Mediterranean Moon

Mediterranean is one of those  words that has the power to create a whole line of images from the few letters of the name. Blue sky, blue/green sea, the sound of crickets in the hot sun, olives and tavernas. I suspect my early picture of  it was shaped by two things in particular -   a book about ancient  Greece and Rome that was about the house as a child, with a photo of Mount Olympus that  I somehow found compelling; and the first Jason and the Argonauts film that I saw at a young age. It wasn’t just the animated monsters, courtesy of Ray Harryhausen, that I found memorable, it was also the cinematic backdrop of blue sea and white  temple pillars and olive groves that stayed in my mind. Years later, I visited the temple at Delphi, at the foot of Mount Parnassus and then got a bus down to the sea. ‘Yes, this is really  the Mediterranean’, I thought.

Yet the word has a host of other connotations, as the songs associated with it suggest. For decades in the tourist industry, ‘Mediterranean’ has often meant  the package holiday of Spain and Greece, with songs such as Y Viva Espana or  We’re Going to Ibiza (in the Mediterranean Sea) by the Vengaboys, a UK Number One in 1999, providing a musical accompaniment. This last was a rewrite of a fairly dire Number One from 1975, Barbados by Typically Tropical, in which a cod Caribbean accent informed the listener they were flying Coconut Airways. A creative lyricist then later changed “Whooah, I’m going to  Barbados” to “Whooah, we’re going to Ibiza” and annoyed people all over again. Actually, both the worlds above  co-exist alongside each other. On a holiday resort like Kos, you don’t have to travel far from the bars and English breakfasts in Kos Town to find the white washed villages and shepherds’ huts on wooded hills in the interior. A track like the evocative and shimmery  In Love With Dusk by  Keep Shelly in Athens is a kind of bridge between the two.

The song here though, Mediterranean Moon by the Rays from 1960, is different from these in that it comes from a musical genre –doo wop – that a) is probably not remembered much at all and b) certainly wouldn’t be associated with the Mediterranean, originating as it did from the street corners and subway entrances of urban America in the 1950’s.  In many ways, it turned out to be a cul-de - sac of a genre, though its influence stayed on in more commercially successful groups such as Dion and the Belmonts and the Four Seasons. However, few of its acts had wider standing. The Rays themselves, like many doo-wop groups, had little commercial success other than a one-off hit.( In a comprehensive history of UK pop, they might merit a minor footnote in that Hermans Hermits had a hit with a revival of their Silhouettes song). There were numerous others whose names have largely been forgotten. There were, for example, the Superbs, a Los Angeles group who married doo-wop and soul in a distinctive sound characterised  by the clear soprano  voice of Eleanor Green soaring over the vocal harmonies of the other group members. Despite  standing out from many  chart  acts of the time (the record below is from 1964) they passed by without the recognition they deserved.

Doo-wop generally, in fact, had little impact on the UK at the time, a few songs -  like the Marcels'  Blue Moon - aside. In fact, just as in the USA where songs by early, black, rock and roll acts like Fats Domino and Little Richard were taken into the mainstream by white singers like Pat Boone, so in the UK doo-wop tended to go through a home-grown transformer  to make it more commercially palatable.  Take the song The Book of Love, originally a USA hit for doo-wop outfit the Monotones. In the UK, it was  a hit for the Mudlarks, a kind of pre-Springfields pop/skiffle group from Luton,  voted the most popular British vocal act of 1958.In the clips of the 2 versions below, you can see/hear how the song became modified by the Mudlarks (backed by the Ken Jones Jive group) into a tune the vicar at the local youth club could tap his feet to as he handed round the lemonade and ping-pong balls to those crazy kids. It was another 20 years before British doo-wop became credible  through revival groups like Rocky Sharpe and the Replays and  Darts, whose first hit in 1977 was a cover of the Rays' Daddy Cool.

Mediterranean Moon was  a bit of infectious nonsense co-written by Bob Crewe, who went onto bigger success writing for the Four Seasons. The geography is a bit hazy, with a senorita on the Isle of Capri in an Arabian night, but you get the picture.  It is also an example of a musical ear worm, one of those songs hovering between catchy and annoying that burrow into the brain from repetition .The writer Lawrence Durrell said, “The Mediterranean is an absurdly small sea; the length and greatness of its history makes us dream it is larger than it is”. Here, even a simple  ditty –albeit one  using a repetitive double dactylic metre to get its point across – can conjure up the image of the moon across the Mediterranean, so strong has that dream been.


