song, Blue Moon, in The Chicago Defender.” Once again, I admit to using the plural “We” rather than “I” but my suspicion is that only a few doo wop singles would have seen release in the UK prior to WDFFIL and record buyers (outside of a possible/probable few who would go on to be doo wop fanatics) hadn’t paid them a lot of attention – see also Footnotes. Back to the “We” and I’m confident in its usage this time – we loved the single so much that we pushed it right up to the numero uno spot in our chart; The Guinness World Records “British Hit Records” book states that the record first appeared in the chart on 29th June 1956 and it stayed for 16 weeks.

On the subject of Frankie Lymon himself, I feel I should temporarily give the floor to Dave Marsh though I’d warn that he’s lacking in any “Context 2” empathy since he was born after that record was released. He opens his review by saying that he sees the record as an example of the ‘singer-not-the-song’ debate. After mention of later versions of the number, he goes on to say: “But Frankie Lymon’s is the only memorable rendition, a scorching example of what one precocious teenager can accomplish without much ammunition except a huge voice and unwavering ambition.” And on that huge voice he says: “Lymon’s singing seems totally unprecedented, until you realise that he’s using tricks from the likes of Dinah Washington and Ruth Brown, just given whatever veneer of maleness, a thirteen-year-old possesses.”

Mr. Marsh has a strong point. That voice was a thing to wonder at. It wasn’t just the tone, it was the timing, the jazzy phrasing in places (which could have come from the great Dinah), the splendidly controlled falsetto which erupted mid-syllable only 50 seconds in and the overall feel that he was in charge; he was driving the vehicle. But that vehicle was something in its own right; from the rock-solid drumming to Jimmy Wright’s splendido sax break – and if that wasn’t rock’n’roll I don’t know what was – and the oohs and aahs and harmonising of the Teenagers, it had the feeling of having been coached to perfection without having lost anything in terms of spontaneity. And yet the song itself was little more than the doo wop progression with a predictable middle eight thrown in.

Context part 3. The Teenagers, who only got that name during the recording of Why Do Fools Fall In Love, consisted of Frankie (soprano), Jimmy Merchant (tenor), Herman Santiago (tenor), Joe Negroni (baritone) and Sherman Garnes (bass). All were teenagers at the time of the release with Merchant and Garnes, who were black and from the Bronx, starting out as a group called Earth Angels (after the Penguins’ hit with that name) but who then got together with Hispanic neighbours Negroni and Santiago to form a larger group which was initially called the Ermines. That name got changed to the Coup de Villes and then the Premiers. Frankie met the Premiers at a talent show where both were performing; Frankie (who was then 12 years old) with older brother Howie as a mambo duo. After the show, Frankie told the Premiers how good he thought they were and they sang together for a while resulting in the guys being impressed with his showmanship in addition to his singing. In the words of Marv Goldberg in his R&B Notebook on the Teenagers (which was based in part on interviews with Jimmy Merchant): “They agreed to do it again sometime. Well, they did. The talent show came and went, but Frankie didn’t; he stayed. Nothing formal, mind you, he just stayed”.

The origins of the song Why Do Fools Fall In Love are interesting. It came about after a tenant in Sherman Garnes’ house – where they used to practice in the hallway – gave them some love letters from a girlfriend as potential material for a song. Marv G surmises that this act was done in self-defence since the tenant was fed up with hearing the same songs practiced again and again. Jimmy Merchant knocked something together using the phrase, “Why do birds sing so gay?” which appeared in one of the letters.

The group were discovered by another gent who lived upstairs at another place where they practiced; Richard Barrett, then lead singer with a group called the Valentines but who would later become Richie Barrett of Some Other Guy fame. Barrett got them an audition with record label owner, George Goldner. They sang several songs they’d heard on the radio, mainly with Herman Santiago on lead vocal. Goldner asked if they had any original songs and did Frankie sing lead? They had some incomplete originals which they sang him and Frankie piped up with “I can sing anything” (according to Marv). Goldner asked them to return with more complete originals but with Frankie singing lead. According to Jimmy Merchant (via Marv’s R&B Notebook), Why Do Birds Sing So Gay wasn’t included in the audition session but was in the session that followed. This story is at odds with other versions of the FL & The Teenagers audition – some have Herman not able to attend due to sickness – but I’m more inclined to believe Marv since the words came from Jimmy Merchant.

What George Goldner had undoubtedly spotted was the potential unique selling point of the Teenagers with Frankie on lead: there were only a tiny handful of groups in existence with very young lead singers but none with Frankie’s vocal ability.

