We are sad to report that Melvin King, the last original member and the notable bass singer of the 50s doo wop group The Olympics, has died. The group was a moderate run of popularity, highlighted by their hit single “Western Movies.”
The Olympics were formed in Los Angeles in 1957 by King along with Walter Ward, Eddie Lewis, Charles Fizer, and Walter Hammond) and Melvin King (bass).
Their first record was credited to Walter Ward and the Challengers ("I Can Tell" on Melatone Records). After the name change, they recorded "Western Movies" (Demon Records) in the summer of 1958. Co-written by Fred Smith and Cliff Goldsmith, "Western Movies" made it to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song reflected the nation's preoccupation with western themed movies and television programs. It told the story of a man who lost his girl to TV westerns, and it included doo-wop harmonies as well as background gunshots and ricochet sound effects.
In 1959 the group recorded "(Baby) Hully Gully," which initiated the hully gully dance craze. "Big Boy Pete," which the group released in 1960, served as inspiration for The Kingsmen's "Jolly Green Giant." Over the next ten years The Olympics recorded upbeat R&B songs, often about dances popular at the time.
In 1966 The Young Rascals covered The Olympics 1965 song, "Good Lovin'", and took it to #1 on the US Hot 100. Since then, many recorded versions have been made by prominent artists, including The Who, The Grateful Dead, and Bobby McFerrin.
Fizer was shot and killed during the Watts Riots in 1965. Shortly thereafter, King left the group after his sister died in an accidental shooting. A revamped group continued to record into the early 1970s but were unable to attain popular chart success after the mid 1960s. The Olympics continued to perform on the oldies circuit in the United States and other countries.
Walter Ward's song "Well (Baby please don't go)" (the b-side to "Western Movies") was recorded twice by John Lennon in 1971: the February 1971 studio recording was not issued until the 1998 John Lennon Anthology, then again on Wonsaponatime. A June 1971 live recording with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention was issued on 1972's Some Time In New York City, and on Zappa's 1992's Playground Psychotics.