  1. I agree with you, Geoff, the very word "Mediterranean" summons up images of the vast sea, bluer than blue, of sunshine and vacations. All the Mediterranean countries, too, of course. And the unforgettable smells of rosemary, sage, thyme and lavender in the garrigue and gum cistus in the maquis. Sun-dappled fruit trees dotting the hillside.

  2. I am glad my monsters made such an impression. Should you or any of your readers have an interest, we just deposited more than 20,000 of my pieces with the National Media Museum in Bradford. Also, as a music writer you may be interested that in the song “Worried About Ray’ by The Hoosiers there are references to me in the lyrics. Also the music video of the same song features various of my creations!
    Keep well, Ray

  3. Here is the full movie of Jason and the Argonauts in case anyone hasn't seen it!

  4. I had the same thought - ‘Yes, this is really the Mediterranean’ - arriving in Marseille for the first time. On the train you see long low white colored chalky cliffs. And then when the train pulls in, the doors open onto a wide huge terrace that serves as a landing of sorts before one enters the station and has a tremendous open view of the entire city spreading out before it. Amazing. "Now this is really the Mediterranean," I thought. Narrow streets lined with crumbling old houses. Small hills absolutely covered with roof tops as far as you can see and in the distance, a church on a high vantage point topped with a golden statue that shines but is unrecognizable from so far away.

  5. "A creative lyricist then later changed “Whooah, I’m going to Barbados” to “Whooah, we’re going to Ibiza” and annoyed people all over again." - Yes! I remember being annoyed in the 1970s, and then couldn't believe the song was back again 20 years later. We only have another 10 years before the cycle turns again and someone reissues the song with a new lyric/place, argh!

  6. Geoff, this is fascinating - I NEVER would have associated doo wop with the Mediterranean!

  7. Speaking of "a comprehensive history of UK pop" - is there such a book, or at least one that you'd recommend as worth reading (and if not, when are you writing it??)

  8. Geoff, I had never heard of The Superbs! That is a great track though. Did they do an album you'd recommend in particular? Thanks for this introduction to new (old) music!

  9. Me neither - I hadn't heard of the Superbs, they are great though now I'm listening to them!

  10. This is a great British scene! "a tune the vicar at the local youth club could tap his feet to as he handed round the lemonade and ping-pong balls to those crazy kids." So..... a vicar is a minister, I guess a youth club is a church group, and while I'm not sure whether the lemonade and ping-pong balls went together in some kind of British take on apple-bobbing (ping ping balls in a barrel of lemonade), it sounds fun!

  11. That is fascinating, how the song became modified by the Mudlarks. I have to say, I prefer the original one by the Monotones though. It's really great to have both versions, to see the cultural influences at play in the translation! Thanks Geoff!

  12. Here is Daddy Cool by the Darts - the lead singer has incredible facial expressions!

  13. Whoops, forgot to include the link - here it is!

  14. I was with the Darts from the beginning in 1976, wrote songs and arranged our music. I still sing with the Metrotones - joined them in the 90s. We have a new album out - Let's Fall in Love. Doo Wop is still alive and well in Britain!

    Den Hegarty

  15. The Darts also doo-wopped (can it be used as a verb?) the song "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eS_n0epcF30 - which definitely wasn't doo-wop when Judy Garland first did it:)

  16. He hee, yes, you'd have trouble pinning this song's exact location on a map ("The geography is a bit hazy, with a senorita on the Isle of Capri in an Arabian night") - somewhere around Spain by way of south western Italy on the way to Turkey/Egypt/Persia.....:)

  17. I love this idea - of the musical ear worm, where songs hover between catchy and annoying and burrow into the brain from repetition! I am going to use this idea to describe that kind of song from now on (the musical ear worm - brilliant!).

  18. Great Durrell quote! One of my favourites about food and the Mediterranean is from him too: “The whole Mediterranean, the sculpture, the palm, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers -all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.”
    From ‘Prospero's Cell’ (1945)

  19. Martha, youth clubs werent really church groups,more places set up to provide youngsters somewhere to go and do in the evening - like play table tennis, hence the ping-pong balls!
    In the clip of Darts that Desiree has posted, Den Hegarty, who comments above, is the one who falls on the piano..

    I dont think the Superbs did an album,just singles. They continued as a group after Eleanor Green left but lost their distinctive sound.

  20. I think for me the ‘Mediterranean’ more often means the package holiday of Spain and Greece (drunk people in Kos or Ibiza or Malia) unfortunately. British lager louts being sick on the pavement and trying to pull perma tan ladies with ratty hair extensions which are a different colour to their own. Identikit blondes dancing with check shirted ravers and of course everyone jumping in the swimming pool at the end of the night. The hearty calls of “Engerland, Engerland, Engerland” closing another fine Ibiza evening’s entertainment. A neon, hot Blackpool but worse, because there isn't even the added promise of the Big Dipper.

