This clip belies the charm of this song, and highlights the troubled history of the songwriting credits for it. It made Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers stars in the 1950s, but the upbeat doo-wop tune hide some secrets.
Frankie Lymon didn’t write “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”. Two of his doo-wop mates, Herman Santiago and Jimmy Merchant, did. The record label credited the song to Lymon and producer George Goldner. Or, to be more accurate, Goldner credited himself since he was running the label. When Goldner’s share of the label was sold to Morris Levy, Levy became one of the credited songwriters along with Lymon. Some early releases actually included Santiago as one of the writers, but he was later omitted. Why all this subterfuge? Money, of course. The credited songwriters get all the royalties–although it is reported that Lymon didn’t see any money from the song in his brief lifetime.
After Lymon had split with the other Teenagers and his voice changed, his career tanked. He died of a heroin overdose at 25. But not before he supposedly married three different women. It’s entirely possible that none of those marriages was legal, although his estate–which pretty much consisted of the royalties for “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”–went to his third wife since she was the only one who could provide a marriage license and wasn’t actually married to anyone else at the time of the wedding. (It’s kind of a fascinating story, which was also documented in a 1998 movie with Halle Berry, among others.)
It seems kind of weird that such a slight song carries so much baggage. The original songwriters, Santiago and Merchant, sued in the 1990s to restore their rights to the song and they won, but an appeals court overturned their victory because they’d waited too long to make their claim. (Gotta love those technicalities.) While none of this changes my affection for this song, it does remind me how corrupt and byzantine the music business could be. Not to mention the pitfalls of falling in love. Why do fools fall in love, indeed.