Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home)
Baritone singer Richard Wagner and tenors Tony Carlucci and Lenny Renda lived blocks away from Jamaica Bay in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, New York. In 1958 they were singing on street corners hoping to get noticed; the one person impressed by their talents was 15-year-old Joe Frazier (he claimed to be in a group called The Dreamtones), who went by the misspelled nickname "Speedo" (after the 1956 hit by The Cadillacs, "Speedoo"). Turns out Frazier's vocal skills weren't bad and he joined the group; so here you had a black lead singer and three white backing vocalists who figured they'd hit on a good formula. They often sang at a neighborhood candy store and called themselves The Impalas, giving them another tenuous connection to the aforementoned Cadillacs, though they'd actually taken the name from the gazelle-like African animal, not the latest model in General Motors' line of autos.
A couple of music guys took note of the quartet; songwriter Artie Zwirn had just broken into the biz with "(It's Been a Long Time) Pretty Baby," a song he'd written with Aristides "Harry" Giosasi, which was a top 40 hit in the spring of '58 by Gino and Gina, who were actually Aristides and his sister Irene Giosasi. Artie and Aristides/Harry/Gino offered the Impalas one of their songs, "I Ran All the Way Home," then contacted Jack Cook, an associate of Alan Freed, who'd featured Gino and Gina on an installment of his TV dance show The Big Beat on New York's channel five, WNEW. Shortly thereafter, the Canarsie kids auditioned for MGM Records and were signed to the company's Cub subsidiary. The recording session wasn't your typical two-take 30-minutes-and-you're-done kind of thing common in doo wop; Leroy Holmes, a longtime conductor and arranger for MGM (who also had a hit with the instrumental movie theme "The High and the Mighty" in 1954), led the orchestra on the unusual-for-the-genre stereo recording. Frazier's 'Uh-oh!' ten seconds into the song wasn't planned (he had missed a cue), but the flub ended up on the finished master.
First pressings went out with the original title, but with 'sorry' repeating three times at the beginning of the track, it made sense to change the title to "Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home)." Either way it would have been a smash, as the single reached number two on the national charts in May 1959, just two months after its debut. That spring and summer the quartet was booked on Freed's concerts and appeared on TV shows like American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. Zwirn and Giosasi came up with another catchy tune, "Oh, What a Fool," which failed to avoid the pitfalls of trying to follow a million-selling hit; it spent only a few weeks in the lower regions of the charts in June and July. A third single, "'Bye Everybody," a ballad with a shaky Speedo vocal, missed completely. The Impalas sound was less gritty than most doo wop acts of the era, possibly due to the upscale studio recording situation or Frazier's lighter vocal style when compared to the majority of street corner lead singers in the five boroughs.
The hitmaking Impalas weren't the only ones to use the name. An instrumental group on the Sundown label popped up at the same time "Sorry" was moving towards the top of the charts; in addition, a vocal group with a female lead had one release on the Hamilton label and in 1961 another Impalas outfit had a single on Checker. The fourth and final Cub 45 by the Brooklyn quartet, "When My Heart Does All the Talking" (a relatively weak midtempo pop tune), was credited to Speedo and the Impalas, prompting many to confuse Frazier with Earl "Speedoo" Carroll of the Cadillacs...but then Richard Wagner had the same name as the great 19th-century classical composer (albeit pronounced differently), though that didn't draw attention the way a name like "Speedo" would, especially when only two guys are using it (heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier was still a few years away from fame and fortune, otherwise this "name game" might have gotten really complicated!).
MGM lost interest in the group before even a year had passed (an Impalas record came out in 1961 on Checker, but it was actually by the Washington, D.C.-based girl group that later became The Jewels of "Opportunity" fame). Frazier emerged on the 20th Century-Fox label in 1963, without the rest of the group, sounding much better than on the final two Cub efforts. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's South Pacific tune "There is Nothin' Like a Dame" underwent a major overhaul (along the lines of what The Marcels had done with Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "Blue Moon") and the B side, Cy Levitan's "Last Night I Saw a Girl," isn't bad either. Speedo kept performing live, but many years went by before he made any more recordings. Meanwhile, another Impalas act came along to further confuse things, this one a soul group produced by Bill "Bunky" Sheppard that had several late-'60s singles on a number of labels including Bunky and Capitol. Since then, Joe "Speedo" Frazier has revived the group remembered for buzz words like 'Uh-oh!' and "Sorry." In the early 1980s he recorded "My Hero" for UGHA (the United Group Harmony Association) and has continued to tour regularly with a new Impalas lineup.