  21. as a frenchman, i can tell you that i hate the mediterranean coast, it has been overbuilt and it's overcrowded most of the time. i don't like too much the locals there either (lot of old people voting for the National front fascists...) i live on the atlantic coast. Monaco is like a ghetto for the rich and famous. Cannes is a yearlong circus.

  22. Hi Geoff

    Inspired by your blog this week, I've been listening to quite a few songs which capture a kind of ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean theme, especially with lyrics drawn from the mythology. For example, the band Therion have quite a few Canaanite and other Middle Eastern themed songs (like Land of Canaan, Kings of Edom, and Call of Dagon).

  23. I love the idea of a musical ear worm, too. For me, the ultimate musical ear worm is this song:

    "After the ball was over,
    Two little girls in blue,
    Riding to Monte Carlo
    On a bicycle made for two"....

    My grandfather sang this often. As he told it, these were lines from different songs put together by a poor seller of sheet music to the tune of "Two Little Girls in Blue"; the enterprising gentleman would sing his improvised lyric in the street and thus sold more music! I have no idea if this is true and, although three of the lines are well-known, I can't find any song with the line "riding to Monte Carlo" in it so if you know of one, I'd be most grateful to hear about it. The tune has gone around in my head for years.

  24. When I was in the third grade, we had an all school music recital where we third graders sang a song about the Mediterranean. There was lots of singing and spelling and swaying in imitation of ocean waves. At the end of the song we all pretty much yelled, exuberantly, MEDITERRANEAN!!! Does anyone else remember this (American) song for children?

  25. There is also Maryon Gargiulo's terrible "Notre Planete", a disco-themed song about the Mediterranean Sea and its need for protection!

  26. Worst. Song. Ever.:

    (We’re Going to Ibiza (in the Mediterranean Sea) by the Vengaboys)

  27. Here's Barbados by Typically Tropical, which is a very weird song and also pretty hilarious in this live version with the terrible shirts and equally terrible dancing by the audience in the front row. And the lead singer seems to be about 12 years old (the only way he is going anywhere is on his family holiday during the school break, no?). And the black musicians in the back who clearly find the whole thing ridiculous and funny.


  28. I kind of love "In Love With Dusk" by Keep Shelly in Athens, which I hadn't heard before: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjNJ3sE6nvY

  29. Keep Shelly in Athens remind me a bit of St Etienne (they way that they manage to make an idyllic, illusory version of the Mediterranean, like St Etienne do for London).

  30. Hello Geoff,

    I enjoy your blog and thought you may enjoy my poem:


    This island is almost Asia.
    The blue is Iznik, or in the pause
    of breath between day and deep night Persia.
    The green, frayed by the heat, is a plain
    beaten to dust by beasts and herdsmen.
    The light is silk, the walls carnelian.

    The cliff-edge monastery is almost
    Islam, in the place of the apostle who was almost
    a Jew. These fishermen unwitting
    Europeans, Europe an invention.

    The courtyard spills with blossom, a kitchen chair stands
    empty in the sun. Cats,
    on the steps, one, two, three,
    as if they know who I am. The door
    half-open to a shaft of darkness. I discover
    I am somewhere in the centre.

    Mediterranean. Behind,
    the ancestors moving through cloud,
    bravely creating God. Around,
    the riders of the sea. The tideless
    water dissolves the pathways of crusades
    by traders, thieves and soldiers.
    Before, the years waiting for release,
    a life unmapped, unfigured.

    Summer is leaving. By the harbour
    the bars are shuttered, the beach
    almost empty. The red is wine,
    the grey the workshop’s smoke, silver
    longing’s brittle armour.
    Mediterranean. Held
    somewhere in the centre,
    like warmth in raw stone.
    Watching the year ebb
    until time and purpose join.

  31. Here is the brilliant Hermans Hermits, with Silhouettes, that Geoff mentioned: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9VaNoGscYo

  32. Fred Mudd, the lead singer of the The Mudlarks, was my dear husband. When he passed away, we had been married for nearly 50 years.

    As you seem particularly drawn to the Waterloo area of London, perhaps you like the Mudlarks' song Waterloo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6buvErvjAAY. Although I don't believe it is about the area near Waterloo Bridge in London, as first it was a hit in the U.S. for Stonewall Jackson. I believe the lyrics refer to the idea of the Battle of Waterloo, where everyone must face his or her own Waterloo.

  33. Here's the Marcels' Blue Moon that Geoff mentioned: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4oSTyjZCfE

    Brilliant song:) Always makes me happy!