Back to the plot. After the success of Why Do Fools Fall In Love, George Goldner, perhaps conscious of the fact that most doo wop groups turned out to be one hit wonders, hastily recorded and released four more singles in the second half of ’56 with varying degrees of success – the best placed was the immediate follow-up, I Want You To Be My Girl which got to #13 in the Hot 100. We were a little snooty about the first three of those discs and ignored them, but disc number 4, I’m Not A Juvenile Delinquent, which actually reached us in early ’57, caught our attention. It certainly caught mine and that was for two reasons: firstly for its title and to a lesser extent, the lyrics, which brought a greater degree of intelligence and comedy than the usual “moon in June” stuff and was maybe a forerunner of those Coasters records masterminded by the Leiber & Stoller partnership; and secondly, the repeated ‘no’s’ in the starting line after the usual statement of the title; count them, there were 19.

I’m not a juvenile delinquent
No no no no no no no no
No no no no no no no no
No no no, I’m not a juvenile delinquent
Do the things that’s right
And you’ll do nothing wrong
Life will be so nice, you’ll be in paradise
I know, because I’m not a juvenile delinquent

The clip is from the 1956 film Rock, Rock, Rock! which starred DJ Alan Freed (as himself) which, like several others from the timeframe – usually featuring Freed – were little more than a showcase for a load of musical talent. In Rock, Rock, Rock! that talent included a few well-known names like Chuck Berry, Johnny Burnette, Connie Francis and the Moonglows plus others who were hardly known at all in the UK at the time and are totally forgotten now. (I used the artificial stereo version of the clip because it had considerably higher clarity than the mono clip which was also available.)

We gave FL and the boys a #12 chart placement though I personally feel that it deserved more. However, in the US it didn’t even reach the Hot 100 and only registered #66 in the R&B Chart. Maybe they didn’t go for the words (without wishing to go into the subject of the American sense of humour). We actually did even more in the UK in that we flipped the record and bought the B-side, Baby Baby in sufficient numbers to push it up to a #4 position, possibly because it too featured in Rock, Rock, Rock! as the clip shows.

Baby Baby was slightly unusual in the boys’ output in that it wasn’t based on the doo wop progression. Another track that initially gave the same impression was Teenage Love but in this instance you realise fairly quickly that that impression was incorrect; the progression was there but sung and played at such speed so that initially it seems like little more than a vocal riff and it’s only when Frankie extemporises after the – as usual, splendid – Jimmy Wright sax solo, that the penny drops.

I wanted to feature some of the boys less up-tempo efforts since slow ballads, almost invariably based on that progression, were popular in the fifties doo wop era and Frankie and co competed well with their peers. I was tempted by Please Be Mine, the flipside of their debut single but although we’re told that a goodly amount of production effort had been involved in the studio, some rawness does show through. Paper Castles which demonstrated the qualities of Frankie’s voice superbly and was the B-side to Teenage Love was another tempting track but eventually I settled on Share, another flip. While lyrically the song was little more than unashamed romanticism – “If all that I owned was a rainbow / I’d share that rainbow with you” – Frankie’s voice caressed those lyrics so well that thoughts of teen balladry almost went out the window:

Context part 4. Before moving on to my next disc and the events of early to mid 1957, some background on Frankie himself is in order:

Franklin Joseph Lymon was born in Washington Heights, New York on 30th September 1942. And, in the words of Spencer Leigh in his excellent, four-part essay on Frankie:

“His father drove a truck and sang gospel locally with the Harlemaires. In time, three of his sons, Frankie, Lewis and Howie would sing as the Harlemaires Jr.”


“His mother worked as a cleaner in some white homes. From the age of 10, Frankie was working part-time at a grocery store, the Bodega, helping shoppers to carry their groceries home. Some of them were local prostitutes who placed their visiting cards in shop windows. They soon realised that this was a streetwise kid and so Frankie was finding clients for them, especially white men who were looking for black girls.”

The young Frankie was an avid radio listener and, in addition to the new black music he heard, he paid attention to the popular sounds of the post war era: the more jazz oriented lounge singers (who themselves either were or were derived from an earlier generation of black music). Hence the timing and semi-improvisation that appeared even in the early Teenagers’ discs.

