Who wrote Why Do Fools Fall in Love? How much is it worth? What is Doo-Wop music? And where did The Jackson 5 get their style? The Investigation Discovery Channel, on their The Will – Family Secrets Revealed series, presented a fascinating program yesterday on the undulating and complex legal providence of the Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers smash Doo-Wop hit, Why Do Fools Fall in Love(?).
This is a classic cautionary tale for the music business, where we see how artists were taken advantage of by industry sharks in the mid-fifties. Essentially, Jimmy Merchant started the Teenagers, was the main writer for this R & B signature song, but never saw even one nickel for a song that’s generated millions of dollars.
It’s more complicated than that, since the lyrics were derived from a poem on a letter (written by an anonymous woman in Harlem) that the Teenagers received from a friend who thought their lyrics could use some improvements. Another important consideration, when tracing the song’s authors, is that Jimmy Merchant conceived of Why Do Fools as a ballad, while Frankie Lymon can be credited with punching the record up and making it sizzle (an early precedent for Rock & Roll)!
The producer for this first Gee record, George Goldner, took partial credit for the song as well, which was a common practice in those days. As hard as it is to admit, Goldner did pick Frankie to sing lead vocal and also can be credited for obtaining a premium performance from the youngster with a golden falsetto voice. His name appears on the original 45″ vinyl single, so here’s where the rip-off occurs.
Once Diana Ross covered Why Do Fools Fall in Love? in 1981, Jimmy Merchant, who at the time was driving a cab in NYC, suddenly realized the true value of the song. The legal wrangles begin at this juncture. The ID special gives you the detail you need to understand how this fight played out in court. I will admit, I had to watch it four times before I really fathomed all the sharp turns it took, and before a definitive settlement was reached.
Ultimately, it was Frankie’s widow, Emira Lymon, who retained 50 % of the rights, along with the notorious music industry mogul, Morris Levy. His label, Roulette Records is familiar to me (especially the logo), since I had the single Hanky Panky, by Tommy James and the Shondells when I was a kid. The ID show reveals Morris Levy’s ties to Organized Crime, and this was shocking new information for me!
Besides the legal aspects, I learned so much from this special on Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Jimmy Merchant, one of the inventors of Doo-Wop, tells us that the vocals of this original format, were mimicking the sounds of horns, since these kids from Washington Heights weren’t rich enough to get horns. I picked up a Greatest Hits on iTunes so I could experience the Teenagers total repertoire.
How much is Why Do Fools worth? It runs in the millions and will probably continue to produce a treasure-trove of royalties for many years to come. Another lesson you learn is how Frankie’s tragic addiction to heroin ruined him, took all his money by his selling away his rights to the song, and it finally took his life away, when he OD-ed at his grandmother’s house in NYC (February 27, 1968), after he’d been clean for two years. The greatest lesson we learn from the ID special, is that Michael Jackson derived his moves and sound from FL and the Teenagers. Come to think of it, my take-away is that everything comes from something else. Nothing is original. I better sort this out!