Friday, October 12, 2007
BY GUY STERLING
They were a bunch of kids growing up in the Baxter Terrace housing complex in Newark at a time when music filled the air day and night. And they did what teenagers all over the city were doing for entertainment in the 1950s — singing their hearts out.
George Malone, Charles Patrick, Warren Davis, John “Frankie” Smith and brothers Warren and John Ryanes.
In time, they formed their own group, mostly to perform for friends, in talent shows and at a variety of neighborhood venues. It was just for fun, because they never figured to go anywhere. They also continued singing in the choir at the nearby New Hope Baptist Church.
But then something magical happened to the Monotones in 1958 — one of their songs caught on and swept the country.
“Book of Love,” the only hit the group ever had, would become a rock’n'roll classic.
Mr. Malone died Friday at a hospital in Arizona of complications from a stroke. He was 67.
He had moved from Newark to a daughter’s home outside Phoenix in 2001.
“My father loved singing,” said the daughter, Daphne Jones of Avondale, Ariz. “It was his life.”
“Book of Love” was the brainchild of Patrick and Mr. Malone, said Carl Foushee Jr., who also grew up singing in Baxter Terrace and joined Smith and Mr. Malone when the group re-formed with new members in the 1980s.
In his 1982 book, “Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock n’ Roll, The Solid Gold Years,” author Norm N. Nite recounted the song’s simple yet odd origins — the combination of a Four Lads tune with a personal hygiene jingle.
“In 1957, Charles Patrick was listening to the radio one day when he had an idea for a song,” Nite wrote. “It seems that while he was looking at some sheet music … Charles heard the Pepsodent commercial for toothpaste with the line ‘wonder where the yellow went.’
“From there he used the line, ‘I wonder, wonder, wonder who! who wrote the book of love’ as an idea for a song. He went home and got together with George Malone and Warren Davis of the group and they finished the song.”
It was only when another Newark group, the Kodaks, expressed an interest in putting “Book of Love” on vinyl that the Monotones went ahead and recorded it. It climbed to No.5 and spent weeks on Billboard magazine’s chart of best-selling songs.
Foushee said the song was released first on the Ascot label, then Argo. An original Argo copy can sell for $300 today, he added.
With the fame came touring, and the Monotones joined any number of traveling road shows that were popular at the time and were headlined by the likes of Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Frankie Lymon. They also appeared at the Apollo Theater and on TV.
But an album of their songs (written mostly by Patrick and Mr. Malone) didn’t generate much business, and by the mid-1960s, as rock music adopted a harder edge, the Monotones saw their fortunes fade. “Soft Shadows” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” were other group favorites.
Throughout it all, Mr. Malone kept a day job, working as a stevedore at Port Newark and as a landscaper and gardener, said Foushee. He also served in the Air Force.
But he continued singing whenever he got the opportunity and never let his 15 minutes of fame go to his head.
“The man was a prince,” said Foushee, who is retired and lives in Virginia Beach, Va. “He’d always be around to help the other guys out with their songs, harmonies and backgrounds.”
Even a couple of strokes couldn’t send Mr. Malone to the sidelines after the Monotones got back together to perform on the oldies circuit into the 1990s.
“George could harmonize but couldn’t hold the words that well,” said Foushee, 66. “You wouldn’t have known it, though, if you weren’t in the group or on stage.”
Victor Hartsfield, longtime director of taxation in East Orange, was the driving force behind the group’s resurgence after he joined New Hope Baptist in 1980. He started out managing the group, then became one of its singers.
After visiting Mr. Malone in Arizona, Hartsfield moved there when he retired in 2005 and the two remained in constant touch.
“George’s legacy will last as long as people play ‘Book of Love’ or any of the Monotone songs because he had a part in writing, arranging or performing them all his life,” said Hartsfield, 60.
“Book of Love” was used as the theme song on one of the versions of TV’s “The Newlywed Game” and has remained popular in Europe. Hartsfield said it has been covered by more than 50 different artists.
Mr. Malone received royalties on the song right up until his death, Daphne Jones said.
Doo-wop revivalists Sha Na Na sang “Book of Love” at the Woodstock music festival in 1969.
Mr. Malone is also survived by another daughter, Andrea Jackson of Goldsboro, N.C.; two sons, John Sykes and Dwight Malone of Newark, nine grandchildren and one great-grandson.
Visiting hours will be Monday at the Word of Abundant Life Christian Center in Phoenix, where a funeral is scheduled for Tuesday. The Preston Funeral Home at 3800 S. Central Ave. in Phoenix is handling the arrangements.
Mr. Malone will be buried at the Resthaven Cemetery in Phoenix.