Returning to the plot once again. On 15th March 1957, Frankie and the Teenagers arrived in the UK for their first and only UK tour (see also Footnotes). While the tour was progressing, their record label Gee released the single Out In The Cold Again c/w Miracle In The Rain. What was significant about the single? Two things. Firstly, the flipside was missing any backing from the Teenagers: Frankie was solo. Secondly, neither side sounded much like teen material. The song on the A-side dated back to 1934 according to Wiki and there had been an excellent version of it in 1951 from Dinah Washington accompanied vocally by the Ravens wherein Jimmy Ricks, the Ravens bass singer (and doo wop legend), sang the opening verses. Did the boys’ effort match up to that fabulous disc? Maybe not but it was certainly Frankie’s best ballad performance so far, and one on which you have to imagine him with his unbroken voice as a Ruth Brown or the great Dinah herself. It certainly wasn’t teen territory so didn’t make a ripple in the charts.

The UK tour incorporated dates at the London Palladium and it was that venue around which the skulduggery took place which led to the break-up of the group. Marv Goldberg kicks off that story with the paragraph below:

“While there, Frankie did three sessions by himself. Rudy Traylor had been sent along as musical director, and it had been announced that the Teenagers would release an album called Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers at the London Palladium. The rest of the guys figured that when they came back to the States, they’d do their background parts. They were again told that “the time was already booked and the lead part was the easiest to learn and record.” Rudy told them that back in New York they’d get to overdub all the sides. But things didn’t work out quite that way.”

A number of the songs recorded were standards, eg Fools Rush In and Begin The Beguine which were well outside the Teenagers normal source of songs; Out In The Cold Again was as close as they’d got to such material. In his version of events, Spencer Leigh reports that British producer and orchestra leader Norrie Paramor was involved in this nefarious activity and would go on to record such material with British teen pop singers on later dates.

The Teenagers, who were beginning to suspect that something was going on, did get themselves on three of the songs from these sessions on the group’s return to the States. However, the damage was done although the group staggered on through some of the following months in order to meet existing commitments. Another event occurred during the first half of 1957: George Goldner sold out to Morris Levy in order to meet his gambling debts and Levy wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity.

Several questions arise out of this episode. Was it pre-planned prior to the tour? How much was Paramor involved or was he little more than an innocent bystander (or was Leigh just plain wrong)? How much, if at all, did Frankie want a new career focussed on singing pop standards à la Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett? My guess as to the last is that Frankie would have been perfectly happy to be steered in that direction. Bear in mind that, at that time such musical ‘oddities’ as rock and roll and doo wop were viewed by many (including much of the musical industry) as merely transitory phenomena, and while such music was fine to make a quick buck out of – think Goldner and Levy – they would go the way of other crazes (like the Mambo which excited North America for a spell) leaving ‘real music’, as exemplified by those singers I referred to, ruling the roost.

The names of two other singers from a broadly similar timeframe come to mind: Sam Cooke and Bobby Darin. Judging by Cooke’s album output, RCA persisted in seeing him as a lounge singer although, to the world at large, he’s now perceived as one of the most important creators of soul music. While Goldner & Levy almost had the example of Cooke right in front of them – he got his start in secular music at indie label Keen in ’57 – Bobby Darin was slightly later (and was white of course). He built a successful career in pop and then, in 1959, just after his most successful disc to date (Dream Lover) switched to lounge with Mack The Knife and had an even more successful record, after which he went on to mix and mingle genres as he felt.

The first single to appear ostensibly from Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers post the British tour, Goody Goody / Creation Of Love saw release in July ’57, and I say ostensibly since it was variously labelled as being from Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Frankie Lymon and his Teenagers and just Frankie Lymon. The vocal backing was definitely not from the Teenagers since it’s very obviously not their style; in fact it was “in all probability” (Marv G’s words) supplied by the Ray Charles Singers who were nothing to do with the Ray Charles (and on whom there’s a little info in Footnotes). Both sides came from “The Palladium Sessions” and were the only tracks from those sessions to see single release. The flip was a doo wop progression ballad co-written by Richard/Richie Barrett which could have been an excellent vehicle for the Teenagers and it has to be said that Frankie sings it very well and the backing singers are restrained but sympathetic. The A-side, however, was an oldie, dating back to 1936 and given the full big band blast to back-up Frankie in finger-clicking mode. For an even more manic version see also the clip below from Frankie on The Ed Sullivan Show. Keep watching for the break:

Both the US pop pickers and our equivalent liked the record enough to send it to #20 and #24 chart positions respectively. But that was to be the last that either Frankie or the Teenagers – since they went on to embark on careers with separate identities – would see of the charts to any significant degree.

