If you have already read my series discussing the Flamingos' early recordings (full list of posts here) you may not be aware of a postscript recently added to the piece about Dream of a Lifetime. The Flamingos recorded it in July 1954 for Parrot Records and remade it a couple of years later during their time at Chess, but I lazily presumed the number was written around the time of recording it. In fact there is a 1947 recording of the song, credited to Bill Johnson and His Musical Notes with "Vocal refrain by Gus Gordon and Trio." The composition is credited only to "Gene Rowland", however; Mack Kemp's name does not appear on the record label.
It's a beautiful performance in a style which brings the Ravens to mind: Gordon's lead may not be quite as distinctive as Maithe Marshall's but the gently jazzy backing has a similar feel to many records by the better-known group even if there's no fathoms-deep bass to provide vocal variety.
Coming to it after long familiarity with Sollie McElroy's take on the song, however, it strikes me that Gus Gordon seems calm and untroubled: celebrating a thing of beauty without being distracted by any strong passion during his task. Looking at the Flamingos' two recordings in an earlier post I described McElroy's vocal on the Parrot side as:
... not hesitant but slow, as though surprising himself with the boldness of the declarations he is framing ...
In fairness to Gus Gordon perhaps it should be pointed out that the Flamingos had more advanced technology on their side. The Parrot recording was engineered by Bill Putnam, a man whose pioneering work in creating reverb effects greatly enhanced their early recordings. (He was responsible for the Harmonicats' Peg O' My Heart, which some may remember from Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective.)
By the time of the Chess Records remake of Dream of a Lifetime, in July 1956, Nate Nelson had taken over as lead. His performance is, to my ears, less exciting than Sollie McElroy's - though in Nelson's defence the notion of what constituted a rock'n'roll backing had become more rigidly defined by the time he took over. Nelson is renowned for his smooth singing style but it may be that the brisker, more teen-friendly tempo offered him less opportunity to be as adventurous, in his own way, as McElroy.
Related posts and links:
Original post about Dream of a Lifetime here.
Guide to Flamingos posts, described by Marv Goldberg as "a wonderful analysis of all their Chance and Parrot material", here.
Marv's peerless R&B Notebooks site includes a page about Bill Johnson and The Musical Notes here.
A post about Bill Putnam, who engineered or produced many doo wop records including those of the Flamingos, here.