  34. I think I like the Mudlarks' version of Book of Love better - is that bad??

  35. Fascinating that Bob Crewe wrote this song! I know all his Four Seasons work very well, but didn't know about this song.

    By the way, it is a terrible injustice that Crewe has thus far been ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He rightfully became known to industry insiders as “The Boy Genius.” In 1985, he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Considering the recordings he was involved in, it is hard to believe he has not yet received similar recognition from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

  36. For some reason, most of the Doo-Wop groups seemed to have birds' names – The Orioles, The Ravens, The Swallows, The Robins and on and on. I don't think there was a group called The Kookaburras but you never know.

  37. One of my favorite Doo-Wop groups was the D'Italians. I don't know why as they weren't of Italian extraction. They then changed their name to the more prosaic THE STUDENTS. I've searched in vain for a picture of them from the time, here's one from the Seventies: http://www.timegoesby.net/.a/6a00d8341c85cd53ef014e8a126572970d-pi

    Their first record was I'm So Young which was a typical, and rather good, Doo-Wop tune. After that, they were offered a then-unreleased demo of a song called Cathy's Clown. They turned it down.

    People of my vintage will know that this song sold squillions for the Everly Brothers who didn't turn it down.

  38. I love Smokey and the gang's hit, the Doo-Wop answer song, Got a Job. Answer songs were all the rage in the late Fifties and early Sixties. The song it answers is Get a Job by The Silhouettes (this song was really The Silhouettes' only claim to fame and they pretty much sank without a trace after that until the revival of this music brought them back into the spotlight. The group Sha Na Na took their name from the lyrics of this song).

  39. Doo Wop is my time machine. Let one start and I'm whisked away into the fifties where I wallow in memories and am always reluctant to return to NOW.

  40. Don't get me started on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - do they base their choices on anything specific or do they just toss names in a hat and pick out five to 10 each year?

    Hat names are not always the best choices and should only be used at raffles. Sometimes their choices are on the money, but is it fair to the artists whose names get left out of the hat selection process?

    My point? There's got to be a better system if some of our pioneers of rock 'n' roll aren't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which is for some reason located in Cleveland, Ohio where "it's illegal to catch mice without a hunting license"). I did a little research and was shocked at some of the names that are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so let's roll them off:

    Connie Francis
    Frankie Avalon
    Bobby Rydell
    Chubby Checker
    Leslie Gore
    Paul Anka
    Johnny Mathis
    Bobby Vinton
    Bobby Vee
    Pat Boone
    Neil Sedaka
    Sonny & Cher (Seriously, unbelievable!)
    Peter, Paul and Mary (I know, but still ...)
    Johnny Burnette
    Jimmy Clanton
    Herman's Hermits

    This is my starter list, there are many more. Is there a dead end street here? Are these artists I just mentioned going to be overlooked forever because of some sort of expiration date? They're not melons. If they intend to keep the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until the end of time, then most of these artists should be inducted before Justin Bieber grows a mustache. And let's face it, some of those who are out there now (who may be picked down the road) aren't really rock 'n' roll artists/bands, are they? No, of course not -- unless we're expanding the definition of true rock and roll music, but I ramble.

  41. How about one-hit wonders? Shouldn't there be a One-Hit Wonders Hall of Fame? We love their music, we danced to it, grabbed a few smooches in the back seat of a Chevy, while listening to them on the radio and they deserve some sort of recognition.

    Here are just a few great rock 'n' roll one-hit wonders: "Johnny Angel," Shelley Fabares; "Goodnight My Love," Jesse Belvin; "A Million to One," Jimmy Charles; "Teen Angel," Mark Dinning; "Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)" Barry Mann; "We'll Sing in the Sunshine," Gale Garnett; "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye," The Casinos; "Harper Valley PTA," Jeannie C. Riley; "Happy, Happy Birthday Baby," The Tune Weavers; "To Know Him is to Love Him," Teddy Bears; "Tan Shoes with Pink Shoe Laces," Dodie Stevens, "Born Too Late," The Poni-Tails............

