“I Believe” — Sons of Wonder
Honey-B-Recording Co. 1045
I have heard plenty of syrupy-sweet or just plain bad versions of the gospel/country chestnut “I Believe” to make me want to abandon hope of ever fully appreciating the composition. Until recently, only Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelle’s glass-shattering version recorded for Parkway in the early 1960s held my utmost respect.
Until I heard the Boys of Wonder, that is. Think Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells, but male.
This quartet’s version of “I Believe” is part preaching and part singing. While the narrator intones how as a boy, he wondered how the flowers grew, the quartet croons evenly behind him. Then at a particularly dramatic moment in the song, the tenor delivers an unbelievably powerful high note — the quartet supporting it with equally high-charged harmony — that nearly knocks the needle out of the grooves.
The Boys of Wonder conclude the recording with the high tenor endowing the final lines of the song with stratospherically high melismatic embellishment, notes almost coloratura-like, to the shouted encouragement of the leader. When it seems as if the tenor cannot support the song by himself any longer, the quartet comes in for the save, harmonizing on the final few bars in a way reminiscent of the finest NYC streetcorner doo-wop quartets.
“I Believe” by the Sons of Wonder is nothing less than a vocal group harmony showcase tour de force.
The only disappointment is that more is not known about this quartet and that their recording has not been, to my knowledge, reissued. S. White and R. Noble are listed on the label as the leaders of the song, with the quartet likely coming from the New York City area, as the Honey-B-Recording Company’s address is listed on the label as 77 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn.