Philadelphia's Cameo Records was a profitable venture from the beginning. Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe opened for business in late 1956; 20-year-old Charlie Gracie, Philly born and raised, was the label's first hitmaker with its sixth release, "Butterfly," in early '57. The company, with sister label Parkway, dominated the city's music scene in the '60s with mostly homegrown acts, but at first its owners were simply concerned with getting a foothold in the industry. It took several months before someone other than Gracie put a Cameo record on the charts; a 42-year-old comedian from Detroit, Timmie Rogers, had a hit with "Back to School Again" that fall at the same time another non-Philly act scored the label's biggest hit yet. The Rays, a rhythm and blues quartet from Brooklyn, New York, shook up the City of Brotherly Love with "Silhouettes."

The group didn't start with Cameo; even their hit came out on another label before Mann and Lowe licensed it for national distribution. Tenor Walter Ford, baritone Harry James and lead singer Harold Miller first got together in 1955. The final addition was tenor David Jones (nickname: "Sugar Lump"), who had left The Four Fellows shortly after the group's summer '55 Glory Records single "Soldier Boy" had gone top ten on the R&B charts. The first single by the Rays appeared in early '56 on Chicago's Chess Records. "Tippity Top" and the oddball novelty "Moo-Goo-Gai-Pan" were both written by Bob Crewe and Frank Slay, in search of their own breakthrough, but the record generated little interest. Crewe and Slay started the XYZ label ("The Livin' End in Music!"), writing and producing "My Steady Girl" for the group with a sound closer to street corner harmony than fully produced R&B. Still no luck.

The second XYZ single, presented for public consumption at the end of summer 1957, was "Silhouettes," a romantic case of mistaken identity with a subtle Peeping-Tom twist, backed with "Daddy Cool," a party tune with a flirtatious implication that could easily have been an A side in its own right. American Bandstand, broadcasting from Philadelphia, had gone coast-to-coast on the ABC network less than two months earlier; host Dick Clark wasted no time in giving "Silhouettes" a spin on the show. Demand for the record was suddenly and unexpectedly overwhelming, so Crewe arranged to have Cameo handle the distribution. "Silhouettes" was in the top ten by the end of October and stayed there the rest of the year, while "Daddy Cool" acquired its own corps of devotees. Competition came quickly, first with a version by Steve Gibson and the Red Caps on ABC-Paramount that debuted on the charts a week behind the Rays but was never able to catch up. Hot Mercury Records act The Diamonds made a run at the original a few weeks later, picking up airplay in some markets; the Canadian quartet went to further lengths with a caricatured rendition of "Daddy Cool" on the B side! Nice try, but by that time it was too late.

The Rays

Chess Records attempted to cash in on the group's success by releasing an earlier recording written by group members James and Miller, "How Long Must I Wait," a stronger effort than the first single that might have fared better had it been chosen pre-XYZ. Two Cameo singles followed in 1958; "Triangle" was conspicuously similar to "Silhouettes," while "Rags to Riches" (a remake of Tony Bennett's 1953 hit) gave label credit to Hal Miller. Neither went anywhere and Cameo cut them loose. Crewe and Slay set up a new distribution deal with United Artists on the strength of the one hit. Novelty track "Elevator Operator" was released on the XYZ and Unart labels, after which UA distributed the group's recordings strictly on the XYZ label.

Five more singles were released and two hit the charts: "Mediterranean Moon" (an uptempo Slay-Crewe tune) appeared briefly in early 1960 and "Magic Moon (Clair De Lune)" had a two-month run late in the summer of '61. Slay and Crewe took writer credit for the latter, though its melody was originally composed by Claude Debussy some six decades earlier. The song competed that summer, though fleetingly, with a version by Steve Lawrence under the title "My Clair De Lune," with a different set of lyrics by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who also neglected to give any credit to Debussy, nor was it necessary for any reason beyond their respective consciences; the original work was in the public domain. In the end, the Rays' recording was the more successful, reaching the top 50.

After one more single, Crewe and Slay folded XYZ but continued working with the group. Crewe produced the Bob Gaudio song "An Angel Cried," a 1962 single on the Topix label credited to Hal Miller and the Rays, which actually featured The 4 Seasons backing Miller's lead vocals. "Love Another Girl" came out in 1964 on Amy as The Rays featuring Hal Miller, but it's unlikely any of the other three were involved. The group had run its course but the famous song was alive and well; "Silhouettes" rebounded in popularity when a remake by Herman's Hermits became a top ten hit in the spring of 1965. Later touring versions of The Rays were made up of hired backing singers with the spotlight on the one lasting original member, the voice of the Rays, Harold Miller.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Silhouettes Magic Moon (Clair De Lune)