The Dovells were an important part of Bernie Lowe, Kal Mann and Dave Appell's Cameo-Parkway juggernaut,which included Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp and Bobby Rydell. Hitting hard and fast with classic records like "You Can't Sit Down" and "Bristol Stomp," the quartet survived lineup changes, the departure of their original lead singer Len Barry (famous for "1-2-3") and their eventual diaspora from the top ten.
70s, in an attempt to forestall the inevitable metastasis into an oldies act, remaining members Mark Stevens and Jerry Gross hit on the idea of transforming the act into a comedy routine and moving the show into the lounges of Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas. Their 1976 album, "The Dovells Live On Stage" is a document of that unfortunate decision.
Don't get me wrong: I love the music on this record. Their opening hunk, "Rain On My Parade/"How Sweet It Is" is a properly exhilarating call to action. The renditions of "MacArthur Park" and "Try A Little Tenderness" have a very pleasing sleaziness to them. And it's always great to hear the old hits done in that chipper oldies-circuit style. The Dovells also employ the popular medley format extensively. Their divorce medley -- which weaves together "You're Having My Baby", "You'd Better Sit Down Kids", "With Pen In Hand" and "Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast" -- is an absolute model of the style.
But as comedians, they are worse than a washout. They are not merely unfunny -- they are downright painful to witness. For some inexplicable reason, they decided it would be clever for Mark Stevens to affect a flamboyant gay stereotype as his onstage persona. At the time, this may have seemed daring and "racy" in some circles. But it has not aged well.
Apparently, laff-getting gay caricatures were not uncommon during the heyday of show lounge culture. This is not the only record in my collection to feature such "humor." But the jokes about bondage and cross dressing are not even remotely amusing. When Mark reveals that he takes Mydol for headaches, and Jerry calls him sick and tells him to "sing like a man," one can't help but cringe. They offer an apology at shows end: "I'm not really that way...I have a lot of gay friends," etc. But it's too late -- the damage is already done.
Of course, any time an artist needs to apologize at the end of a performance, it might be time to consider retooling the act. This album doesn't appear on any Dovells discography that I've ever seen, so it may not be something the group is proud of. The duo probably pressed a couple thousand (on their own Dovco label) to give away or sell at shows to help defer travel expenses, then forgot all about it. But The Dovells' shame is our gain, and Bostworld is proud to offer this album in all its offensive, hairy-chested, jumpsuit-wearing glory.
These days, it's getting tough for acts on the oldies circuit. Bookings are drying up as casinos hire talent agents too young to remember most of the old groups. Lucky for The Dovells, gay-bashing is as popular as ever. Perhaps the time is ripe for a return to form.