From Bippity Bach To Beatles

Somehow, despite writing on occasion over the last five-plus years about my sister’s record collection in the 1960s and early 1970s, I have never mentioned the Swingle Singers.

The group, formed in Paris in 1962 by a singer named Ward Swingle, performed “Classical and Baroque works with a jazz rhythm section, employing a distinctive scat style in the vocal parts,” according to All Music Guide. If that’s a hard concept to wrap one’s mind around on a Tuesday, here’s an example of what that sounded like, with the group taking on Bach’s Prelude & Fugue No. 1 in C Major from (I think) the group’s first album, Jazz Sebastian Bach, released in 1963:

I guess that sometime in the mid-1960s, my sister heard the group somewhere – school, a friend’s house – and selected as one of her regular choices from our record club the group’s 1964 album The Swingle Singers Go Baroque. I have no idea how often she listened to it, but I know I rarely dropped the album on the stereo. The music seemed, well, too bippity for my tastes, for lack of a real and better word. Perhaps the best measure of how little I cared for the record is that, of all the records that my sister took with her when she left St. Cloud in 1972, The Swingle Singers Go Baroque is one I’ve never tried to find. I don’t know if I’ve ever run across it, but if I have, I’ve left it in the bin.

Come the 1970s, the tale gets a bit tangled, with Ward Swingle moving to England and forming a second group, Swingle II, designed, AMG says, “to perform a broader base of repertory.” That second group eventually took on the original name (if I am reading things correctly) and has continued to record, broadening its repertoire to include popular music and incorporating words into its performances along with the scat-style vocals.

And that’s where I caught up with the current version of the Swingle Singers. Somewhere out in the wilds, I stumbled upon Ticket To Ride: A Beatles Tribute. That 2002 collection of rather inventive covers of sixteen Lennon-McCartney songs has piqued my interest, and I will likely dig deeper into the group’s catalog. Here’s the Swingle Singers’ take on “Revolution.” (The visuals provide more background into the group’s history.)


2 Responses to “From Bippity Bach To Beatles”

  1. jb says:

    The Mrs. is an acapella singer and has been a Swingles fan since high school. A few years ago, the current edition came to town and I snagged tickets for her. I figured she’d like it and I’d tolerate it, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. They were touring on an album called “Keyboard Classics,” on which they performed vocal arrangements of famous classical piano pieces. Hard to believe the human voice was making all of those sounds.

  2. Yah Shure says:

    My junior high choir teacher introduced the bunch to the Swingles in 1965, when Ward’s choral arrangements were the most cutting-edge around. We eagerly absorbed as much as we could from ‘Bach’s Greatest Hits’, which was the American title of the ‘Jazz Sebastian Bach’ album.

    Make that *too* eagerly. When we recorded our Swinglefied version of “Gavotte For Bach,” the snare drum player couldn’t keep up as we rushed our way through it. Mr. Westby must’ve felt like Casey Jones, trying valiantly to slam the brakes on a fully-stoked monster careening out of control. It was all over in just sixty-four seconds, and although we were no doubt proud of having saved the recording company the major expense of another fifteen or twenty seconds’ worth of recording tape, the ultimate lesson was that one cannot out-swingle the pros through speed alone.

    Favorite Swingle Singers album title: ‘Swingle Bells.’

Leave a Reply