The history of soul vocal stylists the Dells started in 1952, when they were formed in high school in Harvey, Illinois. A year later, they made their record debut on Checker, the Chess subsidiary, but it wasn’t until 1956 that they hit paydirt with the glorious “Oh What A Nite.” Here we remember a track from their heyday of the late 1960s. It was a decade that brought them a dozen more R&B chart entries, two of them No.1s, and considerable pop crossover success.
The first hit version of “Oh What A Nite,” and the charming follow-up “Stay In My Corner,” had been on Vee-Jay. But the group returned to Chess in 1966 under the auspices of its Cadet label, which would be their home for eight years. And what years they were, including the remarkable achievement of landing soul chart-toppers with remakes of both of those Vee-Jay hits.
Just before the revival of “Oh, What A Night,” as it was now spelt, the Dells entered Billboard’s Bestselling Rhythm & Blues Singles chart on May 31, 1969 with something rather unusual. It was a medley of “I Can Sing A Rainbow” – popularised by Peggy Lee in the 1955 film Pete Kelly’s Blues and covered thereafter by Andy Williams, Cilla Black and others – and “Love Is Blue.”
The history of the latter song included its selection as Luxembourg’s 1967 Eurovision Song Contest entry, sung by Vicky Leandros as “L’Amour Est Bleu.” For the record, it finished fourth, in the year that the UK’s Sandie Shaw was triumphant with “Puppet On A String.” The song was covered as an instrumental by French orchestra leader Paul Mauriat, who took it all the way to No.1 in the US.
Top five soul and transatlantic success
“L’Amour Est Bleu” was Anglicised by lyricist Brian Blackburn, and the Dells gave it their impassioned and deeply soulful treatment as part of their Cadet medley. “I Can Sing A Rainbow/Love Is Blue” entered the R&B chart at No.28, peaking at No.5 and giving them a No.22 pop hit. It also gave the group what was, lamentably, their only UK singles chart entry, reaching No.15 that summer.
The Dells’ Cadet years went on to contain several more major hits, after which they recorded for Mercury, ABC and other labels, logging their final chart entry in 1992. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, the mighty Dells finally hung up their microphones in 2012, at the end of an unforgettable 60 years of performing.