Who's That Knocking

Martin Scorsese and doo wop? Two great things that go great together...and The Genies played a big part in his development as one of our finest film directors. The lyrics of "Who's That Knocking" will conjure up best-left-forgotten memories for many guys...the 'two chicks' bangin' on my door may not have been named Mabel and Flo (though it's possible), but who hasn't been through that scenario at least once? (Ladies, feel free to recall Malcom and Fabio, or whichever names apply to your own sticky situation). The Genies pack a wallop recounting the nightmare of juggling two relationships at once, and the song's manic energy suggests the frustration of being in such a predicament.

The group was formed in 1956 with four Long Beach, Long Island members: leader Roy Hammond, Alexander Faison, Bill Gains and Fred Jones. Some time afterwards, Claude Johnson came over from Brooklyn to join; they passed the time as many such groups did - singing on street corners - only in this case it was at the beach! Folklore has it that Johnson's the one who came up with the act's name. Bob Shad, owner of the small label appropriately named Shad Records, caught one of those oceanfront sessions and signed them, releasing "Who's That Knocking" in early 1959. This song of insomnia was a minor hit, with its tight vocals and hot sax work, resulting in several performances at New York's Apollo Theater complete with onstage door-knockin' moves ('boom-boom-boom, bang-bang-bang, tossed a brick through my window pane'), though Gains abruptly disappeared at this time, so the group premiered as five but were down to four by the end of the engagement at the famed venue.

The Genies were a disappearing act themselves, breaking up soon after, leaving several masters released over the next year or so by various labels without any luck. But a couple of the guys sustained post-Genies success: Claude Johnson, one of the co-writers of "Knocking" (Fred Jones was another), continued his songwriting and singing career, reaching a high point with the smash "What's Your Name" in 1962. He paired with Roland Trone, they called themselves Don and Juan (Claude was "Juan", Roland was "Don"), and a bit of magic came as a result. Roy Hammond later recorded as Roy C., giving different meaning to the 'bang-bang-bang' idea with "Shotgun Wedding," an R&B hit in '65.

The Genies

Many years after its initial release, I had the opportunity to see Who's That Knocking at My Door, the debut feature by Martin Scorsese, a nearly-no-budget project filmed in 1967, starring Zina Bethune of the CBS series The Nurses and Harvey Keitel, also making his film debut after a few minor, uncredited bit parts. This raw yet intensely acted piece plays like real life and hits on many ideas the director refined and used to greater effect in his later films. So as each scene unfolds, already keenly aware that Scorsese later used numerous classic oldies in his work, I'm hearing some great songs in the background, including The Bell Notes' "I've Had It," The Dubs' "Don't Ask Me to Be Lonely," "Shotgun" by Jr. Walker and the All Stars and even Ray Barretto's classic word-duel-in-Spanish, "El Watusi." What were the chances, I wondered, of The Genies' great tune popping up? After all, it's the title of this thing! As the film approaches its climax, the camera pans away and the story is over, still no trace of the song...and then there it is, a complete contrast to the film's somber mood - 'got myself in an awful fix when I got involved with these two chicks' - yet a perfect ending (except it isn't quite the end...The Chantels' outstanding "The Plea" plays over the end credits). I'm completely satisfied and Marty's career is off to a great start.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Who's That Knocking