One of the finest songwriters of his generation, Doc Pomus made music to cry by, dance to, and inspire. He was a first-rate boogie woogie man in his early 20s, making the rounds of post-WWII New York blues clubs– usually the only white cat in the joint– but his knack for deceptively simple, immaculate lyrics led him to craft songs that even today defy era and genre. Here are ten boppers, rockers, and anthems from the immortal Doc Pomus!
1. “My Good Pott”, Doc Pomus with Curley Russell’s All Stars (1947)
Jerome Felder was born on June 27th, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York, and at six years old nearly died from polio. The experience– which also encased him in an iron lung for a year– left him reliant on crutches to stand or walk before being confined to a wheelchair later in his adult life. Felder developed his stage name “Doc Pomus” out of thin air for no other reason than it sounded hipper than “Jerry Felder.” This proto-rock n’ roller released on the Savoy label in 1947 is Doc in top form, belting with the best of ’em and barely bothering to veil the marijuana reference.
2. “My Happiness Forever”, LaVern Baker and the Gliders (1956)
In the 1950s, Doc Pomus segued from behind the microphone to behind the pen full-time, and the pantheon of future icons that recorded his songs should be considered its own Hall of Fame– Ray Charles, The Coasters, Irma Thomas, Johnny Adams, to name only a very few. LaVern Baker could sing the grocery list and make it move, but this low-slung wailer written by Doc and released by Atlantic in 1956 is nothing short of phenomenal.
3. “Love Roller Coaster”, Big Joe Turner (1957)
According to Doc, without Big Joe Turner, there would be no rock n’ roll– and certainly, without the Boss of the Blues, there would be no Doc Pomus. A teenage Jerry Felder discovered the blues through Big Joe, and one wonders what lightning coursed through his veins as he wrote “Love Roller Coaster” for his idol at the behest of Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun.
4. “A Teenager In Love”, Dion and the Belmonts (1959)
A blues and R&B sophisticate, Doc Pomus decided he needed a partner to take advantage of that “new sound goin’ round”, so he teamed up with a young piano player named Mort Shuman to hole up in the Brill Building and rack up rock n’ roll hits like this fantastic piece of adolescent melodrama. Every oh-wah-oh evokes an early heartbreak and renews the promise “if you should say goodbye, I’ll still go on loving you.”
5. “Save the Last Dance for Me”, The Drifters (1960)
Doc married actress Willi Burke in 1957 and at their wedding encouraged his bride to dance with whoever she chose– because he physically could not. As the legend goes, Doc was content in the knowledge that ultimately, the final turn of the evening would belong to him, and so was born one of the absolute greatest songs ever committed to wax. With Ben E. King on lead vocal, The Drifters cut the initial version of “Save The Last Dance For Me” with producers Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber– and their assistant Phil Spector.
6. “Little Sister”, Elvis Presley (1961)
Elvis Presley recorded something to the tune of two dozen songs by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and “Little Sister” (that’s Hank Garland on the signature guitar riff and Harold Bradley on the tic-tac bass) is top o’ the heap.
7. “The Power And The Glory”, Benny Latimore (1966)
In the mid-1960s, songwriting changed considerably with the emergence of paradigm shifters like Bob Dylan and The Beatles (ironically, devotees of Pomus), and as counterculture gave way to psychedelia and harder rock, the savvy elegance of writers like Doc Pomus faded (though not entirely). Doc made a left-field transition to professional gambler, his music career relegated to gold memories on the wall– but not before firing off this slow burner (which Lou Reed would mine for inspiration nearly three decades later) for Benny Latimore in 1966.
8. “There Must Be A Better World Somewhere”, B.B. King (1981)
In the mid-1970s, after mixing with gangsters and having his regular card game robbed, Doc Pomus retired from gambling and once again found himself writing songs, this time a sage to Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Lou Reed among others. Pomus teamed up with Dr. John for a series of terrific songs that would find their way onto City Lights as well as B.B. King’s warm and conceptual There Must Be A Better World Somewhere.
9. “King Cry Baby”, James Intveld w/ Rachel Sweet (1990)
Full disclosure, the soundtrack to John Waters’ 1990 drapes-vs-squares camper Cry-Baby was formative for this commentator in his 13-year-old form. Cuts from The Students, Little Esther Phillips, hokum slinger Bull Moose Jackson, and The Chips were fantasy lands away from the regular fare you could catch on the then-ubiquitous golden oldie terrestrial radio stations. Though Johnny Depp greasily portrayed the titular Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker, West Coast rockabilly purveyor and future Blaster James Intveld (who, by the way, just dropped a killer new single) handled the heavy vocal lifting for the musical numbers, including this bopper penned by Doc Pomus and (former Blaster) Dave Alvin.
10. “Power And Glory (The Situation)”, Lou Reed (1992)
It’s difficult to picture the black-jeaned, dark-attitude, rock n’ roll hustling, street poet silhouette of Lou Reed hunched over a Pickwick staff writer’s desk, grinding out pop ditties in the early 1960s– and yet, that’s exactly what he was doing when he met Doc Pomus. The two would remain friends– with Reed viewing Pomus as nothing less than a Titan that invented fire– until Doc’s death from lung cancer on March 14th, 1991. With 1992’s Magic and Loss, Reed pays sweet tribute to his friend and mentor through several cuts, most especially this direct Doc Pomus descendant featuring Little Jimmy Scott.