Purveyors of the some of the silkiest, smoothest ballads ever to be committed to vinyl.
Chris Jones 2008
The Platters epitomise the twilight world that existed between the jazz and swing years of post-war America and the birth of the beast we all know as rock 'n' roll. They inherited the easy listening mantle of the Ink Spots (covering several of their hits in the process) while combining it with the street corner barbershop r 'n' b that came to be known as doo wop. Originally signed to the Federal label (and without the female voice of Zola Taylor on board to sweeten the mix) it was a good year before they found the right formula. By 1955, they came under the management of Buck Ram, a songwriter and agent who had steered another doo wop act, the Penguins, into hit territory with Earth Angel. He got the two bands signed to Mercury. The Penguins floundered, but for the Platters it was the start of the golden era.
It was Ram's song, Only You (And You Alone) which was to be the key to unlocking chart glory. The quintet had recorded it for Federal, but had it rejected. Now on Mercury it defined their distinctive style. In the following years the band racked up over 53 million sales and a string of classic hits. Their rise was also aided by Alan Freed's inclusion of them in the film, Rock Around The Clock. But the real stroke of genius by Ram, however, was placing vocalist Tony Williams center stage. His stuttering, emoting tones were what gave the group its signature sound. His rendition of The Great Pretender was such that it was eventually lampooned by Stan Freberg. The hits varied between Ram's lacrymose doo wop gems (I'm Sorry, Remember When, Enchanted) and songs drawn from the classic American songbook such as Red Sails In The Sunset or Jerome Kern's Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (which Kern's widow was worried that they'd turn into a rock 'n' roll monstrosity).
This collection rightly concentrates mainly on the band's peak years - 1955-1961; when Tony Williams quit the group for a solo career. Without the distinctive tenor leading, the hits began to dry up. Subsequently, the Platters disintegrated into the usual legal wrangles with numerous members claiming the rights to use the name (there's one later recording of Love Letters here that bears absolutely no relationship to their greatest work) - but by then they'd cemented their reputation as purveyors of the some of the silkiest, smoothest ballads ever to be committed to vinyl.