“On July 19, Frankie did a solo spot (probably his first) on the week-old “Big Beat” TV show, hosted by Alan Freed. The whole group had originally been booked, but that was over now. (Another performer on that show was an unknown Bobby Darin.)” (Marv Goldberg)

The Teenagers tried different lead singers starting with a white guy called Billy Lubrano (sometimes spelled Lobrano) but his voice didn’t suit their style judging by the resulting singles. There was a much better fit with another lead tenor (with a really big voice) called Freddie Houston and the flipside of the only single released with him in place, A Little Wiser Now, in 1960 shows the group’s talents off brilliantly. Would that there had been more like this:

One more single from the Teenagers deserves mention and that’s The Draw on Columbia in 1961. It was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and sung by Sherman (and credited to Sherman and the Teenagers). Given the title and the Leiber & Stoller propensity for narrative and playlets, the subject matter won’t come as any surprise.

Before moving on to the Lymon solo career, I should record the fact that he picked up a heroin habit somewhere around 1957/58 which would eventually cause his early death. We’re told he had zero contact with his parents which might also explain why he married three times, though there were later questions as to whether any or all of those marriages were legal and/or whether he ever got round to annulments of said marriages. One of the ladies concerned was Zola Taylor from the otherwise all male Platters – he toured with them according to Marv so the opportunity presumably arose. Accounts also tell us that that if he met someone while out with one of his ‘wives’ he would refer to her as his mother.

Back to the music. After a couple of singles that shared big band swing with violin-soaked ballads which got nowhere saleswise, George Goldner for whom Frankie was still recording on the new (1957) Roulette label (which Goldner owned along with a couple of others plus Morris Levy), reverted to something that sounded more like rock‘n’roll blended with teen pop. Thumb Thumb was the first attempt but in terms of selections I’m plumping for its follow-up, Portable On My Shoulder, mainly because of the image it presented of a girl-in-hand Frankie with the other arm clutching what we’d now call a boom box or a ghetto blaster to his shoulder.

There was to be even better rock‘n’roll further down the line but, in order to discuss that, a detour in the direction of album releases is called for. An LP entitled Frankie Lymon At The London Palladium saw release in 1958. From the title one might have assumed that it was live; it wasn’t, it consisted of the tracks like Fools Rush In cut in those London studio sessions with overdubbing done in the US. The fact that the LP didn’t immediately set the world on fire must have caused Goldner some qualms since he pushed Frankie into a studio again with producer/arrangers Hugo and Luigi, and out the other end came Rock & Roll with Frankie Lymon. While I wouldn’t go so far as say that the album was a total triumph, it was more varied and arguably better than anything he’d put on LP so far (and that consisted only of the Palladium set plus an LP with the Teenagers in ’56, the content of which was limited to issued singles tracks). This one was all covers, mainly of white and black rock and roll plus doo wop but it also contained three blues or let’s call them R&B flavoured blues. Intriguingly, the tracks occupied positions A4 to A6 on the LP, ie the second half of the first side of the LP giving the impression that this was deliberate placement. All three (in this order below), Next Time You See Me, Send For Me, It Hurts To Be In Love, deserve attention:



The originals of these three were relatively obscure (in the same order): Next Time You See Me from Junior Parker, Send For Me from Nat “King” Cole and It Hurts To Be In Love from Annie Laurie.

The original take of Next Time You See Me is easily up there with the classic records from Junior Parker –which only include the first version of Presley’s Mystery Train –and it was a nailed-on cert for selection in my Toppermost on the man. It saw single release in early ’57 when Junior was still being marketed as Little Junior Parker but crucially at the right time for Frankie to hear it on the airwaves. No, he’s not as good as Junior but he’s not that far off if you compare the voice to a Ruth Brown say and remember that we’d never heard him singing blues before this.

I’m no expert on Nat “King” Cole but have always viewed him as a man with a great voice who mainly used it on romantic ballads (and charmed the hearts of a goodly number of people) but who, in the start of his career, earned a crust by performing night club blues out on the West Coast. But this single came out in ’57, well after those days. Over here, we’d been sending his records into the charts since 1952 and in ’57 we’d already bought enough copies of When I Fall In Love to give him a #3 seller. We chose to ignore Send For Me, possibly because it clashed with our expectations; instead we bought the flip, a much more predictable ballad. In terms of recognition of the range of Nat, that was a shame. Send For Me was a jazzy but melodic slice of R&B on which Nat was evidently enjoying himself heartily. Once again, the original wins out but Frankie gets enough points from me to earn the track a selection on the grounds that if you’d never heard the King’s original then the Lymon cut would have sounded quite remarkable.

