1997 | Rhino Flashback
Boy From New York City & Other Hits
"The Boy From New York City" is a vocal-group classic that sounded like a throwback to an earlier era even as it climbed the charts for the first time. Written by John Taylor or George Davis, or both, depending on which source you consult, the song featured a call-and-response interaction between the female lead singer -- in the initial version, Mary Ann Thomas of the Ad Libs -- and the backup singers -- in the Ad Libs' version, Hugh Harris, Danny Austin, Norman Donegan, and Dave Watt. The backup singers ask the lead singer to describe the boy from New York City, and she obliges; he's kind of tall, really fine, etc. Meanwhile, the backup singers are executing a series of wordless, doo wop-style sounds. It's the kind of performance that would have been perfect for, say, 1959, but, in fact, the Ad Libs' recording was released on Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's Blue Cat label in late 1964, a time when the pop music scene was dominated by mop-topped British groups and sleek Motown acts. Nevertheless, it peaked in the Top Ten, demonstrating that the pop world hadn't turned upside down completely, not yet, anyway. But it was the Ad Libs' only major hit, and as the years went by, it lived on only on oldies radio and compilations of early rock & roll. That was until 1981, when the jazz-pop vocal group the Manhattan Transfer revived it in the teeth of a pop music world dominated by sophisticated dance music and arena rock, and scored an even bigger hit. Maybe the charm of "The Boy From New York City" was that it always sounded like it came from an earlier time.