  42. Its amazing how many names are missing from the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame !!

    Hot Tuna
    Emerson Lake and Palmer
    Jethro Tull
    George Thorogood
    Edgar Winter
    Johnny Winter
    The Cars
    Johnny Rivers
    Rare Earth
    Savoy Brown
    The Association
    Taj Mahal
    Richie Havens
    New Riders of the Purple Sage
    Robin Trower
    John Mayall
    T. Rex
    Delaney and Bonnie
    Buddy Miles
    Blood, Sweat, and Tears
    Livingston Taylor
    James Gang
    Canned Heat
    Quicksilver Messanger Service
    Country Joe and the Fish
    Ten Wheel Drive
    Blue Cheer
    Roberta Flack
    Chambers Brothers
    Arthur Brown
    Spencer Davis
    Buddy Miles
    Ten Years After
    J. Geils Band
    Vanilla Fudge
    Eric Burdon & War
    Procol Harum
    Moody Blues
    Sheryl Crow
    Peter Gabriel
    Mike Rutherford
    Joe Cocker
    It's a Beautiful Day
    Manfred Mann
    Sea Train
    John Sebastian
    Laura Nyro
    Lee Michaels
    Seals and Crofts
    Three Dog Night
    Steve Miller
    Spencer Davis

    To name a few....

  43. When considering nomination/induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, both impact (how many hits/how popular was the artist in the artist's own era?) and influence (how lasting was the artist's impact, and who did he/she/they influence?) should be evaluated. In the era of the original pioneers, I would submit Johnny Burnette (good songwriter, and made some fantastic pure rock records with his Rock 'N' Roll Trio, including the definitive version of "Train' Kept A-Rollin'"), Screamin' Jay Hawkins (the first theatrical rock artist, who influenced countless acts after him), and certainly Jack Scott (had many hits, is still influencing musicians today, and was Detroit's first white rocker to gain national attention), for consideration. Possibly Jody Reynolds (innovative... atmospheric, dark, and moody for his era) and Charlie Gracie (Philadephia's first rock 'n' roller and a stellar guitarist) as well. Maybe a couple more of the old Sun artists like Billy Riley and Warren Smith, too (nearly all of the Sun material is well known and influential). Of the list in the article, you could possibly make a case for Connie Francis (both impact and influence), Chubby Checker (impact... popular in his day... but not influential), Paul Anka (especially considering the scope of his songwriting), Neil Sedaka (again, he was a successful songwriter as well as recording artist), and maybe Bobby Rydell (impact, but not influential) and Leslie Gore (influential on solo female artists after her).

  44. Pat - Your heart's in the right place, but some of your "absentees" (e.g., Johnny Mathis, Pat Boone, Peter, Paul & Mary) are no more rock and rollers than I'm a Frisbee-catching cat. Just because someone's musical career overlaps the Rock era doesn't make them viable potential inductees.

    That said, where's Jackie Brenston ("Rocket 88," arguably the very first rock song), Roy Brown ("Good Rockin' Tonight"), Screamin' Jay Hawkins ("I Put a Spell on You"), The Fleetwoods ("Come Softly to Me") or Joe Cocker?

  45. There a Doo-Wop Hall of Fame! Didn't know that until I looked it up. So glad! Doo-Wop songs are some of the best feel-good music of any genre in any generation. They are the sisters, brothers, and first cousins of rock 'n' roll. They were indelibly ingrained within the genre. Who does not LOVE Doo-Wop music? If you have a pulse and listen to it, then you know how great it is.

    The 12th Annual National Inductions & Gala Concert will be held March 11, 2012 from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. EST, at Boston Symphony Hall: http://www.harveyrobbins.net/id2.htm

    And there's actually a Doo-Wop Theme Cruise, Boston to Bermuda, May 18-25, 2012 aboard the Norwegian Dawn: http://www.harveyrobbins.net/id33.htm

  46. The Billy Williams Quartet is an unbeknownst precursor to Doo-Wop. In particular, a track they recorded during their transitional period when they were signed to Mercury Records in 1952, I Don't Know Why (I just do), in the hands of Billy Williams and his cohorts takes on a new meaning and lays the groundwork for what will become the Doo-Wop genre.

    Sadly, this song didn't chart at all and, aside from it's nod to a style not yet set in stone, it gives an indication of just where things were headed.

  47. Etta James dabbled in doo-wop (as well as rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, gospel, and jazz). I wish she had done more with it though.

  48. Geoff, I love your blog but I can't stand doo-wop! My musical tastes run through prog rock, punk, 1990s dance music and a whole lot more but excludes this particular genre:)

  49. The dactylic foot is intrinsically annoying, I think!

  50. Oh no, I'm going to have that refrain, “Medite-, Medite-, Mediterranean,” going over and over again in my head all day!

  51. Seems like the Rays were really into their minor “moon” hits in the early '60s: “Mediterranean Moon” and “Magic Moon (Clair De Lune)"!

  52. I did a song called Mediterranean Moon too: http://www.broadjam.com/player/player.php?play_file=67786_438154

  53. Thanks for all these suggestions. Thanks, too, Leila, for the link to the Mudlarks Waterloo song, which was a John D Loudermilk song I think.I should mention that Leila (Williams) is part of TV history as the first Blue Peter presenter!