The original version of track three of this trio shares two attributes with the two preceding: it too, came out in 1957 and it, too, outshines the Lymon cover. In this instance you could argue we’re comparing like with like, ie Frankie’s high voice with that of a lady singer of the timeframe and Ms Laurie wins hands down, but I’d add that the arranger of the Lymon effort doesn’t do him any favours by speeding the tempo up to an extent that the words cut through less well and the strong riff seems to have disappeared. No harm in trying the song on for size though and the interpretation can be admired if seen merely as a rocker. It also should be said that this is the only one of the three where I didn’t think that Frankie’s voice was aided strongly by the arrangement and the band.

Two and a half singles were released consisting of tracks from this album: Little Bitty Pretty One/Creation Of Love, Waitin’ In School/Buzz Buzz Buzz, Jailhouse Rock/Silhouettes (and the first flip was the outsider). While you’d assume Frankie would handle the Rays’ great Silhouettes well – which he does – what is far less expected is the great job he does on Ricky Nelson’s Waitin’ In School helped considerably by some excellent attacking guitar work – could that have been Mickey Baker I wonder. But that shouldn’t detract from Frankie’s own contribution – he even throws in some touches of Elvis.

Before leaving the album there’s one further nugget in there, still awaiting the grand reveal: Paul Anka’s Diana. A teen song you may say with that corny doo wop progression. Yes, but note the intelligent way Anka uses the progression to build to a title line climax on each verse; note too the switch of rhythm on the middle eight and finally that marvellous (but rarely remarked-upon) backing, featuring what sounds like pizzicato strings plus prominent sax, and that’s prominent in a good way. The lyrics – “I’m so young and you’re so old / This, my darling, I’ve been told”- obviously suit Frankie down to a T but it’s what he does with them that matters. The breathy “Diana”, the subtle timing touches, the swingtime approach to the middle eight wherein Frankie tells the world who’s singing this song, and more. Wisely, Hugo and Luigi don’t mess with the arrangement, recognising that they were highly unlikely to improve on one of the outstanding features of the original record.

In my view that matches if not beats the Anka original though both he and arranger Don Costa deserve marks for originality.

The only record which did anything saleswise for Frankie during this period was Little Bitty Pretty One which got to #58 in the R&B Chart. To buyers this was probably seen as closer to his “And The Teenagers” sound than most of his other solo releases.

George Goldner cut a couple more singles with Frankie in 1961 but then let him go after lack of chart action. That same year he attended a drug rehabilitation clinic.

In 1964, he cut a couple of sides for the TCF label (a subsidiary of the Twentieth Century Fox film company). The A-side, Young, of the second of these discs, shows Frankie with a fully broken voice. For many critics this spelt the end for him; that unique factor that attracted buyers to his records had gone so this was it. But let’s rest that point. Certainly, the flip to that side (an answer record to Barry Mann’s Who Put The Bomp), I Put The Bomp (with hints of the good old double entendre stuff) suggested he could still put out competitive records.

In August ’64, a Frankie Lymon single from Columbia Records hit the record shops. It coupled the oldie Sweet And Lovely with the comparatively recent Leonard Bernstein song Somewhere from the musical West Side Story which had debuted on Broadway in 1957. On these tracks the voice had definitely broken and the results were interesting. His Sweet And Lovely appeared to aim for a mash-up of the Nino Tempo and April Stevens 1962 version of the song (which was something of a dry run of their #1 hit Deep Purple a year or two later) and the jazzier take from Ella Fitzgerald in 1959 (from the LP Ella Fitzgerald Sings Songs For Swingers). While Frankie approached the number in his usual confident manner, and the fact that he was singing in a different voice didn’t matter at all, I feel that he and Columbia ran the risk of falling between two audiences.

Although the Broadway West Side Story was a big success and the 1961 film version was an even bigger one, there hadn’t as yet been a hit version of Somewhere, a song that was crying out for just such a thing. And who knows, if Columbia had dropped the experimental false start from Frankie’s record then that platter could have been a seriously big seller and history might have been different. As it was, P.J. Proby came along just a few months later and got himself a UK Top Ten hit with the song. Take a listen to the Lymon version and then tell me that Frankie Lymon with a broken voice couldn’t have been a major chart contender.

Circa 1966, Frankie joined the US Army. According to the Spencer Leigh version, the circumstances of his joining were highly unusual. He was effectively down and out during this time and apparently stole a drum kit from a recording studio but sold it in in order to fund his drug habit. Then, “He was arrested and his pitiful plight was outlined in court. The court came to a remarkable decision. Frankie would undergo rehabilitation and then join the army instead of jail. He was stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia.” The rehab worked but the army stint didn’t. After several disciplinary offences (including going AWOL for his third ‘marriage’) he and the army parted ways in December 1967.

