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Talk about false starts.

For one of rock’s more important groups of the decade, you’d have been a veritible fortune teller if you’d have chosen them in mid-summer 1952 as your choice for the next breakout artists on the horizon considering they’d released just one rock single at the tail end of last year before reverting back to gospel for their next releases.

The fact that they hadn’t voluntarily moved into rock to begin with and hadn’t even known how to write or sing it and simply re-wrote gospel songs to get the hang of it, probably meant this was one experiment that was going to meet with a quick end.

But when the pure gospel sides weren’t selling, Apollo Records had the foresight to know the future was staring them in the face and had the courage to give up on gospel, which had largely been the label’s bread and butter, and dive headlong into rock ‘n’ roll.


How Others Made Out Alright
Here’s where we risk… or rather, here’s where take pleasure in… tweaking those who believe in omnipotent beings controlling all life on planet earth while this godly creature is doling out perpetually cruel treatment to innocent creatures over the centuries and insecurely demanding they worship him in spite of this abhorrent behavior or else they won’t get into his private club when he later murders them, just so we can bring up the one – and only – saving grace of organized religion… mid-century Black gospel music.

The Royal Sons Quintet sang it with some success in that field around North Carolina before getting a contract with Apollo Records, one of the premier gospel-oriented labels in the nation in the early 1950’s. But even as gospel was still commercially potent, rock ‘n’ roll was far more so and since Apollo had only sporadic success with rock to date they were increasingly looking for ways to break into the market.

So far their biggest success in that field had come with The Larks, another ex-gospel group, and so it was only natural they try to achieve the same feat with The Royal Sons.

The difference is The Royal Sons gospel sides were damn good. Their second – and last – release in this genre had shown two distinct approaches, the harder jubilee styled Come Over Here backed with the yearning balladry of Let Nothing Separate Me, the latter of which would form the rough outline for THIS attempt in rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s more or less a melodic lift, but since group member Lowman Pauling wrote them both you can’t exactly find too much fault with it, especially when both sentiments – the spiritual connection of the former and the romantic desire of Courage To Love – work equally well matching their respective lyrics to the plaintive vocals.

In the future the rest of the group would begin to tease Pauling for this kind of musical appropriation which marked all of their early output, but at this point when success in either field was far from certain, it was probably as solid a gameplan as they could have.


My Mother Told Me There Would Be Days Like This
Where do we start with this?

We’ve already touched upon the lilting melody in the verses but have yet to mention the more assertive bridge that gives the entire song more gravity.

We’ve failed to bring up the exquisite arrangement which utilizes a few primary instruments – tenor sax, dry drums, piano and electric guitar – in subtle fashion to aid that melody, giving it a discreetly surging momentum without ever shifting to a higher gear.

And we’ve not gotten around to saying how the delicate lead of Johnny Tanner in his absolute highest range gives this all a fragile appearance, seemingly ready to shatter into pieces and fall to the ground at the slightest provocation.

But we can set those aside because it’s the lyrics that make Courage To Love such a remarkable achievement, particularly since the song came from another milieu with a broader perspective than just one man grappling with the fallout from a broken affair that somehow makes him stronger, despite the damage it did to his psyche in the process.

That’s the real magic here, as Pauling puts these feelings front and center, acknowledging the hurt while reaffirming the determination to overcome that, building up his broken heart until it’s more indestructible than the factory-issued warranty would ever suggest.

The genius here is he doesn’t give short-shrift to the pain, detailing both the cause and effect of her actions which results in Tanner (as his de facto surrogate) becoming not just wiser, but also more resilient as a result of going through such heartache. They’re really only brief recaps of events from his past, but they’re thorough enough in their descriptions – and universal enough in their content – that we know exactly where he’s coming from.

Tanner’s halting delivery that strains to find the right key as he goes higher and higher, gives added gravitas to the sentiments as the others lay back and only contribute distant humming and moaning until the bridge where they jump into the spotlight and show off their earthy harmonies.

The arrangement smartly makes the decision to allow each of the instruments take their turn in support with the sax in particular kicking in with sensual lines that already suggest he’s on the road back from purgatory, making what is an uncluttered track sound far more diverse because of how the roles are split up.

Since Courage To Love doesn’t really follow traditional structure we get a double-time reciting of the title line down the stretch by the others that masquerades as a chorus while Tanner ad-libs over them, showing how gospel techniques would soon be appropriated on a wider scale for rock vocal attacks.

Maybe on the whole this “attack” is somewhat placid since the song remains relatively tranquil for the most part, but when it’s so intelligently crafted that you have every reason to doubt that Pauling and company needed any tips on how to put together secular material.


I’m Beginning To See The Light
In their decade long history still to come, The “5” Royales will have plenty of enduring classics which will understandably take up a lot of the focus when it comes to putting their legacy into the proper perspective, including a handful of big hits, plenty of influential compositions and some records that quite simply are ahead of their time in one form or fashion.

By contrast a song like Courage To Love already seems somewhat anachronistic. In fact, being the lead track, or among them, on career compilations doesn’t only make sense from a chronological standpoint, but also because they’d quickly move past this more genteel approach and as such it seems like the launching point that would send them into orbit rather than a record that was already out of this world.

But you gotta start somewhere when trying to understand how an act became so important and this record, with a hybrid sound behind a relevant theme, is a perfect way to bring past, present and future with the group into focus.

The fact they’d never sound this vulnerable again makes this somewhat of an outlier I suppose, but the building blocks for greatness are all here and that uniqueness in their catalog tells us that even when they were flying by the seat of their pants, The “5” Royales instinctively grasped the idiom even if they stole shamelessly from the sacred realm to achieve it.

Maybe that’ll cost them in the eyes of the so-called Almighty in the long run, but then again, who really wants to get into heaven anyway when the party for the sinners is so much more rewarding?


(Visit the Artist page of The “5” Royales for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)