[Author's Note: It's been a long, long time since I read my Monotones story, the one that appeared in Big Town Review #1 in early 1972. It was one of the first articles I'd ever written, and, not to put too fine a point on it: it stinks. I guess I had yet to perfect my interviewing skills, since it certainly contained little useful information about the group (for example, I never bothered to ask what parts any of the members sang or who was who in the photo). What you're about to read was culled from various sources, and hopefully will provide a better history of the Monotones.]
One of the most recognizable sounds of the 50s (right up there with "Get A Job") was the Monotones' "Book Of Love." Everyone I knew wanted to sing it (including me; if you've never heard me attempt it, run now - there's still time). It was a great tune: lively, danceable, singable (although we never did get to find out the answer to the question "who wrote the book of love?").
The Monotones were from Newark, New Jersey, where they all grew up in the Baxter Terrace projects and sang in the choir of the New Hope Baptist Church. (Other notable members at the time were Cissy Houston, and her nieces, Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick.)
In 1954, first tenor Warren Davis, second tenor George Malone, baritone John Ryans, and bass Frank Smith (all members of the choir) were part of a group called the Travelers (not the Atlas group). By late 1955, original members Curtis Eel and Derek Patterson had been replaced by lead tenor Charles "Skippy" Patrick and baritone Warren Ryans (two more choir members). With a deft name change, the Travelers had morphed into the Monotones. The name "Monotones" was chosen because they felt that their voices blended into a single tone (in truth, however, the word "monotone" is kind of a negative one, implying a boring, unchanging sound).
The first song that the Monotones practiced, in the Baxter Projects rec hall, was "Crazy For You," by their idols, the Heartbeats.
Somewhere along the way, they started fooling around with the Pepsodent toothpaste jingle ("You'll wonder where the yellow went/ When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent). Over time this became the basis for "Book Of Love," a song they sang on the street corners of Newark.
"Book Of Love" seemed like it would go places. James Patrick, Charles' brother, was a member of the Kodoks, and they were interested in recording the song. The Monotones auditioned for Atlantic, but they just wanted the song to give to the Bobbettes. Finally, enough was enough, and the Monotones became determined to record the tune themselves.
The story is told that, during a practice session, some kids playing outside, hit the window with a ball just in the break between "who" and "who wrote the book of love." When the Monotones listened to the playback of the tape, they decided that the thump sounded right, and the result was a bass drumbeat to emulate the ball. For all I know, the story is true
In September 1957, they auditioned for Hull records (owned by Billy Dawn Smith, William Henry Miller, and Bea Caslon). Hull was interested, and, on September 26, the Monotones recorded "Book Of Love" and "You Never Loved Me," which were released on Hull's Mascot subsidiary in December of that year.
It didn't take Hull long to realize they had a hit on their hands. It also didn't take long to realize that they couldn't handle its distribution. Thus, they made a deal with Chess Records that resulted in "Book Of Love" being reissued on Chess' Argo subsidiary in February 1958. (What does a guy have to do to land on the main label around here?) This is the same pattern that Hull had just established when the Pastels' "Been So Long" had started to take off. The deal, in both cases, seemed to be that Hull would continue to record the group and the masters would be sold to Chess for release. This worked out for about a year in the case of the Pastels and a year and a half for the Monotones.
The Argo release was reviewed on February 17 (with "Book Of Love" receiving an "excellent" rating). [Note that the Hull release doesn't seem to have been reviewed at all.] Other reviews that week went to the Coasters' "Gee Golly," the Del Vikings' "The Voodoo Man," the Swallows' "Oh Lonesome Me," and the Classics' "If Only The Sky Was A Mirror."
The record started taking off, and, because of it, on March 24, the Monotones became part of Irvin Feld's "Greatest Show Of Stars" tour, an 80-day extravaganza which included a week in Canada. Others on the bill were Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter, Lavern Baker, Roy Hamilton, Huey Smith & the Clowns, Jackie Wilson, the Silhouettes, Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, the Royal Teens, the Playmates, and the Paul Williams Ork.
Also on March 24, "Book Of Love" was a Tip in Washington, D.C. On April 21, it was a Tip in Philadelphia. The tune climbed the charts until it reached #3 on R&B, remaining for 11 weeks. More impressively, it rose to #5 on the Pop charts.
On June 1, 1958, the Monotones (back from the tour) had another Hull session. This time they recorded two novelty tunes: "Zombi" and "Tom Foolery." These were paired for an Argo release later that month. The record was reviewed on June 30 (with "Zombi" receiving an "excellent"), along with the Hollywood Flames' "Chains Of Love," Chuck Berry's "Beautiful Delilah," the Olympics' "Western Movies," the Ivy Tones' "Oo Wee Baby," the Cufflinx' "Zoom," and the Kings' "Angel."
In July, the Monotones appeared on Alan Freed's "Big Beat" TV show, broadcast on WABD (channel 5) in New York every weekday from 5 to 6. This was Freed's attempt to counter the rising popularity of Dick Clark.
Then there are the Terracetones, who recorded "Ride Of Paul Revere" and "Words Of Wisdom" for Hull on July 15, 1958. There has always been confusion over whether this group was actually the Monotones using the name of another group from the Baxter Terrace projects or a separate group. Now, I'm happy to report, after speaking with Carl Foushee, that it's actually the latter. The Terracetones were Carl Foushee (second tenor; lead on "Words Of Wisdom"), Robert Johnson (baritone; lead on "Ride Of Paul Revere"), Andrew Cheatham (first tenor), Edward Johnson (second tenor), and Leonard Walker (bass).