In January ’68, he cut some tracks in a New York studio working with new manager Sam Bray. The latter subsequently arranged for him to record an LP for Roulette with the session booked for 29th February 1968. Frankie flew from Georgia where he was still living (with his new wife) to New York and had arranged to stay in his grandmother’s house while she was away. To celebrate the record deal he bought some heroin and that was it. He was found dead the following day.

He was 25 years old.

There was to be a coda to the Frankie Lymon story. The two tracks cut in January were released as a posthumous single on Sam Bray’s own label Big Apple later in ’68, (credited to Frankie Lyman (sic) And His All Stars). The A-side, I’m Sorry was squarely aimed at dance floor fans and later would become popular in the UK on the Northern Soul Scene while the flip, entitled Sea Breeze (sometimes “Seabreeze”), was a gentle ballad totally unlike anything Frankie had recorded before. Neither track has any composer(s) listed on the labels.

I can see the lights of a little town
Where the stars shine bright and the moon never frowns
Where a man can find peace and get all he needs
It’s my home and they call it, Seabreeze

Play it ‘til the end. There’s a brief touch of falsetto which will take you right back to those early days.

A couple of thoughts before closing.

The voice. Below are some words from Robert Christgau:

“Lymon possessed the strongest instrument of any young teenager on record, including Tanya Tucker, Arlene Smith, Brenda Lee, LeAnn Rimes, and Michael Jackson himself.”

Would that he could have lived longer and we could have discovered more about the qualities of the grown-up voice.

And the early death. I mentioned Sam Cooke in an earlier paragraph. He too died early. In a review by Charles Taylor of Peter Guralnick’s biography of Sam Cooke, “Dream Boogie” he wrote:

“In the months before Cooke died in December 1964, Frankie Lymon had already been arrested for possessing heroin; he’d die a junkie four years later. The great Little Willie John would be arrested for killing a man in an argument. Ray Charles had been busted for heroin in Boston.”


Frankie Lymon poster 2


1. I didn’t include the release date of Why Do Fools Fall In Love. That’s because it’s disputed. Three sources, 45cat, SecondHandSongs and Marv Goldberg have it as December 1955 whereas others including Wiki have it as 10th January 1956.

2. In the article on doo wop in Wiki, the author states:

“In their book entitled “The Complete Book of Doo-Wop”, co-authors Gribin and Schiff (who also wrote “Doo-Wop, the Forgotten Third of Rock’n’Roll“), identify 5 features of doo-wop music: 1) it is vocal music made by groups; 2) it features a wide range of vocal parts, “usually from bass to falsetto”; 3) it includes nonsense syllables; 4) there is a simple beat and low key instrumentals; and 5) it has simple words and music. While these features provide a helpful guide, they need not all be present in a given song for aficionados to consider it doo-wop, and the list does not include the aforementioned typical doo-wop chord progressions.”

The doo wop chord progression the author refers to follows the sequence I-vi-IV-V or, in the key of C, C-Am-F-G. At a very rough guess, I’d say that at least 50% of songs recorded by doo wop groups have followed this pattern although I should add (a) that its usage wasn’t limited to doo wop groups only and (b) that it appeared in popular music well before doo wop was a gleam in anyone’s eye – the 1934 song Blue Moon (before the Marcels got their hands on it) is a good example.

3. Out of interest I attempted a very non-scientific exercise to get a feel for just how many doo wop singles had been imported to the UK prior to Why Do Fools Fall In Love. I took the list from a Wayback Attack article titled Top 100 Doo Wop Hits 1953-1964 and looked up (in 45cat) any that had been imported to the UK from the start date 1953 up to mid 1956. I found a grand total of 2 or 3 only, depending on the exactitude of the end date. Those records were: the Crows with Gee in 1954 (on Columbia) which has claims to be “the first R&B single to get a significant part of its sales and chart success from purchases by white teenagers” (Wiki), the Penguins with Earth Angel in January 1955 (London), and the Willows with Church Bells May Ring in June 1956 (London), ie about the same time as Why Do Fools Fall In Love. I’d stress that word “non-scientific” and point out that (a) the Wayback Attack feature wasn’t claiming to be complete (though less well-known records are unlikely to have been imported) and (b) like many online tools, 45cat isn’t perfect and does have some known omissions.

4. The Dave Marsh review comes from his book “The Heart Of Rock And Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made” which was first published in 1989. I recommend it to anyone trying to get a musical feel for the period (which is largely fifties and sixties). While I find myself disagreeing with Marsh at times – I note that Anka’s Diana doesn’t get included – I tell myself things could get boring if there was total agreement.

