It's harder than it looks to make a doo-wop and R&B playlist.
For one thing, most songs tend to be no longer than three minutes; most are between fifteen to thirty seconds shorter. The explosion in postwar radio profitability and the technical limitations of the 45 rpm record disk saw to that.
This influenced both the medium and the audience. Many a doo-wop song--either slow or fast--works largely like a sonnet: verse, verse, bridge, verse. The chorus is reduced to its essence in the form of the song's title and the melody to which it's sung; the third verse holds some sort of turn or reverse or reveal. Further compressing the message are the backing vocals, which add emotional contour without eating up the clock.
The length of a doo-wop/R&B track, determined by both technology and market forces, necessitates a broad message. Nuance can live in the spaces, but people trained only to hear the words need a clear punch of a notion. That helps make the song catchy. Thus the second problem with trying to make a doo-wop and R&B playlist: the songs are fiercely, ecstatically, brazenly, wantonly, and catastrophically about love. With limited gray area. Either the lovers are getting together, or they're breaking up, or they're reminiscing about one or the other. We never had that problem with jazz. It makes for monotonous playlist-making.
Songs have grown longer since, and though the emphasis on happiness in the '50s and love in the '60s gave way to disillusionment in the '70s, nihilistic cocaine binges in the '80s, and a damp, flanneled distress in the '90s, the presence of love remains strong in pop music today. Lately, it sounds like pop singers are keen to hit all the hallmarks of love and happiness so long as they aren't rushed into anything, and their agency is respected. "Give me the same dream my grandparents had," the songs plead, "entirely on my terms." Love is everywhere, for everything, so long as the singer wants it and their struggle for it is acknowledged with a reward, provided instantly so as to seem not a reward, but their just due. Bracketed as the songs are by the real and lasting damage that was done by a minority cabal of station owners capable of deciding (until very recently) what made it to airwaves and what didn't, the beef is real. We are owed that which has been denied us. We shall have it. Or woe betide, et cetera.
Our culture turns on more than just thought and desire; it's affected by more than just our interaction, though thought, desire, and interaction are the genesis of what we do as a people. Technology has more than just the ham-fisted effect mainstream reportage ascribes it; the actions taken by our cultural retailers are the result of far more mundane discussions happening at companies too big NOT to desperately fear losing the pulse of their customers.
We take this stuff home with us, and we sit with it and hope it will make us less lonely. Yet we go back for more, regardless. This isn't a moral failing in us; we're not brainwashed. After the novelty wears off, there's still the warble of a tenor reaching for a note almost impossible to touch, and three or four other voices joining to make a harmony that most would have to train in order to achieve on their own. We're caught internally in the same process that makes and sells us what we love, and we love it because it tells us sweetly what to love, and we believe it. There is both more and less going on than we realize: always; everywhere.
What follows is a spec script for the ninth episode of the first season of a show called STALEMATE, born of an idea in 2010 with its first iteration written in 2014. The pages below were drafted in February, 2021.