For reasons that are unclear to me, Hull sold "Ride Of Paul Revere" and "Words Of Wisdom" to ABC Paramount, which released them on its Apt subsidiary in September 1958. The Terracetones' disc was reviewed on October 13 (both sides "fair"), along with James Brown's "Try Me," the 5 Royales' "The Slummer The Slum," the Velvetiers' "Feelin' Right Saturday Night," and Buddy Ace's "Angel Boy." "Words Of Wisdom" is somewhat like the Moonglows' "Ten Commandments Of Love," but that's really coincidental. The Moonglows recorded their tune in August 1958, while the Terracetones' session was held in July.
The Terracetones didn't make all that many appearances, although they went on a bus tour with the Monotones that took them to Monticello, New York (in the heart of the Catskills). Since most of them were in school (either high school or college), when nothing seemed to be happening with the record (especially royalties), they called it quits.
Meanwhile, on July 15 (the same day as the Terracetones' session), the Monotones laid down "Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" and "Soft Shadows," which became their next Argo release, in December 1958. The platter was reviewed on January 12, 1959 (both sides "good"). Other reviews that week went to The Danleers' "A Picture Of You," the 4 Dots' "Don't Wake Up The Kids," and the Gay Charmers' "What Can I Do."
It took almost a year for the Monotones to get back into the studio. By the time of their June 4, 1959 session, first tenor Warren Davis had departed, to be replaced by Charles Patrick's brother James (who had left the Kodoks). On that day, they recorded "Tell It To The Judge," "Fools Will Be Fools," and "What Would You Do If There Wasn't Any Rock 'N' Roll?" The first two became their last Argo release, issued later that month.
On January 27, 1960, the guys waxed "Dream," "Reading The Book Of Love," and "Forever Yours." The first two masters were paired for a release on (can you believe it?) Hull that came out around August of 1960 (it was reviewed on August 22).
The sessions were dwindling now. It took until May 24 1961 to record "Daddy's Home But Momma's Gone" (an answer to "Daddy's Home," which was an answer to "A Thousand Miles Away") and "Tattletale," which were released around August.
The final session took place on February 14, 1962. The two tracks laid down ("Book Of Dance" and "Toast To Lovers") never made it to a single, appearing instead on a Hull LP (Your Favorite Singing Groups) in October of that year. These were the only cuts by the Monotones that it contained.
"What Would You Do If There Wasn't Any Rock 'N' Roll?" and "Forever Yours," the only two unissued titles, finally saw the light of day on a 1985 Murray Hill album Who Wrote The Book Of Love: The Monotones.
In the 70s, at least some of the members reunited for various oldies shows. The group I saw in August 1971 (in the adjoining photo) had Charles Patrick, Warren Davis, and Frankie Smith [but, sad to say, I don't seem to have asked Charles Patrick the names of the other members; forgive me, I had to start somewhere].
In 1980, when Victor Hartsfield joined the Adult Choir of the New Hope Baptist Church, Frankie Smith and George Malone were still choir members. They (and Warren Ryans) had also kept the Monotones together. The other members were lead baritone Carl Foushee, and baritone/second tenor Tommy Reed. Victor approached Frankie and George and asked if he could be their manager and booking agent. Thus began an association that has lasted for the past 25 years.
When Warren Ryans passed away, Victor Hartsfield (who also happened to be a first tenor) stepped in to replace him. Victor was originally from East Orange, New Jersey, where he'd been in a group called the Exceptions (that didn't have any releases). Another member of the Exceptions was Bernard Brown (who could handle any part from second tenor to bass) and Victor brought him into the Monotones to make it a sextet again. Tommy Reed also passed away, to be replaced by second tenor and baritone Bernard Ransom. Both Carl Foushee and Bernard Ransom had been members of the Terracetones from the Baxter Terrace projects. Therefore, by 1994, the Monotones consisted of Frankie Smith, George Malone, Carl Foushee, Bernard Ransom, Bernard Brown, and Victor Hartsfield.
In 2005, the Monotones were still making occasional appearances with basically the same lineup, although Frankie Smith had passed away and bass/baritone Joseph Eaton had replaced him.
Warren Davis died in April 2016, George Malone in October 2007, and Charles Patrick on September 11, 2020.
Discography courtesy of Ferdie Gonzalez. Ads are from Galen Gart's First Pressings series.
124 Book Of Love/You Never Loved Me - 12/57
ARGO (all Argo masters purchased from Hull)
5290 Book Of Love/You Never Loved Me - 2/58
5301 Tom Foolery/Zombi - 6/58
5321 The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow/Soft Shadows - 12/58
5339 Fools Will Be Fools/Tell It To The Judge - 6/59
735 Reading The Book Of Love/Dream - 8/60
743 Daddy's Home But Momma's Gone/Tattletale - 61
HULL LP-1002 Your Favorite Singing Groups - 10/62
Contains two previously unreleased tracks by the Monotones:
Book Of Dance
Toast To Lovers
MURRAY HILL 000180 Who Wrote The Book Of Love: The Monotones - 85
Contains two previously unreleased tracks by the Monotones:
What Would You Do If There Wasn't Any Rock 'N' Roll?
NOTE: The LP title above is on the record jacket. The label gives the title as The Best Of The Monotones.
APT (these are Hull masters)
25016 Words Of Wisdom/Ride Of Paul Revere - 9/58