5. George Goldner was born in 1918. He opened his first record label, Tico Records, in 1948. The label focussed on latin music because George had seen at first hand the popularity of such music, particularly the mambo, in the dance halls he owned. He branched out into R&B and jazz via Rama Records which he founded in 1953 and followed that with Gee in 1954 “because radio stations would play only a few records from each label” (Wiki). In addition to effectively discovering Frankie And The Teenagers he also discovered the Crows and Little Anthony And The Imperials and worked with the Flamingos, the Dubs, Ral Donner, the Four Seasons, the Isley Brothers, the Dixie Cups and the Shangri-Las. He would go on to found, either singly or via partnerships, other record labels including Roulette, End, Gone and Red Bird (with the last named set up by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller with George joining them as a partner).

For all George’s faults, and there were several, he quickly earned a reputation in the business for knowing what should sell, so, in spite of having no formal music knowledge, he was trusted in the production booth.

6. It was George Goldner who gave the boys the name “The Teenagers”. They went into the session for Why Do Fools Fall In Love and its flip as the Premiers and came out as the Teenagers.

7. In his piece on the Teenagers, Marv Goldberg states that they travelled to the UK for their first tour in summer 1956 though he gives no details of the tour. This would make their spring ’57 tour their second to the UK. Although his (Marv’s) attention to detail is normally faultless, Cal and I came to the conclusion that he had picked up some bum information in this instance. I only mention in case this data causes confusion.

8. Morris Levy, who was born in 1927, worked his way up in the night club business and by 1949 was managing the famous Birdland jazz club in New York, having set it up for the owners. He then formed his own music publishing company Patricia Music and in 1956 he co-founded Roulette Records along with George Goldner and two others. Like Goldner, he would often add his name to songwriting credits in order to get a share of any royalties. He was also known for raising law suits related to music publishing, one of which was against John Lennon for using a line from Chuck Berry’s You Can’t Catch Me in the song, Come Together.

Starting in 1984, the FBI conducted an investigation into “the alleged infiltration of organized crime into the record business” (Wiki) which led to the arrest of Levy in 1986 and a conviction in 1988. After the failure of an appeal, Levy died of cancer in 1990 while still on bail pending the outcome of a petition to have his jail sentence eliminated due to ill health.

9. The custom (if I can call it that) of putting or adding management (or otherwise) names to composer credits was relatively common in the pop music industry in the fifties. The Lymon/Teenagers song, Why Do Fools Fall In Love – their biggest seller – is a good example of it. In the main text I’ve provided the Marv Goldberg version of what went on in terms of the song’s creation based on his interview with Jimmy Merchant. Under the heading, “Background And Authorship”, the Wikipedia writer provides us with four paragraphs on the subject. The first contains a variation on the Goldberg/Merchant version with Herman Santiago playing a role. For the second, see below:

“Although early vinyl single releases of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” credit Frankie Lymon, Herman Santiago, and George Goldner as co-writers of the song, later releases and cover versions were attributed only to Lymon and record producer George Goldner. Goldner’s name was later replaced by Morris Levy when Levy bought Goldner’s interest in Gee Records, the Teenagers’ record company.”

The last two paras document the facts that there was a court battle and in 1992, Santiago and Merchant won the writing credits for the song. Unfortunately, in 1996 this decision was overruled on a technical issue and the credits reverted to Lymon and Levy. (I would note that this is not how it appears in 45cat though there is discussion on the topic.)

10. The “Ray Charles Singers” had nothing to do with the Ray Charles we know and love. They were a large ‘mixed vocal ensemble’ from Chicago. Those words appear on this website which also tells us:

“Ray Charles is the stage name of Charles Raymond Offenberg (born September 13, 1918, in Chicago, Illinois), an American musician, songwriter, and vocal conductor. He is best known for a series of easy listening record albums which he produced in the 1950s and 1960s as the Ray Charles Singers. This vocal group also sang backup on most of the recordings of Perry Como from 1950 to 1987, and Charles and his singers also appeared with Como in his live performances and on television. The Ray Charles Singers (with Charles featured prominently as lead male vocalist) sang the theme song to the television series Three’s Company (“Come and Knock on Our Door”). He is sometimes known humorously as “The Other Ray Charles” to distinguish him from the great soul musician of the same name.”

11. There’s reference to Frankie’s version of Mama Don’t Allow and some words on the song’s origins in the Bobby Mitchell Toppermost. The track can be found on the flip of Portable On My Shoulder.

