THE FOUR PREPS
The Four Preps are somewhat underrated, in my humble opinion. Though they scored a string of hits in the late fifties and early sixties, many people now seem to associate the clean-cut group with the "high school rock" phenomenon, which is more or less a symbol for the dilution of rock 'n' roll. But the Preps never pretended to be an R&R group. They should be taken for what they were : a versatile white harmony vocal group, who could handle almost any genre. Their harmonies were definitely an influence on the Beach Boys.
Formed at Hollywood High School in the mid-fifties, the original group was made up of Bruce Belland (lead tenor), Glen Larson (baritone), Ed Cobb (bass) and Marvin Inabnett (high tenor). At a talent show, they were spotted by Capitol Records producer Voyle Gilmore, who signed the group to a long- term contract. Their first record, "Dreamy Eyes", was released on October 29, 1956, and reached a respectable # 56 on the Billboard charts. Not until their sixth single would they return to the hit lists, but this time it was a real monster hit : "Twenty-Six Miles" peaked at # 2 in March 1958 and stayed there for three weeks. Like the follow-up, "Big Man", and several other later hits, this was a Belland-Larson composition. "Big Man" did almost as well, reaching # 3 in the US and # 2 in the UK. The record featured heavy piano chords from their pianist / arranger Lincoln Mayorga, the unofficial "Fifth Prep". Next came a couple of film hits : "Lazy Summer Night" (from "Andy Hardy Comes Home") and "Cinderella" from the first "Gidget" movie, in which the group also had a small part. There were many TV appearances as well : on Tennesee Ernie Ford's morning show, the Ed Sullivan Show (4 times), "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" (which led to the group backing Ricky Nelson on some of his records and many of his concert dates) and Dick Clark's "Aerican Bandstand" (14 times!). The boys were really proving themselves and were awarded Cash Box's "Most Promising Vocal Group of 1958" honours.
In the summer of 1959, the Preps covered Webb Pierce's "I Ain't Never" for the pop market (# 79). Their next hit, "Down By The Station" (also known as "Early In The Morning") was based on an old English folk song (# 13). "Got A Girl", again with strong piano work from Mayorga, scored in both the US (# 24) and the UK (# 28) in 1960.
Their stage show was so popular that Capitol decided to record it for the group's next album, "The Four Preps on Campus". Recorded in December 1960, the highlight of the evening was a medley which parodied recent hits by other vocal groups, suggesting methods to eliminate the competition, thereby leaving "More Money For You and Me". The single went to # 17 and the LP to # 8. The formula was repeated with "The Big Draft", again recorded live at North Hollywood High School, in December 1961. This time the competing vocal groups would be eliminated by drafting them into the Armed Forces. Both medleys are clever, funny imitations, extremely well executed. And judging by the audience reaction, their act included a lot of visual humour as well. Another succesful novelty was "A Letter to the Beatles" in 1964 (# 85), but this would be the Preps' last chart hit. They kept issuing singles until 1967 (still on Capitol), some with Phil Spector-styled productions, but the British competition proved too strong. David Somerville, ex-lead singer of the Diamonds, replaced Ed Cobb in late 1966. After the group disbanded in 1968, Bruce Belland and Somerville hit the road as a duo. The Four Preps re-emerged in the eighties, with Bruce Belland, Ed Cobb, Dave Somerville and Jim Pike (ex-Lettermen lead voice). In 1993 Pike was replaced by Jim Yester, ex-lead singer of The Association, and the group now billed themselves as The New Four Preps. Ed Cobb died of leukemia on September 19, 1999, in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the age of 61. As I have already written in my piece on The Diamonds, the remaining members continued as Yester, Belland and Somerville. This group stilll tours and does superb live recreations of the hits of The Four Preps, The Diamonds and The Association.
While still with the Four Preps, Ed Cobb and Lincoln Mayorga created the instrumental studio group The Piltdown Men, for which they wrote, arranged and produced (1960-62), as they did for Ketty Lester (1962-63 ; "Love Letters" features Mayorga's piano and arrangement). Cobb went on the be a success- ful songwriter ("Every Little Bit Hurts" for Brenda Holloway, "Dirty Water" for the Standells, "Tainted Love" for Gloria Jones, later Soft Cell) and producer. Bruce Belland's songs have been recorded by a wide variety of artists. He became a scriptwriter, a TV producer and eventually an executive at NBC-TV, before rejoining the (new) Four Preps. Glen Larson also went into TV writing and producing. Marvin Inabnett died in the same year as Ed Cobb, 1999.
CD: The Four Preps : Capitol Collectors Series (CDP 7 91626 2). 20 tracks. Released in 1989. Unfortunately, the version of "Got A Girl" on this CD drowns out Mayorga's piano solos with an obtrusive guitar that is absent from the original single. Their only two charting LP's, "Four Preps On Campus" and "Campus Encore", were reissued on one CD by Collector's Choice in 2000.
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