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.