12. “Hugo & Luigi” was the shortened collective name for record producers and songwriters Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatori. They were cousins and, for work purposes, shared an office in New York’s Brill Building. They spent a long spell in the fifties and sixties producing for RCA with artists including Perry Como and Sam Cooke (and this included several of Cooke’s hits). Among the records they produced were Shout from the Isley Brothers and The Lion Sleeps Tonight from the Tokens. At one stage they were co-owners of Roulette Records. They also went on to found Avco Records and H&L Records and eventually retired from the music business in 1980.

13. Next Time You See Me was one of Charlie Gillett’s “Sounds Of The City” discs of 1957.

14. According to Spencer Leigh, Paul Anka had offered the song Diana to Little Anthony and to Frankie before he recorded it himself.

15. My 78 of Diana is in the loft.

16. I’m with Dave Marsh on his “only memorable rendition” comment regarding Frankie and the Teenagers’ Why Do Fools Fall In Love in comparison to all the later attempts (I counted 75 of them on SecondHandSongs and that’s not including the instrumentals). I’ve only listened to a snippet each of some of the more obvious ones – The Diamonds, Diana Ross, The Beach Boys and Joni Mitchell – but the incentive wasn’t there to persist any longer.

17. The complete Frankie Lymon fan is catered for well on YouTube: Cal has dug up not one but two series of clips entitled Frankie Lymon – The Lost Tapes Pt.1 (+ rare photography) plus Pts.2 and 3 to follow, and Frankie Lymon – Unreleased Songs Pt.1 (At London Paladium (sic) Album Sessions) plus Pt.2 with the same overall title. The first of these has been extracted from a Bear Family album entitled Frankie Lymon: The Lost Tapes although the number of tracks has been edited down. The material comes from the early solo Frankie period with his voice part broken and it’s very largely sad ballads with minimal lounge effervescence, Much the same comments apply to the second set though there’s no officially released direct equivalent this time, instead there are various albums which claim to contain “rare” or “unreleased” tracks. For those who are willing to fork out some money, Bear Family also offer Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers: Complete Recordings which comes as a 5CD Set and claims to have 32 unreleased recordings. A quick check suggests that all the above YouTube offerings are contained in this set.

Captured interviews with Frankie are extremely rare but Cal did manage to find one. It’s from September 1957 obtained “backstage at Vancouver’s, Georgia Auditorium” by the MC while Frankie was on tour with Eddie Cochran, Clyde McPhatter, Frankie Avalon and the Everly Brothers which would have made Frankie 14 or 15 at the most (though he claims to be 16 in the interview). This is that interview. As an aside, judging by the “extras” in the photo that accompanies the “Unreleased Songs Pt.1” above, I wonder whether it was taken on that particular tour. Sticking with the Lymon family, YouTube also has a 3-part interview with Lewis Lymon entitled Frankie Lymon, Interview With His Brother (1 of 3). Lewis’ musical claim to fame is that he replaced Joe Negroni in the Teenagers after Joe died in 1978.

18. A 27-minute documentary film, I Promise To Remember, was made about Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers by PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) which was aired on 14th August 1983. The clip below is that film. It’s not perfect in that it drops the sound at approx 18 minutes in but only for a little over a minute. That shouldn’t detract overly from the content. There are clips and photos which can’t be found elsewhere and the talking heads include Jimmy Merchant, Herman Santiago, Richard Barrett and the president of Frankie’s fan club. It doesn’t pull its punches either. I’ll take the opportunity to offer a massive thank you to Cal for finding the clip; I suspect that I might have missed/overlooked it without his help.


Frankie Lymon poster 1


Frankie Lymon photo 2

Pictured left to right: Phil Everly, Clyde McPhatter,
Seattle disc jockey Dick Stokke, Frankie Lymon


Frankie Lymon (Wikipedia)

Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers at 45cat

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

Frankie Lymon biography (AllMusic)

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Cal Taylor has avidly collected records since the early 1960s, gravitating to deep soul and blues. As time went on he got more and more into studying pre-war blues and accumulated a vast record collection. Cal saw many such artists live in the sixties. He has written several posts for this site including Charley Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Robert Johnson and Otis Redding.

The Stephens/Taylor toppermosts include Johnny Ace, Arthur Alexander, Ray Charles, Cyril Davies, The Falcons, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Alexis Korner, Little Walter, Johnny Otis, Junior Parker.

TopperPost #1,043


  1. David Lewis
    Oct 18, 2022


    • Dave Stephens
      Oct 18, 2022

      Many thanks, kind sir

  2. Andrew Shields
    Oct 19, 2022

    Superb Toppermost on a magnificent singer. A handful of near perfect records here. Interesting to consider what way he might have gone if he had lived longer.

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